More 19th Century Food: from the Sea

From Lewsiana, W Anderson Smith, 1874-86. (See also the previous extract.)

Dog fish (Spinax) kept for a short time and half dried, like the skate without salt, is by some considered a tit-bit, by others of more delicate stomach eaten for lack of something more tasty.  Perhaps desire for revenge for the ravages committed on the ling, and to utilise the myriads of these savages dragged perforce into their boats, may influence some.  The belly should not be eaten by any unaccustomed palate, nor allowed to enter any ordinary stomach – it is so rank and oily.  The back, however, when kept a short time and properly prepared, we found not uneatable.  All sea-fowl they eat with avidity, the cormorant being eagerly sought for.  In some parts the Solan goose [the guga], fearfully offensive and rank though it be, is eaten when young, fat and tender, like “little Billee”. Even some species of gulls, by the enterprising, are found to be eatable when skinned.  Almost every kind of shellfish is willingly received, and limpets are eaten in great quantities by the poor when they run out of food.  They are understood to be very strong and sustaining food, but the intestine, which they declare to be injurious, is always drawn out before eating.  Cockles boiled in mild, cockle soup, pickled cockles, are all held by connoisseurs to be super-excellent when well managed.  Sufficient may be had in Stornoway for a few halfpence to form a most delicious repoast.  Scallops are always heartily welcome, and, besides their edible properties, the shells are in general use – the convex as a butter-scoop, the flat being relegated to the milk-basin as a creamer.

The sea, the sea, the generous sea, has not yet done its best for the native gastronomy.  Sea birds, sea fish, shellfish – these are not all.  Besides dulse, so well known on the mainland, they peel and eat the fresh stalks of the tangle. It tasted to us like a hard turnip, but is much liked among them, and is doubtless beneficial medicinally as an adjunct to their diet.  Then there is a dark ware called here “Slochgan” (Nitophyllum punctatum?) that they boil with butter, and which meets with approbation even among civilised diners. These latter, however, are more partial to carageen, found in quantity on some parts of the coast, and in common use among the education inhabitants as a pudding.  This ware – the Irish moss of commerce – when gathered, is carefully washed and then bleached for some days in the sun and rain until perfectly white, when it is dried for use.  The dried plants when carefully picked so as to be free of impurity, are boiled with milk, and form a pleasant and well-known dish.

Strange to say, although mushrooms are very numerous in some districts, the natives will not eat them.