Sea Cucumbers -
Toward the end of October of every year there is a harvest of cucumbers
in mid-ocean. These cucumbers, however, are not at all like those we see
on our tables. In the first place, they are not vegetables, but animals,
and, in the second place they grow upon the bottom of the sea. The
general appearance of the creature can be seen in the accompanying cut.
There are many species, but they all possess elongated worm-like bodies,
with thick leathery skins, and a crown of feelers, or tentacles, about
the forward extremity. All species, likewise, exercise the same
astonishing method of resenting any liberties taken with their persons,
by suddenly and unexpectedly ejecting their teeth, their stomach, their
digestive apparatus—in fact all their insides, so to speak—in the face
of the intruder, reducing themselves to a state of collapse, and making
of themselves mere empty bags, until such time as their wonderful
recuperative powers enable them to replace the organs so summarily
disposed of; for, wonderful as it may seem, teeth, stomach, digestive
organs, and all soon grow again. Moreover, these stomachs have digestive
powers that are not to be despised, far surpassing even those popularly
ascribed to the ostrich, for the sea-cucumber actually seems to feed
upon coral, and even granite has been found in its stomach.
Sea-cucumbers, as they are popularly called, are also known by the name
of trepang and sea-slug. Scientific people call them Holothuroideæ,
but why, no one has ever been able to find out, since the name has no
meaning. Sea-cucumbers are considered a great delicacy by the Chinese.
Thousands of Chinese vessels, called junks, are fitted out every year
for these fisheries. Trepangs are caught in different ways. Sometimes
the patient fishermen lie along the fore-part of vessels, and with long
slender bamboos, terminating in sharp hooks, gather in sea-cucumbers
from the bottom of the sea, so practiced in hand and eye that the catch
is never missed, and is discerned sometimes at thirty yards' distance.
When the water is not more than four or five fathoms deep, divers are
sent down to gather these culinary monsters, as seen in the
illustration, the boat and junk remaining near to receive the harvest.
THE PROCESS OF SCALDING.
BOILING AND CURING.
As soon as the trepangs are collected they are carried to the shore,
when they are scalded by throwing them alive into large iron pots set
over little ovens built of stones. Here they are stirred about by means
of a long pole resting upon a forked stick, as seen in the illustration.
In these vessels they remain a couple of minutes, when they are taken
out, disemboweled with a sharp knife, if they haven't already thrown up
their stomachs, and then taken to great bamboo sheds containing still
larger boilers. In these latter is water seasoned with mimosa bark. A
busy scene now ensues; all is bustle, noise, and activity. The bubbling
of the great caldrons, the incessant chatter of those engaged in the
work, the dumping of fresh loads of sea-cucumbers into the vessels, and
the removal of others to hang in clusters on the ropes above, or be
deposited on hurdles to dry in the sun, make "confusion worse
confounded," and give the spectator a new and realizing sense of the
confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel.
The sea-cucumbers having been smoked in the large caldrons (for the
mimosa bark is consumed in the process), and then dried, are ready for
the market, and, packed in bundles, are stowed away in the holds of the
junks and proas off shore.
They are said to taste like lobsters; but if they look, as one traveller
says they do, "like dried sausages rolled in mud and thrown up the
chimney," few of us could be induced to try whether we liked them or