Bye, bye, lamprey pie

June 6, 2012

Queen Elizabeth II wrapped up her Diamond Jubilee festivities last night in London, celebrating 60 years as monarch, but no word yet on whether she actually ate any lamprey pie—made with sea lampreys from our very own Great Lakes.

"From a biological station in Michigan," said Dr. Mark Gaden, Communications Director at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in Ann Arbor.
 
The English city of Gloucester presented the pie, traditionally made with the eel-like fish from their River Severn, where the brook, river, and sea lampreys are now protected species. For us, sea lampreys have been an invasive species since the 1920s when they first swam from the Atlantic Ocean through shipping canals into the Great Lakes. By the '40s they nearly destroyed the now $7 billion salmon, trout, and walleye fisheries.
Mark also sent two lampreys to Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport, thanks to How to Do Everything's Mike Danforth and Ian Chillag, who, well, wanted to know how to make lamprey pie.
 
PHB chef/owners Art Jackson and Chelsea Kalberloh Jackson whipped up their version of a royal lamprey pie. The fish arrived headless and gutted, so no blood for one historic recipe, said Art. Instead he used a velvety cream sauce. Mike and Ian tasted it last Friday afternoon and proclaimed it "surprisingly tasty."
I'm not surprised. Art and Chelsea could encase just about anything in their signature flaky, crisp, and hearty butter crusts—especially filled with bechamel—and it would be tasty.
 
But I wanted more—more lampreys for lamprey pie.
So I called up Mark myself.
 
"It’s not as easy to get as you think,” he said. "There are not people out there catching them. We have a control system that’s enormously successful that kills in them in their larval stage. Each one will kill 40 pounds of fish so we get them prior to the point that they can kill fish."
So there went my plans for more lamprey pie and a springtime Sheboygan road trip—when lampreys are in season—fueled by beer, brats, and Friday night lamprey frys.
But I still like to imagine the queen, late last night, a bit peckish, padding down to the kitchen in Buckingham Palace, alone at last, finally taking one big satisfying bite of cold lamprey pie by the light of the fridge.
 
One thing: like many historic pies, the crust on hers from Gloucester was not meant to be eaten. Historic pie crusts were just a cooking and carrying vessel. So in my imaginings, Elizabeth II gets to eat the golden crown of crust from Pleasant House Bakery, a lamprey pie truly fit for a queen.