Glass Remembered … Poached Salmon

Louise Mangles (nee Nicol) kindly sent us this interesting article about “poaching”

Poached salmon

As well as his game keeping duties on the grouse moor in Aberdeenshire my father had a stretch of the River Deveron to look after when he was working there in the early 50s. To be able to do some fishing was a source of occasional relaxation for him. Of course all the trout and salmon he caught went to the laird at the Lodge but it still gave my father boasting rights on the size of the ones that got away! My job when he was fishing was to wait quietly by with my bike so that when his line got caught on the opposite bank I bad to go and untangle it. Luckily the salmon pools where he fished were quite near a convenient road and bridge so I only had to negotiate getting along the far bank and freeing the line without falling in myself.

In spite of the good fishing we had very few problems with poaching on that stretch of the river. However as a child I often listened to dramatic tales of chasing and catching poachers from Fathers friends who were keepers and ghilies on the nearby Spey. I was therefore surprised as I grew up when people often talked openly about having eaten poached salmon — and admitting it front of my father too! I was too young to realise that poaching was a method of cooking salmon as well as catching it! An enterprising uncle who was a ghilie once put a salmon skin to an interesting alternative use. He used it to glue over and repair a crack in a washbasin on the basis that if it kept the water out of the salmon it would keep the water in the basin — a fishy tale indeed.

Another example of confusion caused by the different use of words occurred when, as a child, I was told the story of the little Dutch boy who saved Holland from flooding by putting his finger in a hole in a dyke. The fields and moors I knew were surrounded by dry stone walls which were an extremely environmentally friendly way of clearing the land of rocks and boulders and then using them to make barriers to shelter and contain the livestock. Of course I knew them as dry stone dykes which had many, many holes in them so the point of the story of the little Dutch boy was a complete mystery to me! Speaking of dry stone dykes there was an isolated ruined croft known as Goshens where it was rumoured the owner made his own whisky. He apparently hid the bottles from the excise men in gaps in the dykes around the croft and they said bottles sometimes appeared when dykes collapsed long after old Goshen had gone. It was common practice in that region to call farmers by their farms name rather than their own e.g. old Goshen or even just Mains. My Father also talked in his lifetime of seeing lights and smoke emanating from isolated empty crofts far out on the moor on dark nights when he was out watching for foxes. The lights were doused and the conversation stopped when his footsteps were heard but the smell of the whisky being distilled lingered!

Poachers and trespassers were sometimes a problem on the grouse moor and around the pheasant rearing pens. On one occasion some lads had to be chased off the policies when Father worked on the Dumfries House Estate. They headed for a nearby farmyard with Father in full flight after them. They faced up to him when they were eventually cornered against a high wall and they threatened to harm his dog if he didn’t let them go so he eventually conceded defeat and quite happily encouraged them to escape over the wall behind them. What he knew and they didn’t was that the wall hid the remnants of a slurry pit — life never smelt so sweet again for these poachers.

As an elderly teacher working in rural Suffolk I was often regaled with tales of lamping and poaching by some of the big country lads in my classes. They thought I would be amazed and even impressed by such tales. It is they who were surprised when this little old lady not only completely understood what they were on about but could often top their tales with far more exciting ones. Their references to poaching activities then abruptly stop when I’d mention my game keeping connections!