Tag Archives: Ol’ Wife

The queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula) Ol’ Wife

St. John Sea Creatures: Ol' Wife
Ol’ Wife

Queen Triggerfish

Back in my fishing days, we used to bring in a considerable amount of Queen Triggerfish, locally called Ol’ Wife. It was a species that some people wanted to buy and some didn’t. The difference, I believe, was the nature of the Ol’ Wife’s extremely tough skin. To prepare it it needed to be skinned, not scaled. It was one of those things that some people could do easily and others found difficult.

There was also the controversy as to whether or not it was permitted by Old Testament law, observed by Seventh Day Adventists, Jews and Muslims which prohibit eating fish that lack fins and scales. Although the Queen Triggerfish appears to have skin and not scales, in actuality, they do have tiny scales over their tough skin. There weren’t too many Jews and Muslims in St. John in those days and I suspect that the few that were here weren’t that observant to dietary law, but there was a certain controversy as to the fish’s acceptability as an appropriate food as outlined in the Bible, among the Seventh Day Adventists, who did make up a sizable minority.

In those days, fish were sold strapped to a tyre palm leaf and the strap was mixed. Because of the Ol’Wife skin or scales controversy I never added them to a strap.

Scales or no scales, the fish needed to be skinned, because their skin is too tough to eat; so tough that Ol’ Wife skin was used by many in those backtime days for scrubbing pots and pans.

Nonetheless, once you removed the skin, the Ol’ Wife made a tasty soup and one of the tastiest Ol’ Wife soups could be found at Eric Christian’s restaurant, Eric’s Hilltop, located where the legislative building is now. So, in less I had a specific request, all my Ol’ Wife went to Eric and O’l Wife soup was on the menu just about every day at lunchtime.

The Queen Triggerfish was plentiful in those days, but not so much anymore and is currently listed as “Vulnerable” with the World Conservation Union (IUCN)

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