Our great adventure took a lot longer than intended; instead of a few days, we had spent almost two months driving to Key Largo and back, occasionally staying in hotels overnight, until we finally brought our new boat home. She is not brand new, but new for us, as our old boat had been gobbled up by hurricane Irma five years ago. This is Irwin 32 racer/cruiser ’84, and her name is – you guessed it, Beautiful People! – Ahh Odessa!
Since this is my last chance to celebrate the National Women Month, I am using this opportunity to pay tribute to yet another extraordinary woman, Doña Gracia Nasi Mendes, whose life endeavor had been centered on boats in an astonishingly dramatic manner. The story, however, starts a couple of hundred years earlier.
An innovative and highly profitable method of borrowing money was practiced by King Edward I of England: you borrow from the Jews, as there is no one else to borrow from (usury was forbidden by the church), then, since legally all Jews are the King’s property, all debts payable to them instantly become payable to you. All you have to do is to kill some and expel the rest. To quote Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the king!”
Edward I issued the expulsion edict in 1290, two hundred years earlier than the famous expulsion from Spain by Isabella and Ferdinand. Although there are some dubious records of hidden Jews living in England here and there, mostly practicing as physicians, officially Jews were not readmitted until Cromwell, having just executed King Charles I and feeling magnanimous, allowed them to resettle in 1655.
Meanwhile, things were literally getting hot for Jews all over Europe, and eventually the fires of inquisition, under the leadership of Their Most Catholic Majesties Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, consumed thousands. Meanwhile, Queen Isabella’s daughter, Infanta Catalina of Aragon became Queen Catherine of England, the first wife of Henry VIII. Supposedly, the Spanish Ambassador, who was her only contact with her parents, was a hidden Jew, “marrano,” as they were derisively labeled in Spanish (it means a pig). Supposedly, there were a few “marrano” physicians around who were more knowledgeable and thus more in demand than barbers who practiced bloodletting. Certainly, when Henry decided to annul his marriage to Catherine in order to marry Anne Bolein, he engaged an Italian Jew Marco Rafael to help him make a case. Quite a few hidden Jews resided in London during his reign (http://www.jewishgen.org), but how did they get there? Enter a remarkable lady, “the grand dame” of both Jewish and European history, Doña Gracia Nasi Mendes.
Coming from an ancient prominent family (Nasi is not a name but a title equivalent to Prince) and widowed at a young age, she built a spice trade fleet to transport thousands of Jews to safety. In 1537 Doña Gracia, together with her daughter, sister and two nephews departed Lisbon on an English ship bound for London. “Eventually they sailed to Antwerp, arriving by late February 1538. Judging from this and other incidents there seems to have been an organized network for transporting Portuguese Jewish refugees to the Netherlands. Using the spice trade as cover, they headed initially to an English port where they awaited news of the situation at their destination. If this was unfavorable, they usually disembarked at Southampton and then proceeded to London” (ibid.).
Scene from an Inquisition, by Francisco Goya, 1819.
To feed desperate people secretly stuffed into ship holds like, well, like fish in a barrel, a recipe well-known in Spain was implemented: Escabeche, fish first fried, then marinated in something acidic. Even though the easy and delicious way of preserving fish has long been known in Persian and Arabic lands, it’s “the Jews fleeing the Inquisition” who had brought it to England (http://www.foodtimeline.org). The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, published in 1796, includes a recipe The Jews way of preserving Salmon, and all Sorts of Fish which is a basic Escabeche.
I usually make Escabeche for Shabbos of Pesach (Passover), as it could be served either hot or cold and is equally delicious both ways. My grandmother dredged fish fillets in potato starch, while I use coconut flour instead, but to get that Odessa flavor that we crave, I make it with typical Odessa fish – flounder. I don’t have a ship full of spices, as Doña Gracia did, so I simply mix coconut flour with allspice and sea salt. Then I dredge fish through this mix and lightly fry it on barely misted with oil frying pan.
The second step is marinating, and I do that with lemon juice. To continue with the tropical theme, I also sprinkle my fish with coconut flakes. A classic Escabeche will just sit in marinade for a while, but since I don’t fry my fish to full readiness, I prefer to bake it in marinade for about ten minutes.
If you believe Hannah Glasse, “They will keep good a twelve-month,” but served on Friday night and accompanied by my papaya and kale salad (for recipe, click here), they instantly disappeared. Sadly, I never had a chance to test her assertion – maybe next year, when we all meet in Yerushalayim! Meanwhile, since we were fortunate to have a marvelous experience of spending three Shabbosim on the boat, we are hoping to enjoy the last six days of Pesach sailing, fishing, and making Escabeche.
- 2 lbs flounder fillets
- 1 cup coconut flour
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Preheat shallow frying pan, lightly mist with oil.
- Mix coconut flour with allspice and salt, dredge fish fillets through mix making sure to cover thoroughly.
- Fry for 1 minute on each side. Remove. Place fish fillets in one layer into lightly misted with oil baking pan. Pour lemon juice over fish, sprinkle coconut flakes. Bake covered for 10 minutes.
- Could be served either hot or cold.