Kettle of Fish
A fête-champêtre in which salmon is the chief dish
provided. In these pic-nics, a large caldron being provided, the party
select a place near a salmon river. Having thickened some water with
salt to the consistency of brine, the salmon is put therein and boiled;
and when fit for eating, the company partake thereof in gipsy fashion.
Some think the discomfort of this sort of pic-nic gave rise to the
phrase “A pretty kettle of fish.” (See Kittle Of Fish.)
“The whole company go to the waterside today to eat a kettle of
fish.” —Sir Walter Scott: St. Ronan's Well, xii.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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