Saturday, August 24, 2019

When Caviar Was a Free Bar Snack

From Delancey Place, August 22:
Today's encore selection -- from Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.
Until 100 years ago, sturgeon were plentiful in the rivers and lakes throughout Europe and America, and caviar was an ordinary food for those who lived near these sturgeon-filled waterways -- in some areas it was so common it was served as a free bar snack:

"The word caviar is of Turkish derivation and refers to the eggs of the sturgeon -- a prehistoric animal that has not evolved in 180 million years. It is a huge migratory fish that, like the salmon, is anadromous, that is, it lives in saltwater but swims upstream to spawn in the freshwater place of its birth. ... Originally, the eggs were food for fishermen, cheap food because they were not salable, whereas the fish itself brought high prices. But gradually the eggs gained appreciation.  ...
Our friend, the Caspian Beluga
"France produced caviar since at least the time of Louis XIV, largely from the sturgeon catch on the Gironde River. But sturgeon caught on the Seine, even in Paris, was a rare enough event for the fish to be presented to kings. [Jean-Baptiste] Colbert regulated the fishery to preserve the fish, and these laws are still in force. But the fish are gone. Louis XV got a Paris sturgeon in 1758 and Louis XVI got one in 1782. Marie-Antoine Carême, the famous early-nineteenth century French cook, insisted he saw a 220-pound sturgeon almost three yards long by the Pont de Neuilly on the western edge of Paris. That was one of the last sturgeon sightings in Paris....