Royal Lamprey Pie, Gloucestershire
The lamprey is a strange looking fish, or if truth be told it is downright ugly, its jawless mouth a ring of teeth that helps this parasitic creature attach itself to other fish and feed on their blood.
In spite of its looks the lamprey has long had royal associations - Henry I famously died in Rouen of a surfeit of his favourite dish; King John instituted lamprey keeping in Gloucester, and levied a tax on them for good measure. Such were the royal associations with and delight in lampreys that from medieval times to 1836 it was customary for Gloucester to send a lamprey pie to the monarch every Christmas.
After 1836 expense brought an end to the annual custom, and these days the lamprey is an endangered species so it is unlikely to be revived. But for special occasions - coronations, jubilees and so on - Gloucester still sends a Royal Lamprey Pie to the King or Queen - Queen Elizabeth II was provided with one for her Silver Jubilee in 1977.
In the earlier versions the crust was more to retain the flavour of the contents rather than to be eaten, and it would be decorated with gilt designs and heraldic devices. Later on the fashion had changed, and the entire thing was for eating - Victoria was sent a 20lb version which was decorated with such delicacies as truffles and crayfish.
Alan Davidson in his seminal North Atlantic Seafood gives a recipe for one version, but there is no set standard: his has the fish marinated in wine and vinegar with flavourings; others are recorded as using a syrup to match the fish. Eels would make a good substitute, and in Cornwall an eel pie is still made that is not dissimilar to the Gloucester lamprey version.
On this day: