Friday, March 28, 2014

Speaking of Herring

Everyone is talking about pickled herring. Well, perhaps not everyone. But there is Mavis who can’t get enough of it and Fred for whom I just bought two jars and Ralph, a new convert to the club. And we all know about converts.

And then there is Putin who looked in the mirror this morning and saw Pushkin eating pickled herring. Napoleon might have conquered Russia if he didn’t run short of the stuff to feed his marauding troops. When invading Russia one is advised to pack sufficient barrels of pickled herring along with warm underwear. I’m sure the Russians never run out when they gobble up territory on their western flank.

Peggy is another pickled herring fan which is not the only reason I married her. In fact nobody doesn’t love pickled herring. Danes are crazy for the stuff and Latvians and Estonians. If I were stuck on the Monopoly board on Baltic, which is my lot, pickled herring would be a staple as it is for those folks in northern waters.

When we put out pickled herring for our Sunday Salon it is always the first to vanish. I wonder if some friends bring Zip-lock bags and slip a few bits and pieces into their pockets. The world may be divided between pickled advocates and those who prefer their herring with sour cream.

Schmaltz herring is also worthy of mention....all those consonants supported by a single vowel, as my friend Ed points out. It is herring at its most plump, just before birthing offspring. 

Herring is not a bottom feeder as some creatures so designated to vacuum the ocean floor. Knowing herring as I do I might presume that is beneath them. They feed largely on plankton rendering them  low in carbs and high in an alphabet of vitamins including the all-important D and Omega oil without which one can expect to die a day or two earlier than previously fated.

Some like it split, salted and smoked which goes under the name, kippered herring. If I were a herring I’d much prefer being pickled. However the kippered variety had been the breakfast of Brits for centuries which may have kept the empire from falling. When it did fall Kippers also fell out of favor. By the 70s, due to its association with the past, it was no longer part of the full English breakfast, replaced by eggs, bangers and blood pudding. What a loss. However it is now making a comeback as those rebellious Boomers are getting aged themselves.

Baltic herring are smaller than those in the North Sea and are usually expertly fermented for half a year. Sweden calls them surstromming. The smell is enough to empty a courtroom as in the case where a landlord was sued for evicting a tenant who spread the brine on a staircase. I suppose one eats this version if they have no friends anyway.

The purpose of this tribute to pickled herring is to fill up the page on a subject I really know nothing about.  The jar of pickled herring which holds a prominent place in our refrigerator has been much on my mind in recent days. I suspect it swam into my oceanic bloodstream and won’t budge till it spawns a few thousand baby herrings.

Which brings me to something I didn’t know five minutes ago. Herring don’t get to be called by that name until they mature from being merely sardines. In fact there is no single fish named, sardine. They can be any tiny fish. Whether or not there’s an initiation or Bar Mitzvah to earn herring-hood from sardine-ness has not yet been determined.    




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