Wholly mackeral
Monday January 03rd 2011, 11:17 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

To celebrate Michelle’s last evening home of winter break, we took the kids out for dinner at a place she suggested. I don’t usually go near Japanese restaurants because sushi is just not an option anymore, but she raved about their bento boxes and promised there would be plenty I could choose from.

And so there was.

The server was pleasant but, oh honey, clueless. You don’t put a meal in front of one person while the others admire it hungrily for a long half hour. But the food was good and the prices probably the best bargain in town and I could see why university students loved the place.

And they had mackerel. I had not seen mackerel on a menu since we moved to California in ’87.

I was 11 the summer my folks drove north with a camping trailer and six kids in tow and stayed on Prince Edward Island off the coast of Canada for two weeks. I’ve blogged before about my mom later packing up house after 45 years in Maryland, coming across some yarn in a box and wondering where on earth she’d bought that and when.

I knew. It was from that mill on PEI we’d visited. (See? She taught us right: travel a bajillion miles and look for the nearest yarn store!) I’d made a granny square hat and scarf out of it in junior high and those were the leftover skeins and I don’t remember what she made out of it.

I still have mine. Wool lasts.

One of the things we did while we were there was to go deep-sea fishing for mackeral. Get on a small boat and go way out on a big ocean.

That fisherman had it all figured out: you get the tourists to pay to board. You give them fishing rods that were simply four short boards nailed together in a square with a string hanging from the contraption, with a big collection of hooks (you show the folks how to tie them on) because you’re going to lose a bunch of those each trip out.

You show the 11-year-old girl your new toy when she asks: the radar that helps you find schools of fish. She wonders how you’re so sure they’re all going to be mackeral; you assure her you are and they are as you ease the boat over and above them.

Seemed rather unfair to me not to take your chances the way Nature intended, but then I didn’t have rent to pay.

And so we caught mackeral after mackeral that afternoon, the numbers roughly corresponding to our ages, everybody keeping count of their score, the littlest (my younger brother turned seven that summer) sometimes needing a little help. Memory says I caught two and a half–my little sister and I both saw a rod jerk that we’d walked away from, bored, and both of us being sure that that one was ours, grabbed it together and landed the thing and then both counting it because you know, you don’t concede to your sibling when you have a perfectly good half-claim on the thing.

One fellow had a brand new and very fancy rod and reel he was eager to try out and to show off with.  It was maybe a little too efficient: he caught a shark. I assure you the rest of us hustled away quickly from where that fairly-big thing was flailing around on the floor after he hauled it in.

There was a big wooden holding tank in the center of the boat, us beginning fishers adding in our mackeral as we caught them. I wanted to keep my catch separate–I wanted Mom to fry up mine for dinner for everybody, I might not be getting many but they were mine–but the boat owner just laughed, saying no, they all go together in there and you all take as much as you think you can eat when you’re all done.

But don’t take what you can’t, though, because fishing is for eating. You don’t waste the life of the fish.

To the guy with the shark, he said, Those are tasty but we don’t have room for it; it’ll just sit there in the tank and eat all the mackeral, throw it back.

The guy threw it back. (I’m trying to remember now just exactly how. The thing wouldn’t have been lightweight, wouldn’t have been happy, and it could definitely have put some teeth into its argument.)  A few minutes later, he caught it again. Same one.

How’s that for a workout routine?

That’s when I decided sharks were kinda stupid. Don’t tell that to the hockey team in San Jose, though, okay? Just between you and me.

As we came back towards land at the end of our ride, the boat owner explained that the fish we didn’t take with us he would be taking to that fish processor over there, where it would go into cans so all of it would go to good use.

Dude got free labor, a chance to meet new people and to tell fish stories every day should he feel like it to a new (and definitely captive) audience each time. If he teaches children to respect what Nature lets us take while he makes a little extra money to pay off his boat or his house, hey. I’d love a chance to tell him thank you for earning a living that way.

Broiled mackeral. But wouldn’t it have a ton of bones? I didn’t care. (There were five, all easily dealt with.) Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia across the water, wooden squares and ropes and my little brother landing a really big one with I think it was the boat owner’s, but I remember someone’s big arms suddenly wrapping around from behind him, helping him not let go of that thing while talking him through it as if that little boy were really the only one doing any of it or deserving that moment of glory. It was the best and last fish any of us kids caught.

And the one tonight that caught memories and held onto them without letting go was very very good.

