Even "the Wonder of the World", Frederick II, so dear to the people of Apulia, loved the eels of Lesina. History books tell us how on February 28th, 1240, the emperor wrote to the curia of Foggia to ask for some fresh fish from Lesina to be prepared in the manner called askipeciam (escoveitch) by his personal cook by the name of Berardo. The genius had his sights set on Lesina capitone, meaning an older female eel, as this sort of fish reveals its sex several months after birth. He wanted to eat it cooked by the escoveitch technique, still used today for Christmas dinner, meaning to fry the fish and then marinate it in vinegar until the female eel is ready to be relished and enjoyed at the dinner table. As most people know, eels are not raised in fish farms, as their lifecycle is ensured by long migrations. Even today the reproduction mechanisms of the eel are for sure mysterious. The route the fish take to reproduce is fascinating. For instance, due to its peculiarity, Lake Lesina is a large basin capable of playing the role of a very good natural nursery for fries that reach the Adriatic Sea at the end of a very long journey from the Sargassi Sea. Here after taking the Acquarotta Channel and the Schiapparo Mouth, they find their natural habitat, ideal for growing thanks to the admixture of fresh and salt water.
In the olden days, the fish catch was plentiful, so much so that it was the main source of wealth of local fishermen. Today, because of changing climatic conditions, catches are no longer as plentiful as before, so that this fish has become rather valued. Long ago, capitoni , large female eels, were a luxury item to export to rich markets in large towns. For this reason according to an old custom female eels were not served on the tables of poor homes of days gone by. Instead, poor folks could only afford rejects, meaning the small male eels. Thanks to man's inventiveness, that reject has been used to come up with a small gastronomic miracle, a fine speciality of the zone: eel soup which may be enjoyed in and around Lesina nearly all year round. Thanks to the National Park of Gargano, from December 22 to 23 in conjunction with an event featuring the eel, many gourmands from all over Italy were able to enjoy the eels of Frederick II.
Montale has dedicated a poem to the eel, enhancing its qualities, its adventurous life, its sinuous and graceful bearing, its ability to live and search for opposite environments and conditions, during its lifetime.
This mysterious animal does not attract, does not inspire confidenČce because of its body more similar to a snake than to a fish. lt lives in the Mediterranean Sea and can live both in brackish and fresh water as well as in caves and in wells becauČse it does not like the sunlight By daylight it lives hidden under the stones and the mud, in the dark it leaves ruthlessly to hunt for food. Maggots, insects and small animal organisms are its favourite preys. In short, two eels keep a well clean of irksome unwelcome guests. That was the way to keep wells cleaned when the aqueducts did not reach all the countries.
lts life was wrapped in mystery: Pliny thought it bred from the mud in the bowels of the earth. On the contrary, after a life spent in the calm waters of Lesina or Alimini Lakes, it seems that this animal decides to go and breed in the Sargasso Sea, in the middle of the Atlantic