Not The Target Market


The weather is dithering: we have been late spring hot in February, winter cold in March, hot and cold in April, with that alternating pattern continuing to whiplash us into May. I was silly enough to pack away all the winter things in April. I had to burrow for a fleece top last weekend. And now it is 95 degrees and humid. If I didn’t know better I would say it’s July, which is why I maintain the weather is dithering.

It’s not just the weather that is dithering. I have been suffering from a strong case of “should I/should I not” over the spring planting. I should have started the morning glory seeds last month. I almost started them two weeks ago. I finally planted them this morning (which is a wonder, since, as it feels like July, I would have thought my first instinct would have been to say “too late” and find something else to do that involved a tall glass of ice tea.)

Morning glories up the back porch are my supposedly well-thought-out compromise this year. Instead of allowing myself to be seduced by magazine photos of glorious pots of flowers on well turned out patios, and ever more glorious pots in the flesh at the garden center, I am going to limit myself to four strategic pots solely of morning glories.

And the reason? I think I can maybe make the commitment to four pots (although if pressed, I don’t think I could swear to it.) I always, every year without fail, lose interest in the patio pots I end up with. Watering them quickly becomes a pain in the neck. And they rightly resent that and curl up and die, even before, enveloped in blazing sun and high humidity, July staggers to a close. So, in order to keep any floral seduction and carnage to a minimum, I am focusing on these four pots of morning glories. Poor things. I hope they are tough.

All is not lost on the dithering front, though. The one thing around here that is doing precisely what it should, when it should, are the shad. They are presently making their way up the Connecticut River in their thousands. They have been doing this run since time immemorial and they never dither. When the shadbush (amelanchier rosaceae) blooms, shad stop cruising about the Atlantic and start looking for their home waters – the rivers and pools where they were born – to lay their eggs. This is not an easy journey and one wouldn’t blame them if they dithered and put it off, but they never do. It is so tough that over half of them will die before they can make the return trip.

Even though these shad are apparently a local treasure, I can’t say that I ever thought about them at all until last Friday when The Hunter and I went up to the Holyoke dam to see the fish elevators and the shad.

These elevators were built into the dam as traditional fish ladders weren’t working and the shad population was crashing. The elevators scoop up the migrating fish and deposit them over the top of the dam. During the shad run (roughly the whole month of May into the first two weeks of June), university students are hired by the dam authorities to count the number of fish going over the top. As of May 14 there were 44,517 shad, 27 blueback herring, 69 gizzard shad, 1 striped bass, 30 sea lampreys, and 1 Atlantic salmon.

The dam is open to the public during shad season and you can look at the fish through glass walls as they are swimming in a holding tank before being released at the top and you can go out on walkways, stand in the spray from the dam and see the elevators grind their way upwards.

After seeing all the fish waiting to continue upriver, I wondered why I have never eaten shad. Clearly it’s plentiful and local. It was considered a delicacy in colonial times. My grandmother, I recall, loved shad (as did, from what I read, George Washington), and she especially loved the shad roe, which gets rave reviews from caviar lovers.

My grandmother loved all fish. She used to tell us that when she was little, she and her brothers would go down to the beach, pluck periwinkles off the rocks and suck out the creature inside as a quick snack. This story made me question Grandma’s taste in fish, so before sending The Hunter out to catch some shad, I did a little research.

Bones appear to be the reason shad isn’t on all locavore menus. Every article I read had a different number. The low appears to be 764 and the high 1300 bones per adult fish. In short, there are a lot; furthermore, these bones aren’t arranged simply as in a ‘normal’ fish. There are four lines of them, all curved and interlocking.

A Native American legend about the origin of the shad goes like this: a porcupine complained vociferously about his lot in life. All day. Every day. He had all these quills. No one would come near him or be his friend. Tired of the grumbling, the Great Spirit turned the complaining porcupine inside out and tossed him in the river, whereupon he became the shad.

Like de-quilling a grumbling porcupine, which I imagine would be tedious and endless, deboning a shad before cooking takes an expert. Deboning one after cooking, when it is staring at you on your plate means mouthful after mouthful of bones – something I can’t stand. So, despite Grandma’s (and George Washington’s) endorsement, there will be no shad on my menus. I won’t be dithering on that at all.

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