Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Burgess covers the seafood beat

In 1903-1904 we can see a series of Good Housekeeping articles by W.B. Thornton that leverage Burgess's Cape Cod upbringing. The first on lobsters

The second on fresh fish

The third on oysters

The fourth on herring (Cape Cod Turkey):

To complete the series, a 1904 homespun recipe poem, "Fish Cakes with Beet."

The first three articles are of the most interest. In them you can see the early development of Burgess as a science writer--taking fairly technical information about lobster behavior or oyster seeding and translating it into terms that make it useful for the average reader. Thus Burgess offers some good advice for the seafood consumer--always pick what's freshest (not what you feel like eating) and beware of oysters that have been "fattened" in slow moving, i.e., sewage-filled, water. One can also see hints of a conservation-oriented perspective--the dwindling number of lobsters, e.g.--but always, here, within the terms of commerce. And, as we'll discuss tomorrow, Good Housekeeping at the time was an active player in the Pure Food Movement, so there was a general concern at the publication about food safety.

The writing of the fresh fish article was one of Burgess's favorite memories--he accompanied Gloucester fishermen on an three-day expedition to the Georges Bank and didn't get seasick, thus qualifying him for "admittance to the brotherhood of the sea." His warm feelings about the community of "bankers" is recounted in Chapter 9 of his autobiography:
I was living a chapter out of Kipling's Captain's Courageous. I lay in my bunk listening to fo'castle yarns and gossip. Most of the men were in or sitting on their bunks, for there is little waste space in a banker's fo'-castle. We were jogging under just the foresail, waiting for the period between tides when the tide would not be running too strong to get the trawls down. It was nearing midnight. To the fisherman on the banks the clock has no meaning. He is an opportunist. His daily labor and the hours of it are governed by the ebb and flow of the tide. So we idled as we waited. Perhaps some of the tales I heard were designed specially for landlubber ears, but mostly the talk was exchange of news and experiences. (p. 86)
(As noted last post, he was also proud of the photography from this trip, especially the shot below)

Tomorrow: Burgess and the Pure Food Movement

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