Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Isle of Ely, or Eeley?

A recent edition of the "Kitchen Cabinet" on BBC Radio Four came from Ely, often referred to by locals as "The Isle of Ely".  This small city In Cambridgeshire is not so very far from where I grew up as a child.  So, of course, I was very interested in the programme.

The Isle of Ely is so-called because in the Dark and Middle Ages, and in later times too, it stood elevated literally as an island. Topographically the land that was settled lies a little higher than the surrounding marshland of "The Fens" which, to this day, lie below sea-level. 

Earliest school history lessons had taught me about heroic Hereward the Wake, who hailed from The Fens and hunkered down in Ely. He  fought successful skirmishes with the Normans invaders for as long as he could, effectively he was a guerilla fighter, using the marshes to cover his tracks. Quite literally! We were told in the programme by a local historian that the Normans resolved to lay siege to the Isle of Ely and starve him and his supporters into submission.
MedievalMorsels' tubs of live wriggling eels for a period dollhouse, one inch scale

Buckets of 12th scale eels for a Tudor, medieval dollshouse
Which brings me to a second point. Ely is a strange name, there is no doubt, and it is so similar to the word eel. It really does reflect the fact that Eels were abundant in those Fenland marshes. In fact, Ely paid its taxes to the reigning Medieval monarchs by way of barrels of eels! Revenue from the sale of eels, we were told in the radio programme, paid for the building of the very impressive Medieval Cathedral, and much more besides. 
Eels for a 1:12 dolls house kitchen scene, miniature food by MedievalMorsels
But the process of laying siege and starving the inhabitants of Ely into submission must have been a protracted one - after all I am sure the locals knew a hundred or more ways to catch and cook eels. Rather like the Portuguese and the 365 dishes they can cook with their national fish - bacalhau, salted cod.

But back to the eels. MedievalMorsels models eels in wooden tubs. Ideal for the one inch scale Medieval or Tudor period dolls house kitchen or storeroom. Many of my clients say how ugly they are - I think the mean the eels not the models thereof! Judge for yourself. Is it because my eels are just too realistic? And eels do resemble snakes which can trigger a primeval fear in some. Or is it that we instinctively realise eels are just too slithery and therfore difficult to prepare for the pot? And to modern tastes, are they fatty and unpalatable even after all that effort? 
What would you do if you met these eels and their catfish friend modelled by MedievalMorsels?

Well if so, how about salted cod instead? MedievalMorsels can oblige on that score too!

MedievalMorsels makes 12th scale salted cod for you period dolls house kitchen scene

I have swum three quarters of a mile in a swimming race in the River Great Ouse at Ely. Well it was a long time ago, I was 13 years old. My worry then was not eels, I did not think of that!  My worry, because my friend Linda Plowright and I had been teased about it by the older swimmers, was pike hiding in the shadows under the bridges! I recall that I tried to swim under the bridges, and past trees which cast scary shadows on the river surface, as fast as I could! After all the Great Ouse is a wide, muddy  river - full of Fenland silt and clay - where you have no chance of knowing what is going on beneath the surface!