Trout and Ethnic Cleansing

Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Plate from “Birds and Nature,” 1904.

What happened to trout? Of all the farm-reared fish they’re the most tasteless. Order one in a restaurant these days and you get something tasting like blotting paper. It was different once.

Listen to the French writer, Jean Giono in “La France a Table”:

Never with butter, never with almonds; that is not cooking, it is packaging. (It is, of course, understood that my recipes are not for all comers.) With the exception of truite en bleu nobody knows how to cook a trout. It is the most unfortunate fish on earth. If an atomic bomb destroyed the world tomorrow, the human race would vanish without ever having known the taste of a trout. Of course, I am no more talking of tank-bred trout than I would give a recipe for cooking a dog or a cat.

So, a fine fat, or several fine fat, trout from the river, fresh (that goes without saying), gutted, scaled, etc… A frying-pan previously rinsed out with flaming wine vinegar. Make this empty pan very hot. Into this very hot pan, a mixture of water and virgin olive oil (a claret glass of olive oil to 3 of water). Let it boil fast. Add a bouquet of thyme and nothing else whatsover except 2 crushed juniper berries and some pepper.

Reduce the mixture, and when there is nothing but a centimetre of fast boiling liquid left in the pan, put your fine fat, or several fine fat, trout gently into the liquid. Do not turn the fish over. Cover the pan and boil 1 minute, then 3 minutes very gently, and serve.

This rapid boiling of oil and water is the way to make bouillabaisse, which is fast food, the way fish should always be. Get the mix boiling, just like Giono says, then throw in your firm fleshed fish like bass or snapper with the smaller stuff five minutes later. Take it all off after another three minutes, put a slice of bread in each soup plate, a dish of aioli (garlic mayonnaise) in the center and go to it. Betcha George Bush (or Donald Trump) wouldn’t touch it.

We sent the Giono recipe to a CounterPuncher friend raised in Colorado and elicited this fierce reaction:

Nobody from Colo would be caught dead cooking a nice fat native brook trout that way. I disapprove. Recipe: Give big fish away, they are likely hatchery fish.Clean 7″ or smaller fish right away, leaving heads on, and wash blood out of spine with cold water. Dry gently. Dip in flour, then in corn meal. Fry very quickly but gently in a hot cast iron pan, in either bacon grease or butter. Just until they curl. Serve with lemon, hot buttered toast and glass of white wine. Never put vinegar anywhere near such a nice fish. Why mess around?

Well, she has a point, though we don’t care for cornflour. When Cockburn was a kid in Scotland a CounterPunch editor used to catch the little, pink-fleshed burn trout and roll them in oatmeal, then fry them. Trouble is, as our friend was tartly informed, brookies aren’t native to Colorado. It seems they were introduced before the turn of the 20th century to help provision miners and fostered later for fancy tourism. Breeding faster and more frequently, they edged out the indigenous cutthroat. As the Navajo and Apache were to the Hopi (who called them The People Who Came from the North and Crushed Our Skulls), so are the brookies to the native, peace-loving cutthroats of Colorado’s Rio Grande and San Juan rivers.

Our Colorado friend riposted tartly. “As the Chicanos say, how long do you have to hang around before you’re a native. Next you’ll be casting aspersions on yellow toadflax and leafy spurge.”

A couple of years ago, on a pack trip in the Golden Trout Wilderness in the California Sierra, we moodily noted the lack of any trout in a stream of high repute and was told that biologists from the state’s Fish and Game Department had decided the resident trout were alien and poisoned them with rotenone. If they’d introduced trout with the correct birth certificates, they hadn’t survived. Fishwise, the stream was dead for the next year and we’re now told by our friends Tim and Odette Larson who regularly pack mules into the Wilderness, there are trout back seemingly identical to the ones purged by Fish & Game.

This kind of exterminism is not unusual. Take Davis Lake in the California Sierra. Fish and Game poisoned it in a mad campaign of ethnic cleansing, to get rid of an invasive pike. They did it for the sports fishermen. Nothing living there as yet except the pike, and the Townspeople still cannot drink the water, so we’re told by a nice lady in the local City Hall.

It is true, this business of eradicating “non-natives” can go too far. Back in Nazi Germany young Aryans used to hike about at weekends, exterminating alien plant species and extolling “race specific, blood and soil-rooted, homeland-oriented garden design”. A. Kraemer, a garden architect, called for “race specific gardens, which have their origins in nationality and landscape, blood and soil”.

Flora as well as fauna were marshalled into desirable and undesirable types. Theorists of landscape design such as Willy Lange saw the purpose of the “nature garden” as not primarily to please humans. Plants, as much as animals, should have equal rights, with native plants much preferred over alien species. Lange denounced the formal garden as characteristic of the “South Alpine race”.

These theories of landscape and the natural garden, with the notion of rootedness in the soil also had an anti-Semitic content, with the Jews, like gypsies, being described as rootless nomads. One garden architect proclaimed that “only our knowledge of laws of blood and spiritually inherited property, and our knowledge of the conditions of the home soil and its plant world (plant sociology), enable and oblige us to design blood-and-soil rooted gardens.”

This rubbish was hotly contested by some brave souls, along them Rudolf Borchardt, a Jew who died in 1942 trying to escape the Nazis. In 1938, he made a plea for international garden culture:

If this kind of garden owning barbarian became the rule, then neither a gillyflower nor a rosemary, neither a peach-tree nor a myrtle sapling nor a tea-rose would ever have crossed the Alps. Gardens connect people, times and latitudes.

[That being said, we would still like to throttle the person who imported Scotch Broom into the United States, bringing it to Oregon in 1865. Try uprooting any broom with a stem thicker than a stick of dry spaghetti and you’ll see what we mean.]

So, leave those alien brookies alone!

This essay originally appeared in CounterPunch magazine in 2001.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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