Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean,
And so betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean.
That nursery rhyme, when I think of it, typically plays in my head to the beginning of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite – it fits if you make the last line “They licked, they licked the platter clean.”
But when would I think of it? Well, yesterday morning, for one.
Yesterday morning, you see, my wife and I were visiting her aunt and uncle, and we had breakfast on their deck, quite a nice spread of cold eats: cold cuts, devilled eggs, Napoleons, tomatoes, smoked salmon, tinned sprats…
You know what a sprat is, right? It’s a little fish. They have in the past been passed off as anchovies or sardines. But they’re not as strong flavoured. These ones were smoked and packed in oil, and the flavour was lovely and mild. They were from Latvia, which of course made them a hit with my wife’s aunt and uncle, who are Latvian.
It’s quite a name for a fish, isn’t it, sprat? Not exactly dignified-sounding. Nothing two-syllable like haddock or herring (or kipper) or sardine or or or (take a while and see how many two-syllable fish you can think of), and on the other hand a different kind of sound than, say, cod. This word sounds like splat or spat or prat; there’s an echo of rat, too. And it connects will the many spr words in English, spring sprain spruce spruik sprig sprocket spray etc. I wonder if a cat would happily eat a sprat. I’ve certainly heard a few seem to ask for one: “Sprrrraat…!”
And why is Jack Sprat Jack Sprat? Just to rhyme with fat? But there are other possible names that rhyme with fat. I do wonder if it’s because sprat has been used as a term of contempt for a person, or perhaps just because of the same reason it has been used as such: a sprat is a small fish. If Jack Sprat eats no fat, he may well be a small fellow. (Meanwhile, sprats are loaded up with good healthy polynsaturated fatty acids, incuding EPA and DHA. Perhaps he could eat no fat because he already had enough.)
So anyway, I had a couple of sprats, and Aina had one. And we had lots of other things. Including a Napoleon. But you know, Napoleons, they have that filling that’s kind of sweet, and I don’t cotton so much to sweet things for breakfast anymore. And they have three layers of pastry, and Aina doesn’t eat pastry because gluten gives her headaches. So she ate the filling, and I ate the pastry. Which is why I was thinking of the nursery rhyme…