Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Beefsteak, Shad, and Joseph Mitchell

It’s a good morning when two stories in the news call to mind great pieces written by Joseph Mitchell, even if one of them is the sort of sad tale that underscores how basically clueless we are when it comes to trying to understand and manage some ecosystems.

I’ll get to that next. First though is “Gluttonous Rite Survives Without Silverware,” in the Times, a long, fun account of a dining tradition – if “dining” is not too delicate a word – called a beefsteak. You have to read it to believe it but even better, you have to get Mitchell’s book, Up in the Old Hotel, and read his piece from the 1930s, called “All You Can Hold For Five Bucks” (it’s also available as a download if you go to this site, then click on “For More Beefsteak Information Click Here,” but you really ought to buy it or get it from the library, because everything in it is good). But the Times story isn’t about a revival; it’s about a survival through the decades in northern New Jersey, even as the New York beefsteak faded in the mid-twentieth century. Totally gross, but amusing.

Less so however for this story, in the Journal News, about how New York State is considering closing the commercial shad season in the Hudson. Striped bass, zebra mussles, PCBs, General Electric, intercept fisheries – all of them have a role in the decline of the shad fishery, or at least people think they do. Truth is, nobody knows, and the state is left to draw the conclusion that the only thing to do is tell people like Bob Gabrielson and the nine or so others who still fish commercially in the Hudson that they’ll have to cut back even more. Mitchell also wrote about the Hudson’s shad fishermen, in The Rivermen, page 574 in Up in the Old Hotel.

I went to Gabrielson’s house a decade ago to buy shad roe (read about it here) and although I probably never would have done so again – Pound Ridge to Nyack for roe is a long drive – it was nice to know I could have if I wanted to.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker