Morecambe Bay is off the coast of Lancashire, which is the west coast of England, on the Irish sea. The main areas of fishing for the shrimp there are around Flookburgh in the centre of the bay, and Ulverston to the north, both of which since 1974 are actually in Cumbria. Some of the shrimp are also caught near Southport (down on the coast between Blackpool and Liverpool.)
The shrimp harvested are brownish-pink, about 2 ¼ inches (6 sm) long. The producers of the potted shrimps feel that the brown shrimp (“Crangon crangon”) absorb the butter better than pink shrimp do, and have a mild, sweet taste. Larger, older ones, called “cowpikes” by the locals, are not wanted, as they don’t have the taste.
Spices used by the various makers include cayenne pepper, nutmeg and mace.
The tubs used to be earthenware or china; now they are plastic.
The Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimps company sells its product under the brand name of Furness Fish Poultry and Game. The company is owned by Les Salisbury. He started shrimping with his family when he was a child, back in the 1950s. The seaon runs from April until late June, then late summer until the end of November.
His company fishes for shrimp on the north shore of the bay by dragging a net from a tractor (horses were used back in the day), when the tide is out. The shrimp are boiled live in seawater on the shore, then sent for peeling at their peeling factory run by Les’s son at Flookburgh, in the centre of the bay. There, the shrimp are cleaned, peeled, scrubbed and washed by a machine that can process 20 pounds (9 kg) an hour.
The prepared shrimp are then transferred to their potting factory in nearby Ulverston, on the north side of the bay. 15 pounds (6.8 kg) of shrimp are simmered in 12 pounds (5.4 kg) of spiced, clarified melted butter for 20 minutes, then put in plastic tubs, which are topped up with butter until the shrimp are completely covered. The factory can produce 2,000 tubs a day.
Another company is James Baxter & Son, in business since 1799. They fish on the south side of the bay, around the town of Morecambe. They use special shrimping boats instead instead of tractors, and the shrimp get boiled on the boats.
Most of their shrimp are hand peeled by the fishermen’s wives.
Back in the day, older women used to sit on the wharf and offer to peel the shrimp for people, charging them per pound or per hour.
The potted shrimp can be lightly heated and used in a pasta dish.
Many prefer them cold or room temperature, spread on hot toast.
Keating, Sheila. Food detective: Potted shrimps. London: The Times. 22 March 2008.