The Ormer (Haliotis tuberculata - a mollusc of the abalone family) is a much prized delicacy in Jersey. So highly prized in fact that their population has declined rapidly since the 19th century. Gathering ormers is now strictly controlled by law. and can only occur on an "ormering tide" between 1 January and 30 April each year. Only ormers larger than 80mm (3.15 inches) may be taken, and gatherers are not allowed to wear wet suits or even put their heads under water. The punishment is up to six months in prison, or a fine of £5,000. The rules led to the first underwater arrest in Britain when a diver was arrested for illegal ormer gathering by a police officer in scuba gear.
The ormer is soaked in fresh water, removed from it's shell, cleaned, and beaten with a steak hammer. It is then dusted with flour and fried. They can be eaten in a casserole, and when stocks were plentiful they were also pickled.
Ormer shells make attractive keepsakes as the inside of the shell is covered in mother of pearl.
Jersey wonders are sweet cakes similar in consistency to the doughnut, but neither filled with jam nor coated in sugar. Traditionally, Jersey housewives cooked their wonders as the tide went out. If they cooked them on an incoming tide, the fat in which the wonders were cooked would invariably overflow the pan!
To make about 40 wonders
- 700g self-raising flour
- 100g butter
- 200g caster sugar
- 6 eggs
- Sieve the flour and sugar together and rub in the butter, chopped into small pieces. Whisk the eggs and add to make a light dough.
- Make the dough into golfballs and put them on a lightly floured tray and cover with a damp cloth for two hours.
- Then roll out each of the balls into a 5x10 cm rectangle. Twist the rectangle and join the ends to create a figure of eight.
- Drop four to six wonders at a time into a pan of hot oil, cook until golden brown.
Jersey bean crock
Bean Crock (les pais au fou) has become the traditional dish of Jersey. It makes a filling but very tasty meal, and there are as many recipes as there are cooks - but they're all based on a mixture of dried beans and pork - preferably on the bone. It is not totally removed from the traditional French cassoulet, although it never includes duck and goose, as does the south-west French version of the dish.
Traditionally, the jar of beans and meat was carried to the bakery to cook overnight. A good bean crock relies on long, slow cooking.
Sometimes the beans used are just haricot beans, sometimes they are mixed beans. It is traditional to use pig's trotters - they give a rich gravy which forms a gel as it cools, but don't have much meat on them, so you need to add extra pork. Hocks can also be used.
It is a slow-cooked pork and bean stew, most authentically containing a pig's trotter water and onions. In the past the dish was so ubiquitous that English-speaking visitors, purporting to believe that the people of Jersey ate nothing else, dubbed the inhabitants Jersey beans (this epithet is considered derogatory).
Crabs and lobsters
Jersey has been a fishing community for as long as historical records exist, and among the most important catches over the centuries, and still in the 21st Century, are crabs and lobsters. These crustaceans have traditionally been caught in wicker pots suspended from buoys and checked regularly by their owners.
Clearly the process depends entirely on trust, with local fishermen emptying only their own pots; and that trust has to extend to French fishermen active in the same waters.
In days gone by, when there was a significant disparity between the price of Cognac and other French brandies in their country of origin and the Channel Islands, and a similar disparity in the opposite direction between the prices of Scotch whisky, a clandestine but highly valued exchange of these commodities took place with island fishermen leaving bottles of whisky in marked pots, to be exchanged on the next fishing tide with brandies from La Belle France.
Changes in taxation and the relative values of currencies have put paid to this trade, but the wicker baskets or pots still catch increasingly valuable shellfish, destined for Channel Island restaurants and much further afield.
Two types of edible crab are caught in Channel Island waters - the smooth-shelled Chancre Crabs (a Guernsey speciality) and the spiky-looking Spider Crabs, much loved in Jersey.