The Truth About Dukes

200px-Coronet_of_a_British_Duke.svgNicola here, talking about dukes, as you do if you are an author of historical romance. I’ve live in Britain all my life and I’ve never met a duke. In fact they are the only rank of the peerage I haven’t met. There are currently only 24 of them in existence which in a population of 65 million must make them amongst the rarest creatures in the country on a par with the Scottish wild cat. At times during the UK's history there have been no more than two or three; at others – the mid 1700s – there were as many as forty so even at their height they were an endangered species.

That’s the reality, of course. In stories, particularly in historical romances, they pop up in London, Bath and various country towns and villages with a regularity that is rather fun. If only!

A little while ago, Mary Jo wrote a wonderful blog piece on billionaires, dukes, and hero inflation, looking at the reasons why a billionaire, or duke, or billionaire duke, is so appealing in our fiction. You can read it here. Today though, I’m talking about the fact behind the fiction, which is actually no less entertaining and contains some characters who, if they were fictional, would seem far too bizarre, eccentric and unlikely.

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Fish and Chips Ahoy!

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

I adore fish and chips.  I grew up inland and fish were not a regular part of the diet, but on rare occasions, we’d go to a “fish fry.”  That was a fundraiser dinner put on by a local fire department with fish and French fries and I don’t remember what else, but surely pies would have been there for dessert, this being Upstate New York. 

The wonderful crunch of deep fried batter contrasted so beautifully with the mild white fish within.  Fabulous!  The experience was so far from the dreary fish sticks served regularly in the school cafeteria that I never considered them even remotely related. 

The Stil
Later I realized that fish and chips are the iconic food of the British Isles, which are bodies of land completely surrounded by fish.  Potatoes grow really well there, too.  Fish and chips as we know them required deep fat frying, and appeared in the Britain in the 1860s. 

Both Lancashire and London claim to have invented fish and chips: here’s a sign First fish and chips shopcommemorating the London location.  There is also a theory that deep fried fish began in London and moved north while chip shops originated in Scotland and moved south, and they met and married in the Midlands.  I’m not sure if that’s true—the facts are not entirely clear—but as a romance writer, I like it. <G>

The idea for this blog struck when Wench Jo Beverley recently had a birthday.  Forget chocolate—she wanted fish and chips for her birthday treat. 

I understood perfectly.  Indeed, during my recent trip to Ireland, I ordered fish and chips several times and consumed them with great pleasure.  Possibly the best fish and chips I’ve ever had were at the Crackpots restaurant in Kinsale.  I think the fish leaped right out of the boat and into the deep fat fryer.  (Traditionally beef drippings were used, but now it's more likely to be something like peanut oil.)

Crackpots Restaurant, KinsaleCod has been the traditional British favorite fish for deep frying, with haddock in second place.  The discussion of fish and chips practically turned into an Ask A Wench blog. 

Nicola Cornick:  “I was brought up on fish and chips. It was a staple meal in the Yorkshire of my childhood and we were lucky enough to live just around the corner from a prizewinning fish and chip shop. The smell of fat was very pungent!

I particularly liked having a bag of chips in the evening with the little left over bits of batter sprinkled on top of the chips. These were called scraps in my part of the world but have different names in different parts of the UK. Cod wasn't on the menu in those days. It was all haddock from the North Sea and deliciously fresh. I didn't like vinegar but had lots of salt. My arteries are probably irreparably furred. These days I eat fish and chips much less frequently and my favourite fish and chip experience is sitting outside the Applecross Inn in the West Highlands of Scotland eating fish and chips and looking across the sea to Skye."

I thought fish and chips would be popular in former parts of the Empire, and sure enough, weighing in from Australia:

Anne Gracie: “Mary Jo, fish and chips is still very popular here, though we don't  have British cod, which is delicious. Flake (or shark) is the most popular fish for fish and chips, mainly because there are no surprise  bones, I suspect, not for the flavor, which is fairly bland. For me there's nothing better than sitting on the beach or in a park, eating fish and chips straight from the paper — none of this plate or knife and fork nonsense. And it's still a "first day of the holidays" ritual for many people. When my writers retreat group go on retreat, it's usually our first meal of the retreat— fish and chips and champagne.”

