Elvers - a county del­i­cacy not to ev­ery­one’s taste

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS -

HAVE you ever eaten elvers? The ques­tion was prompted by leaf­ing through the pages of a book ti­tled Fishing on the Lower Sev­ern, pub­lished by Glouces­ter City Mu­seum in 1974 and writ­ten by the cu­ra­tor John Neufville Tay­lor.

These days elvers are an endangered species and in the un­likely event you find them on a menu in a restau­rant any­where they will be an eye-wa­ter­ing price.

But in the past a plate­ful of the lit­tle wrig­glers was a cheap treat for work­ing peo­ple in Glouces­ter­shire and could be bought for a few cop­pers from lo­cal fish­mon­gers.

In Fe­bru­ary, March and April in days gone by, fish­er­folk dis­ap­peared to the Sev­ern at dead of night.

Picking a favoured spot on the bank, a lamp was set down to at­tract the young eels, then the wait­ing be­gan.

If elvers ar­rived, they were scooped from the wa­ter us­ing a net of cheese­cloth and car­ried home in a bucket, usu­ally on the han­dle­bars of a bi­cy­cle.

Tra­di­tion­ally there were two ways to cook elvers.

They could be boiled un­til they turned from their usual translu­cent grey to white.

But the tastier method was to fry a rasher or two of fat ba­con and hoik in the live wee eels, crack an egg into the morass, stir, add sea­son­ing and gorge.

Elvers were never a meal for the faint hearted and the Glouces­ter Jour­nal’s Su­san Sev­ern, writ­ing in 1965, was plainly not a fan.

She wrote “Even the most ar­dent elver en­thu­si­ast couldn’t faith­fully say they look very lovely.

“To look in your fry­ing pan and see your din­ner squirm­ing about with what ap­pears like thick saliva can­not be very ap­petis­ing.

“And a mass of white worms on a plate might not be ev­ery­one’s idea of gastronomi­c bliss”. She had a point.

If elvers are a sea­sonal de­light you’ve oc­ca­sion­ally en­joyed in years past, these rec­ol­lec­tions taken from Glouces­ter­shire Within Liv­ing Mem­ory, pub­lished in 1996 by the Glouces­ter­shire Fed­er­a­tion of Women’s In­sti­tutes, may be to your taste.

“Elvers - the fry of the Eu­ro­pean eel have al­ways been a del­i­cacy in Glouces­ter­shire.

“My mother used to buy them for 6d a pint pot, clean them at the pump and dry them off in a clean towel.

“Some­times my mother beat up an egg and stirred this into the elvers as they were cook­ing.

“As the sea­son wore on the elvers de­vel­oped a black line and then my fa­ther wouldn’t eat them.

“In the sea­son men used to come round Maise­more with their buck­ets full of elvers and sell them, or give them away if there was a glut.

They used to be sold from tin baths and to in­di­cate they were avail­able a tea towel was put over the back of a din­ing chair out­side the front door.

“I can re­mem­ber my great aunt mak­ing elver pie in the 1950s. It was made of short­crust pas­try and the fill­ing con­tained ba­con, eggs, herbs, onions and, of course, elvers. It could be eaten hot or cold in slices”.

In Vic­to­rian times an Act was passed ban­ning elver­ing and Sev­ern­side fish­er­folk were up in arms about this sea­sonal – and free - ad­di­tion to their daily diet be­ing de­nied them.

Many flouted the new law and some

» To share your pic­tures and mem­o­ries of lo­cal peo­ple, places and events, please email them to nos­te­[email protected] gmail.com

when caught suf­fered heavy fines and spells in Glouces­ter jail.

Old re­ports de­scribe the mass of elvers swim­ming up­stream in sea­son be­ing so great that the whole river looked to be a sin­gle, sinewy snake of sil­ver.

Tons of elvers were taken, prin­ci­pally on the stretch of Sev­ern be­tween Glouces­ter and Tewkes­bury.

Many will re­mem­ber that as late as the 1980s there was an an­nual elver eat­ing com­pe­ti­tion staged at the Bell in Framp­ton on Sev­ern.

But those days are long gone. The Sev­ern and Wye Smok­ery at Chax­hill is one of the or­gan­i­sa­tions do­ing ster­ling con­ser­va­tion work to try and save elvers from be­com­ing no more than a mem­ory. Let’s hope their ef­forts are suc­cess­ful.

In­ci­den­tally, if you’re won­der­ing what an elver be­comes in later life, take a look at the pic­ture of David Thomas and Nigel Longney who were snapped by the Cit­i­zen’s pho­tog­ra­pher in Oc­to­ber 1968 with a whop­ping adult eel they pulled from the Sev­ern out­side the An­chor pub at Ep­ney.

Fishing for elvers on the River Sev­ern

An elver-eat­ing contest at the Bell Inn, Framp­ton-on-sev­ern

David Thomas and Nigel Longney with an adult eel they pulled from the Sev­ern

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