A mud horse, not to be confused with a grass-mud horse, a very different and supposedly mythical creature, a mud horse is a wooden sledge traditionally used by mud horse fishermen in the Severn estuary. There is only one mud horse fisherman left, and even he may have given up now, fishing in Bridgwater Bay, just south of us here. At low tide the sea goes out a great way, leaving exposed banks and flats of soft, sticky, very dangerous mud. Fishing from the shore is a challenge and a sort of sledge, a mud horse, is used to cross the mud.
The fisherman pushes the mud horse out across the mud, leaning most of his weight across the frame so his weight is distributed and he won’t sink as he safely navigates across the exposed mud flats at low tide; the fisherman is heading out to the stake nets, which as you might guess are nets slung between upright stakes to catch the fish. The mud horse also carries his tools and a basket for his catch. A hard, hard job and I guess these days the rewards are small; in summer the fisherman might net skate, sea bass and ling, and when autumn comes, freezing cold, miserable short days, shrimps might be the only catch, while whiting are a winter reward. In the olden days the yield was richer, and once a sturgeon was caught!
Shrimps mean something different in the USA, but over here we mean the smallest of the small prawn like creatures, with a shell and ten legs which are delicious! They may be small, about 1 – 2 inches long, but they have the best flavour! The Latin name is crangon crangon, but it’s locally called brown shrimp, common shrimp, bay shrimp or even sometimes grey shrimp, and its home is the cool North Atlantic waters.
If you should come across some Somerset shrimps, here is a traditional recipe – obviously you can use it for any shrimps, but this what to do with a pint of shrimps from round here – mated with our other world-famous traditional cider:
- 1 pint shelled shrimps, shells,, legs whiskers etc reserved
- 1 oz butter
- ¼ pint cider
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
- 2 tsp flour
- salt to taste
- a good grind or grate of nutmeg
- brown bread and real butter (not margarine) to serve, or brown toast – whichever you prefer
- simmer the shells, legs, whiskers etc of the shrimps in the cider for just ten minutes, strain and add water to make the liquor up to ¼ pint again
- melt the butter, add the flour and make a roux, gradually adding the liquor stirring all the time to prevent lumps forming, and make sure you bring it to the boil
- lower the heat to minimal, add the shrimps, and the egg yolk, stirring constantly but gently so you don’t break up the little shrimps, for about 2-3 minutes
- if you are serving with toast, pour the shrimp mixture onto the toast making sure the plate is warm, if you are serving with bread and butter, you still need a warm plate
- a peppery watercress or rocket salad is nice!
Find out more about mud horses and Severn estuary fishing here: