A fish market with an unusual twist
Cambridge, Mass. — When Dorothy Borden decided to go into the fish business, she felt like a fish out of water. First, she was a woman invading traditional male territory. She also had no business experience, and she had never held a paying job.
Armed with a $5,000 bank loan and an unquestioning belief in her own untapped business talents, she made her entrepreneurial debut seven years ago.
Today her cheery market on Huron Avenue here, with its row upon row of fresh fish and the delicious aromas of her take-out gourmet cuisine, has become a mecca both for fish-eating aficionados and for those eager to try something new in tastes.
The market, located as it is almost on the doorstep of Harvard University, draws a cosmopolitan clientele of professors, students, and young business people.
It's also a neighborhood market where local folk are encouraged to drop in and watch the preparation of the fish and homemade chowders, shrimp quiches, fish stew, and other dishes to delight the taste buds. They are invited to discuss menus and to browse among the cookbooks Ms. Borden keeps on hand.
Looking back, she admits it was a risky venture both as a business and because of the male attitudes she encountered at that time.
But every dawn she'd be at Boston's Fish Pier, often wet and shivering but undaunted. Finally the men accepted her and even presented her with a pair of rubber boots.
In the meantime, she had to learn the business the hard way. She learned by observing, reading, and trial and error how to select the choicest fish and how to bone and cut it.
The climate in the industry has changed somewhat since then, Ms. Borden says. More wives are now working side by side with their husbands. But she believes she is still the only woman fishmonger for miles around.
Ms. Borden started out in partnership with another woman at The Fishmonger. ''I'd actually gone in there just looking for a job,'' she said.
After two years, in which the business doubled, she bought out her partner and took over sole ownership.
It was a dawn-to-dusk operation. There were the sunrise excursions to the pier. And she worked late into the evening to balance the books.
In between she ran the market, prepared the fish, and did the cooking -- and looked after her home and family. ''The children were not babies, so I was able to manage,'' she says.
Business is good now. The carry-out end of the work is handled by Thalia Large. Manager Howard Richardson does the buying and fish preparation.
This leaves Ms. Borden free to take care of the finances and to enjoy her many athletic pursuits. But there's still one chore at the market she has to tackle -- boning the shad. ''It's the worst job. You need a sharp flexible knife , steady hand, and tenacity,'' she says.
Friends hope to persuade her to open a fish restaurant, but she's more drawn to the wholesale end of the business.
The following recipe is from The Fishmonger's takeout menu. It was selected for inclusion in Phyllis Meras's ''Carry-Out Cuisine,'' a cookbook containing gourmet recipes from food shops all over America. Shellfish Gazpacho
1/2 pound crab meat
1/2 pound medium or small shrimp, cooked, cooled, and peeled
1 medium cucumber
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 medium green pepper
1 medium red onion
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 quarts canned tomato juice, refrigerated
3 hard-boiled eggs
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Pommery mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
Tabasco or hot sauce to taste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
Shred crab meat and put into a large bowl. Add cooled shrimp. Peel cucumber, scoop out seeds, and dice finely. Add to crab and shrimp.Core, quarter, and seed tomatoes. Chop into small pieces and add to bowl. Chop green pepper and onion, and add along with parsley. Pour in tomato juice and refrigerate soup base while you prepare seasonings.
Separate egg yolks from whites. Save whites and put yolks into the container of a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Stir blended seasonings into the soup and taste. Make it spicier if you desire. Chop egg whites and use as a garnish. Serve very cold. Yields 8 servings.