A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 11, 2014
“Throw away the fish, eat the plank” (joke)

Carp is not a fish that many people choose to eat. A jocular recipe details a long preparation, ending, “throw away the fish and eat the board/plank/shingle. This is said to be the best part of the fish.”

The humorous “carp recipe” has been cited in print since at least June 1904. The recipe’s punch line is also told about other seemingly inedible foods.


16 June 1904, Janesville (WI) Daily Gazette, pg. 2, cols. 1-2:
HARPING ON CARP
RECIPE IS GIVEN
Now to Cook the Delicious Denizons of the Deep, and How to Eat Them.
With each recurringday it appears more than ever that we are deliberately throwing away a valuable food product when we discardthe large, oily, fat carp that infest the bay and the lake. The whole trouble liesin thefac that not one person in a hundred knows how to properly cook a carp. People have gone at the culinary feat in a haphazard way, hence ‘tis little wonder that the fish has lost caste among epicures. We are too prone to pass judgment hastily on manners and methods that fail to suit our individual ideas, notions and tastes, and ‘tis evident that the much abused carp has not had a fair chance. A new method of cooking and serving carp has been tried with signal success and it is believe that the plan is a feature of the domestic science course at the university, but this, however, can not at present be substantiated.

Briefly, the method is this: Select a moderate-sized carp, dress carefully although this is not as important as some might think, although it is best that it be fairly well done. Remove the head,open the fish and spread it out on a thin flat board a trifle wider than the carp is when he is expanded, the fleshside of the fish to be next to the board. WIth a fewsmall nails fasten the fish to the board, give it a dash of salt and pepper and slip it into a hot oven. Baste it occasionally while it is baking, which will require about two hours, after which the fish may be removed from the oven and prepared for the table. The rest is easy. Pull out the nails, throw away the carp and eat the board.

16 June 1904, Iowa Postal Card (Fayette, IA), pg. 2, col. 2:
Here is a recipe for cooking a fish known as the German carp:

Clean the fish nicely Let it dry for two days in the sun. Nail the fish to a pine board, cover with salt, and after standing for two days put in the oven and bake slowly for six hours. Then draw the nails out, throw the carp away and eat the nails and board which are said to be the best part of the fish.

No one except a person who has tried toeat a carp can really appreciate this recipe.

Chronicling America
18 June 1904, Arizona Republican (Phoenix, AZ), “Of Local Interest,” pg. 6, col. 2:
FOR COOKING CARP—Since catfish have become so plentiful in Salt river, thecatching of carp does not seem to be as popular as it once was, and in order that this grand sport may not become entirely obsolete, Billy Milton, who has an almost national reputation in the cooking of fish, submits the following recipe for preparing and cooking carp: Thoroughly clean the carp and allow it to hang in the sun for two days, then take itdown and nail it to a clean board, after which allow it to hang up for two days longer; then put it in the oven and bake slowly for six hours; remove from the oven, draw out the nails, throw the fish away, and eat the board and the nails. These are said to be the best part of the fish.

11 July 1907, Indianapolis (IN) Sun, pg. 4, col. 3:
An Indiana woman announces a new recipe for planking carp. She might add, “when done, throw away the carp and eat the plank.”

14 August 1907, Eau Claire (WI) Leader, “Voracious Carp, River Men’s Bank,” pg. 3, col. 5:
An attempt was made to plank them (carp—ed.) the same as shad, but it is said by those who tried that they might as well eat the plank as the fish.

Google Books
14 November 1908, Forest and Stream, pg. 782, col. 3:
Carp Recipe.
OWEGO, N. Y., NOV. 7.—Editor Forest and Stream: In reply to the query of Amateur Angler as to the proper manner acarp should be prepared, I take it that he would like to know how to cook the “beast.” The following recipe is an old one, and pronounced by those who have used it to be the only known way which justifie sthe preparation of a carp for the table:

After thoroughly cleaning the carp, soak it over night in salt wter, parboil, for an hour, then procure a good wide shingle and put same in a dripping pan upon which place the carp; take several slies of lemon cut thin, and also several slices of fat salt pork and place them in the dripping pan upon the carp; add a half teacup of water, butter the size of an egg, season slightly with pepper and salt; bake in a moderate oven, tasting every ten or fifteen minutes for an hour or until the fish is thoroughly browned; then take the carp and carefully dump it into the garbage can and eat the shingle.
F. J. D.

Chronicling America
15 May 1909, Daily Public Ledger (Maysville, KY), pg. 3, col. 5:
CARP RECIPE.
After thoroughly cleaning the carp, soak it over night in salt wter, parboil for an hour, then procure a good white shingle and put same in a dripping pan upon which place the carp; take several slies of lemon cut thin, and also several slices of fat salt pork and place them in the dripping pan upon the carp; add a half teacup of water, butter the size of an egg, season slightly with pepper and salt; bake in a moderate oven, tasting every ten or fifteen minutes for an hour or until the fish is thoroughly browned; then take the carp and carefully dump it into the garbage can and eat the shingle.

30 April 1910, Watertown (NY) Daily Times, pg. 4,col. 2:
The best way to prepare them (German carp—ed.) for food, they say, is to nail them to a shingle, bake them well, throw away the fish, and eat the shingle. 

Google Books
June 1912, Hunter-Trader-Trapper, pg. 88, col. 2:
Now, boys, did you ever eat a baked carp? I will tell you how it can be done: Take a carp, clean him and get him ready to be baked; now lay him on a two and one-half inch plank just as long as the carpand put him in the oven; let him bake twenty-four hoursand Iguess he will be aked. Then take him out and when he is cool you can throw the carp away and start to eat the plank, for it will be the best part of the bake.
(...)
Willie Jones, Mercer County, N. J.

Chronicling America
30 August 1914, The Daily Gate City (Keokuk, IA), “Gillilan Writes of Keokuk Dam,” pg. 7, col. 3:
The best way to cook a German carp is to plank it.

You lay it on a well-seasoned board, cook it three hours in a cool fire, throw away the fish and eat the plank.

Google Books
Catfish at the Pump:
Humor and the Frontier

By Roger L. Welsch
Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press
1986, ©1982
Pg. 111:
The greenhorn asked what that might be and the old-timer replied, “Well, you take a jack rabbit and skin him out. You stretch him out in front of thefire on a plank until he is toasted a golden brown. Then you carefully take him off the plank, throw him away, and eat the plank.”

Google Books
Fforum:
Essays on Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing

Edited by Patricia L. Stock
Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook
1983
Pg. 234:
Think of the famous recipe for cooking grandfather sturgeon: nail it to a cedar plank, roast it for fourteen hours, throw away the fish, eat the plank.

Google Books
Notes from the Sausage Factory
BY Barnie Day and Becky Dale
Lawrenceville, VA: Brunswick Pub.
2005
Pg. 323:
Even the most die-hard Virginians would agree that shad is an acquired taste; it’s often said that one should eat the plank and throw away the fish! Being an avowed vegetarian, I can’t help but agree.

Reporter-Herald (Loveland, CO)
Carp prove elusive in area waters
By Dennis Smith
POSTED:  07/02/2014 03:48:56 PM MDT
For as long as I can remember, carp have been considered trash fish by the vast majority of anglers. And almost everyone I know has heard the old joke about cooking carp on a cedar plank with herbs and spices over a bed of coals then throwing the carp away and eating the plank. I’ve never done that, but I have tried cooking them several different ways, none of which tasted very good. They’re fun to catch, but not many people stateside think of carp as good to eat.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Friday, July 11, 2014 • Permalink