LESINA END THE EELS OF FREDERICK II 

THE EELS

Lake Lesina end Varano

Lake Lesina

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. Federico II 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.

Lake Lesina

Sandali (Sann'r) all'ormeggio

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.

Anguille e Capitoni

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. 

EelEel, the mermaid
Of cold seas leaving the Baltic To reach our seas, 
Our estuaries, to the rivers
Rising in the deep, 
under the adverse floods
From arm to arm and then 
From hair to hair, thinner and thinner, 
Further and further into,... 

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.

pesca delle anguille

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 Ocean. 

Sandali (Sann'r) all'ormeggio


particolare lavorazione reti da pescaAfter an exhausting swim, at a depth of more than 1,000 metres, the females spawn. So, it is thought that all the eels migrate to those warm waters of the ocean to lay millions invisible eggs. They come to the surface slowly and then, mysteriously, the maggots of the American strain separate from the European one and they reach their ancestors' place, dragged by their respective currents. That is not a tale: no specimen belonging to the American strain has been found in Europe and vice versa. It takes two years to arrive here and gradually they grow up. Once they arrive, they throng at the mouth of rivers and lagoons where they start the opposite way. They go into the lakes, Lesina or Alimini lakes. lf you are in Apulia, go and visit this sea that is not a sea, this lake that is not a lake but it is sea and lake together. Now the eels are Apulian but they do not know yet if they will be males or females. In fact until five they present a condition of intersexuaČlity, only then one of the two sexes prevails and their destiny changes. lf they are females they can live even 50 years, can be even 1,50 metres long and weigh even 5 or 6 kilos. lf they are males, they live no more than 15 years, are no more than 50 cm. long and weigh no more than 150/200 grams. The male will never be a yellow eel, only big and old females can be yellow eels. lf you want to enjoy them, you must hurry, join Lesina fishermen, go on their boats and sail where they have cast their nets (levoČrieri or bertovelli). Hurry up or the eels will leave for the Sargasso Sea and, who will find them again?

EEL SOIP
anguilla a pezziIngredients for 4 people:
1 k. eels (2 h. each)
1 k. wild chicory
A bouquet garni of wild celery 
1 onion
4 tomatoes 
1 aubergine 
1 courgette 
4 potatoes
1 pepper cut into four
A small bouquet of turnip tops 
8 small cubes of red pumpkin 
Salt and paprika

Gut and cut the eels into pices (about 3 cm. each), put them into a saucepan with 1 l. water; add salt and boil them. Add the other ingredients in layers finishing with the potatoes as a reference for the cooking point. Put the lid on the saucepan and let it cook for about 30-35 minutes. lt must be served very hot with toasted or stale bread.

EEL SOIP

lavorazione reti da pesca

reti da pesca

Sandali (Sann'r) all'ormeggio

 

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