10 Comments so far
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Mmmm mackerel… One of my favourite fish! Our local fish and chippie in Cornwall has lovely homemade fishcakes with lots of mackerel in them. Have you ever tried smoked mackerel? Lovely with a slice of fresh homemade bread!

Comment by tinebeest 01.04.11 @ 1:21 am

It may sound disgusting to you, but I love opening a can of mackerel in curry sauce and eating it on toast! I’ll think of your story next time I do.

Comment by LynnM 01.04.11 @ 2:44 am

I had mackerel for the first time, I think, my first dinner with Brother Sushi. I will be happy to leave the rest of my lifetime share of it, to you. Loved your fish story. [And you’re right: wool lasts.] The new guy is cooking salmon for me, later this month. He’s a fisherman, as is his brother who lives in salmon-fishing territory. Life is good.

Comment by Lynn 01.04.11 @ 4:13 am

Wholly Mackeral……..why havent you contacted us ! you are the competition winner, please email me with your shipping details…. we love your color names & realise you put in a lot of effort….congrats

Comment by Lorraine 01.04.11 @ 5:23 am

you brought memories to me too. We used to live at Sakkonnet Point and we would get mackeral off the boats in the spring. One year my boys had new jackets and a fisherman filled their pockets full. (I hadn’t thought about that for a long time). In the fall the little tinker mackeral came in and my kids would love to catch those little things. Yup I fried them for the kids. 2 bites and they were gone. Good memories. Thank You. Pat

Comment by pat Flores 01.04.11 @ 5:55 am

Some people don’t like mackeral because it is an oily fish, but aren’t fish oils what we are all supposed to be eating now?
My recollection is that the six of us (your mother and one of your siblings was off looking for a doctor) caught over 100 fish that afternoon. By reports, the morning fishing had been much better. The mate on the boat filleted as many fish as we wanted, and we did not skimp on what we took. We had enough for campfire cooking for a couple of days.
Years later we encountered king mackeral while we were staying at Holden Beach, NC–encountered them in a fish store, not on a boat. It was wonderful eating, but we have never been able to find it since, and probably never will again since we now live in Salt Lake City.
Someday tell your readers about shad, that double backboned fish that is such a pain to eat because of all the bones but is so delicious. When we first moved to MD the spring shad runs up the East Coast rivers were so great you could buy shad in the supermarket fish stalls for 19 cents a pound. Nowadays the runs are small. And in Utah we probably will never again taste them. (Utah lake is jammed with non-native carp that need eliminating and which no one wants to eat.) At least there is a lot of salmon around, even though most of it is farm raised.
The other great fish from your camping days was fresh tuna. We discovered it when we bought a big piece at a fish market on the Monterey pier and then cooked it, on a very dark night, while camped in a secluded spot at Big Sur.
You bring back memories. Not a bad thing.
Happy New Year to all your readers. And you.

Comment by Dad 01.04.11 @ 9:40 am

Holy mackerel, a shark! And, no, I won’t say anything to Los Tiburones.

Reminds me of the time I got talked into going salmon fishing off the California coast. Thought I’d freeze! But I was only one of two people who caught anything. It would be more honest to say that a salmon bit on my line, and others did the main work of hauling it in. It was way too much for me, so I gave it to a friend on the stipulation that he cut off a salmon steak for me. That piece of salmon was the best Ive had — EVER!

Comment by Don Meyer 01.04.11 @ 10:16 am

I used to have lovely grilled mackerel for breakfast almost every morning in Japan. I grilled it in my toaster oven, and had it with my rice. This being Michigan, I haven’t wanted to try any ocean mackerel at our usual Japanese restaurant, because I want my memories of that wonderful flavor to remain pure, I guess. It’s the same reason the only raw oysters I’ve eaten I ate standing on Fisherman’s Warf.

Comment by Diana Troldahl 01.04.11 @ 1:17 pm

I would make a totally inappropriate comment about being a former Mackerel Snapper, but I have to say I have never snapped a mackerel. We had fish for dinner every Friday until Vatican II, but mackerel was never on the menu. Other, nameless fish was, and it has taken me close to 40 years to truly appreciate fish as a delicacy rather than a chore. Thank you! I shall now have to try mackerel.

Comment by Patricia Day 01.04.11 @ 1:58 pm

What a happy post! I’ve never tried mackerel either. I love seafood, but really only like the Knight’s smoked salmon when it comes to FISH.

Comment by Channon 01.04.11 @ 6:40 pm

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