Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) is not native to Illinois. They thrive in warm, shallow water and can adapt to varying temperatures and turbidity. They are bottom feeders, lying on the bottom eating vegetation, insect larvae, and small crustaceans. In winter they head for deeper water.
Carp were introduced in 1885 because of their use as a food fish by the many immigrants from Europe. The first carp was caught in the river at Meredosia in 1886. By the next year, carp were well dispersed in the river. They became an important part of the Illinois River fishery by 1890. By 1992, Havana fishermen could catch three thousand pounds of carp in Clear Lake in one day. The carp population grew rapidly; by 1908 the commercial catch was 15.5 million pounds or 64 percent of the total catch from the Illinois River and its lakes.
"From the information I can get as an official of the Illinois Fishermen's Association from all points along the Illinois River, the carp have brought in more money than the catch of all the other fish combined. Long live the carp!" - Captain John A. Schulte, Havana, Illinois
By 1920, the catch was down to six to eight million pounds, worth $200 million to the economy. Carp adapt to polluted water, but since 1950, few have reached their maturity of up to two feet in length.
Instructions for dressing the carp in preparation for cooking include the step of 'scoring' the carp. Scoring is slicing across a piece of fish every 1/4" to a depth of about two-thirds of the way through. This allows the cooking process to soften the numerous small bones. In Meredosia, Gene Davis, a resourceful tailor, saw a carp-scoring machine
somewhere and had a copy made at a machine shop in nearby Jacksonville; then he assembled it and gave or sold it to Bob Edlen's Fishmarket. Edlen used it in the fishmarket for many years to score carp for his customers. Each blade had to be hand-sharpened regularly.
Scored carp was a delicacy in the German community, especially. There are several extant Meredosia recipes for it, and local restaurants still serve it today. The carp is scored commercially by the processor. Another recipe that includes fish is burgoo, a stew that may have originated with settlers coming from Kentucky.