Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring

aka The Herripedia


The self-indulgent inclusion of two herring dishes appearing in my Sussex grandmother’s hand-written collection of strangely intermingled poems and recipes


This entry is pure self-indulgence.

My grandmother Annie – Nanny – Ewens’ recipe book is a thing of beauty, something that continued from her mother’s entries and which my mum left to me. What clearly began as a book in which my great grandmother Partridge wrote out her favourite poems was, at some point, turned upside down by her – starting from the back she started writing down recipes.

Nanny took over when she got the book, filling in recipes where her mother had left spaces. Having run out of space, 42 pages in, her recipes begin to surround the upside down poems, starting with a misremembered extract from Robert Louis Stevenson’s If This Were Faith. You can tell who wrote which recipe because Nanny’s handwriting was nowhere near as neat as her mother’s. And she didn’t bother with poems.

The book includes two herring recipes, both of them entered by Great Grandmother Partridge. I can’t remember ever getting herrings at 27, Oving Village – between Chichester and the sea, the house in which I was born.

I’d love to have heard her say Herring en Papilotte in her rich Sussex accent. By way of compensation, she was, of course, the Queen of Five Puddings (a title you can only get if you also cook a sugarless rice pudding – my grandfather was allergic to sugar until he discovered port in his 90s).

Split herrings. remove back bones. Sprinkle the cleansed insides with pepper, salt lemon juice and chopped parsley. Fold again. Wrap in grease proof paper, buttered. Lay in buttered dish and bake for about fifteen minutes in hot oven. Garnish with lemon and parsley.

Scale, clean and remove back bone from herrings. Wash and dry each fish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roll, skin outside. Lay in pie-dish and pour over equal quantities of water and vinegar. Add few peppercorns and a bay leaf. Bake in slow oven ¾ hour. Serve cold.