Simon Courtauld

Quail order

I wonder whether the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, will eat quail again after the shooting incident in south Texas last month, when he ignored the most basic safety rules in shooting at his intended target while unable to see that an elderly gentleman was in his line of fire. The birds that Mr Cheney was

A far from plodding pedestrian

How much more do we need to know about Sir Wilfred Thesiger? Alexander Maitland, his literary executor and friend for the last 40 years of his life, collaborated with Thesiger on six books of his travels, and we have Thesiger’s first two classics, Arabian Sands and The Marsh Arabs, not to mention two other mainly

Peter and friends

It is some years since I saw, in a Paris bookshop, a translated copy of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but I still enjoy recalling the French names given for the four members of the rabbit family: Flopson, Mopson, Queue-de-coton et Pierre. Cottontail is the species of rabbit which is found all over

Bargain brace

It is one of life’s little mysteries that, outside the circle of those involved in game shooting, so few pheasants are bought and eaten, in a country where between 15 and 20 million birds are reared each year. I have sometimes wondered whether the association of pheasants with wartime food — during the winter of

Carpe piscem

Where are the pike, the char, the carp of yesteryear? Still in English lakes and rivers, but they are not to be found in the English kitchen. Pike, then called luce, are mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and they were on the menu at King Henry IV’s coronation banquet at the end of the 14th

Caviar crisis

Many of us, not being regular purchasers of the sturgeon’s eggs, will be unaware of the gravity of the caviar crisis. I have only just learnt that the population of the beluga sturgeon, which produces the best-quality caviar and lives mostly in the Caspian Sea, has suffered a 90 per cent decline in the past

The joys of rod and gun

The farmer and writer, A. G. Street, who in the 1950s co- edited with Max Hastings’s father a magazine which gives this book its title, wrote before the war: When the countryman turns his cows out to grass in the spring, he also gets out his rod and net ready for the fishing. The turning

Terrific turbot

You don’t often see a large turbot these days. My guess is that the big ones, like most of the lobsters and crabs caught in our waters, go to Spain or France. The specimen which I saw in Paris earlier this year was being cut into fat steaks for sale at 90 euros per kilo,

Shark ascending

The first barracuda to be caught in British waters was landed at Newlyn, Cornwall four years ago. This summer giant fin whales have been spotted off the Pembrokeshire coast. The evidence of these alien visitors may be attributable to global warming, or to changes in the flow of ocean currents, but it makes one wonder

Perchance to eat

I have recently acquired a charming little book by Ambrose Heath called From Creel to Kitchen. Published in 1939, it offers recipes for 20 species of freshwater fish caught in our rivers and lakes, including barbel, chub, gudgeon, roach and tench, though not powan or the unappealingly named burbot. It had not occurred to me

Waiting for whiting

Whiting does not seem to be fashionable these days — perhaps it never was — but in my early 20th-century edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica it is described as ‘one of the most valuable food fishes of northern Europe’. This may be due in part to its not necessarily enviable reputation as being good for

Shop around

Salmo salar, the Atlantic salmon, is a most remarkable fish. Having gone to sea, where it has to run the gauntlet of modern deep-sea trawlers, it returns, a year or up to three years later, to the river of its birth to spawn. On the way it may fall prey to seals, to estuarial nets

The tuna the better

A few years before his assassination in 1908, King Carlos of Portugal published a book on the tuna, its distribution and the various species of the fish. I am not aware of any other reigning monarch having written a book on fish, and it may have been Carlos’s most important legacy. In those days, the

Off the menu

An Indian friend with whom I have been staying in the Nilgiri Hills was asking what had happened to the whitebait which he used to enjoy years ago in England, during his time at Cambridge. In those far-off days whitebait appeared on restaurant or pub menus as a starter with the same frequency as egg

Let them eat hake

Why, I wonder, is a fish revered in one European country yet largely ignored in the others? As a fish of the Atlantic, and other cold waters, hake is little known in exclusively Mediterranean countries. Nor is it hugely popular in France, where it is called by one of three names — merlu, merluche, colin

Clam fan

If America can be associated with one shellfish more than any other, it must surely be the clam. I know that New England is supposedly the home of the clambake, but you can’t go far in any state without meeting clams in some form — raw in the shell, clam chowder, clam juice or that

Don’t be fobbed off

There is plenty of life, as well as recent death, in a fish market. For its colour and noise and atmosphere the market by the Rialto bridge in Venice is as fascinating to me as a visit to the Scuola degli Schiavoni to see the Carpaccios. To buy, or just to admire, the fish landed

Eel good factor

We are in danger of losing our eels. To many people this may be of little interest, but it is a serious matter. The vast numbers of baby eels (elvers) which cross the Atlantic from the Sargasso Sea, somewhere near Bermuda, and end up in European rivers two or three years later have been falling

Bream lover

A bass, I have always thought, is a bass, but these days it is called sea bass — quite redundantly, since freshwater bass are not known in Europe. The bream of the sea, on the other hand, should be distinguished from the freshwater fish of the same name which is related to carp. Instead, it

The crown that fitted perfectly

Professor Preston has done his subject proud. This is a better biography than his 1,000-page indictment of Franco, not only because he is in sympathy with the Spanish king but because, in some respects, he now appears less implacably hostile towards the Generalisimo. It was thanks to Franco, after all, that the monarchy was restored,