Canada: another country heard from!:

Jo Beverley: “I had great fish and chips in Hobart, Tasmania.  Dorado, maybe?  I like haddock. Don't much like cod. In Canada the choice was between halibut and cod and I went for halibut. I remember in Nova Scotia stopping by a van for fried clams and chips.  The fish needs to be fresh. At a pinch it can be previously frozen, but days old fish is never, ever good.  Morecambe, where I grew up, had been a fishing village and there were still fishermen bringing in the catch. The fish we ate was always really fresh.”

Traditionally, Americans have to work harder or travel farther for their fish and chips:

Susan King: “I didn't have GOOD fish and chips until my first trip to England in college. Then I was totally, uh, hooked. As it were. I have tried them in several places in England and Scotland, and wherever I can find them over here. The best I've ever had — a small pub at the foot of the castle hill in Stirling, Scotland. Not only delicious battered fish and perfect chips, but the peas were garden fresh. Best ever. Not to mention great atmosphere.” 

Fish and Chips in newspaperFish and chips were a mainstay of the working class, and also a major part of British diet during the World Wars—in WWII, they were among the few foods that were never rationed. 

I discovered this when I was researching my young adult novels, in which time traveling teens moved from Regency England to World War II.  And they all loved fish and chips.  The chippy in their town was called The Codfather. 

Some Americans have yet to meet proper fish and chips:

Cara/Andrea confesses that fish and chips is not part of her culinary experience, but after hearing the other Wenches wax poetic on its appeal, she promises to try it next time she is in England.”

Fish and chips stalls, Dorset, Wikipedia"There is something about chippies that calls forth puns: A Salt and Battery, A Batter Plaice (plaice being a common British fish), Salmon to Watch Over Me, The Frying Scotsman, and Oh, My Cod. So you get not only food but entertainment.

Traditionally, fish and chips were served in a newspaper cone, and it’s said that the porosity of the newsprint was perfect for absorbing oil and preventing greasiness. Since newspaper inks might not have been as healthy, it’s not longer used, to the regret of some.  Ideally, you’d eat them from a cone, piping hot and delicious on a cold, windy day, while walking home with your mates. 

I like that it's now much more possible to get good fish and chips than used to be theChippy sign case.  They're not exactly health food, but in my research, I find that they're significantly lower in fat and calories than a lot of the other standard American fast foods

Here’s are some fun facts from a British Food website

“Deep-fried fish in a crispy batter with fat golden chips is still one of Britain and Ireland's favorite meals. The love for them ranks alongside Roast Beef and Yorkshire Puddings, and the recently nominated Chicken Tikka Masala, as the English National Dish.”

Compared to other take-away foods Fish and chips have: 9.42 grams of fat per 100 grams. The average pizza has 11, Big Mac meal with medium fries has 12.1, Whopper meal with medium fries has 14.5, chicken korma 15.5 and doner kebab 16.2.

Fish and chips have 595 calories in the average portion – an average pizza has 871, Big Mac meal with medium fries has 888, Whopper meal with medium fries has 892, chicken korma 910 and doner kebab 924.

Statistics courtesy of Seafish UK.

Fish and chips are a good source of protein and vitamins, too. The discussion of fish and chips on the Wench loop sent half of us out to eat some.  <G> Luckily, they’ve An Poitin Stil, Timonium, Marylandgotten easier to find in the US—there are a couple of Irish pubs near me that do a very decent job.  So I went to the nearest pub for lunch. <G>

Have you had a chance to eat proper British-style fish and chips?  If so, did you love or hate them?  If not—would you like to give them a try?

Mary Jo