May 11

wtf moments rereading kipling #4

FT11 comments • 492 views

“We entered the back room where everything was in order, and a screeching canary made us welcome. The uncle had added sausages and piles of buttered toast to the kippers. The coffee, cleared with a piece of fish-skin, was a revelation.” —From 1911’s ‘The Horse Marines’, in 1917’s A Diversity of Creatures, bold mine. And WAIT! WHUT!?? What can “cleared” mean that you can do with FISH-SKIN, and the coffee be good? Emmanuel Pyecroft is a semi-amusingly prankish naval fellow whose conversational agility somewhat prefigures Wodehouse, who lives with his uncle when not at sea. To be fair, Kipling being Kipling, a “revelation” may NOT AT ALL mean good: but Pyecroft is playing the sincerely fulsome host here…


  1. 1
    cis logged out on 12 May 2011 #

    clearing coffee with fish-skin = clearing coffee with isinglass = same principle as clearing coffee with egg-whites!

  2. 2
    cis logged out on 12 May 2011 #

    i guess ‘clarifying’ would be the term we’d use more commonly now (people still use isinglass to clarify wine iirc). the clarifying agent floats to the top so you can skim it off and whatever nasties are in the coffee with it.

    (isinglass is actually from fish bladders rather than skin, but i imagine fish-skin is a cheaper if not-quite-as-good substitute)

  3. 3

    so this would be a teenytiny bit of fishskin? in my head, i saw them dredging the coffee grounds out using fishskin as a kind of muslin net, which would possibly not work — or just straining the coffee through the fishskin

  4. 4
    cis logged out on 12 May 2011 #

    haha i had not thought to imagine using fishskin as a sieve! i would expect it to be a little-ish piece that would create an easily-skimmed scum, yes.

  5. 5

    with beer, isinglass causes the gunk to fall to the bottom and form a jellied residue which stays in the cask — my dad made coffee, when he was still deft, by pouring boiling water onto grounds in a large pot, and when it had sat for a while, cleverly sprinkling drops of cold water onto the floating material, which then all fell to the bottom… i have often tried it this way but it NEVER WORKS, so perhaps he was secretly using fishy material and not telling!

  6. 6
    Andrew F on 12 May 2011 #

    “Although very little isinglass remains in the beer when it is drunk, many vegetarians consider beers which are processed with these finings (such as Guinness and most real ales) to be unsuitable for vegetarian diets”

    Picky, picky, vegetarians!

  7. 7

    i know a vegetarian who made an exception of yummy yummy worcester sauce on the grounds that anchovies are surely really a kind of fruit, no?

  8. 8
    thefatgit on 12 May 2011 #

    Nam Pla is still used in a lot of Thai “vegetarian” dishes.

  9. 9

    “make your coffee with nam pla: it’ll be a REVELATION!”

  10. 10
    Jack Fear on 12 May 2011 #

    This method is mentioned in the original 1896 edition of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, by Fannie Farmer. The stuff was apparently available commercially under the trade name “Burnett’s Crystal Coffee Settler,” described as “salt fish skin, washed, dried, and cut in inch pieces.”

  11. 11

    “Coffee made with egg has a rich flavour that egg alone can give”, says Fannie Farmer, following Jack’s link (Mrs Beeton terms coffee with an egg in it “nutritious coffee“). I feel a FOOD SCIENCE SPECIAL coming on!

    Kipling actually lived in nearby Vermont from 1892-96, on his wife’s family’s estate (till he fell out with her brother): so maybe that’s where this comes from. He loved curious and unexpected details and behaviours.

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