The so-called Scottish Kipper actually originated in the cold salty seas around Iceland, although it is now all but extinct in the wild. A saltier fish than most, it used to inhabit the same high-saline seas that were the home of the anchovy. Indeed for a very long time the anchovy was thought to be the juvenile form of the kipper, so little was known about the lifecycle of the two species.
The natural smoked flavour of the kipper originally came about because schools of kipper frequented the seas around Iceland during the now famous volcanic eruptions known as Skaftáreldar (fires of Skaftá) in 1783-84. These eruptions set fire to vast hectares of mixed forest. At the same time the smoke and ash from the volcanoes caused heavy downpours of rain. This resulted in partly quenching the forest fires and creating a heavy wash of smoke residues, tars and phenolic resins into the ocean around Iceland and Greenland. Fishermen at the time found that this seeming pollution actually improved the keeping qualities of the fish they caught, and some came to believe that the affected fish actually tasted better as a result of the apparent contamination. Appreciation of the kipper was slow at first, but it increased steadily. It was generally considered to be an “acquired taste”.
Of course once the eruptions subsided, the kipper was once more just another salty fish, and now cutomers demanded the tastier version. Things looked bad for kipper lovers until one Dougal McTavish, a Dundee fishmonger became involved. Once the local demand for kipper could no longer be met with wild-caught stock, McTavish established the first commercially successful fish rearing farm in a well-kept secret land-locked salt-water loch in the north of Scotland. The business has grown over the years until it is now almost the only source of genuine Scottish kipper in the entire world. It remains a family business controlled by the Mctavish family.
Much of the production process is a McTavish family secret, though it is known that young kipper smelt captured in the wild are introduced to the loch early in the season, and fed on a select and secret diet that causes rapid growth.
Every year at the end of the season, a huge pile of locally grown wood of a secret combination of species is burnt under carefully controlled conditions limiting the amount of air for combustion so that dense clouds of tars and phenolic resins can be condensed in specially designed water towers which flush directly into streams feeding the loch. Thus the fish acquire their distinct and popular smoky flavour. A serendipitous side effect of this process is a harvest of smoked mussels and oysters from the shores of the loch. The shellfish are harvested at the same time as the kippers.
Unfortunately, production of kippers is now under threat since environmental activists have discovered the location of Kipper Loch, and have recently been attempting to close it down because they believe that smoking fish is unnatural and contrary to the wishes of Gaia, and also because it contributes to the annual production of greenhouse gasses. The McTavish family usually counter this argument by pointing out that Gaia herself presumably caused the volcanoes that began the evolution of the kipper in the first place, and as for the greenhouse gasses, who gives a feck anyhow?
© 2013 ARF