What Your London Ancestors Ate: Jellied Eels

Tastes in food certainly have changed over the generations. An article by Tony Dunnell in the Atlas Obscura web site describes one of the favorite foods in London, especially amongst the working class folks in the 1700s. Eels from the River Thames were chopped, boiled, and then combined with vinegar, sliced onion, peppercorns, bay leaves, and salt. As the mixture cooled, the cooked animal’s gelatinous proteins solidified into savory jelly surrounding the meat.

If you are feeling hungry, you can learn more at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/foods/jellied-eels-london.

Comment by Dick Eastman: I ate eels occasionally when I moved to China for some time in the early 1980s. The Chinese eat both fresh water eels and salt water eels although the two taste quite different to me. I love the salt water eels but never cared much for the fresh water variety. When I was back in Shanghai a few weeks ago, I ordered salt water eels again in a restaurant and found that I still like them. They taste a lot like other kinds of fish, quite similar to catfish.

Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!

I admit I haven’t yet tried jellied eel, however.

11 Comments

My sister-in-law’s husband [must get the correct relationship!!] loved them and I treated him to them the last time I was in London visiting – probably 15 years ago – so they are still popular as he had no trouble finding any.

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If you lived in London in the 20th century you probably ate jellied eels, certainly a treat in east London together with winkles, cockles and whelks.

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The eels came from the Thames? No wonder London had such high mortality rates.

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18th Century delicacy? 21st Century more like! Still eat them! Delicious!

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My wife’s 4 great grandfather was a fisherman in the Thames about the 1841 census and probably fished for eels. This fills in a bit of history for her

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“Tastes in food certainly have changed over the generations.” True. The Newcastle-on-Tyne city directory for 1890 listed several people working as tripe preparers.

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We used to have tripe in the 1940’s and 1950’s living in New Jersey, USA. I loved it. A hangover from my mother’s British parents?

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    My mother cooked tripe regularly when i was going up in Australia in the 50s and 60s. I hated it. it was “offal. ” 🙂

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We love nigiri sushi, one of which is eel.

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And then there is “Banner Sausage” . . . or Pork Brains . . . cooked with eggs.
Yes, things I have eaten in the past – Yes I like them. Also there is Head Cheese (Souse in Danish). Farm life in Virginia, USA in the early 1940s.

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    I also enjoyed brains and eggs as a child in the 1940s – that is, until I walked into the kitchen and saw what my mother was cooking! I guess I had never made the connection between the name of the food and what it meant.

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