Goatview Farm - The Saint Report www.goatview.com

August 17
Sour Herring Premiere, August 21, 2008

Now here is a good example of something I would never have known about were it not for Chase's Calendar of Events: next Thursday, August 21, 2008, is the Swedish sour herring premiere. "By ordinance, the year's supply of sour herring may begin to be sold on the third Thursday in August."

What the heck is sour herring? This is from another site that has since disappeared:

"The Sour Herring Premiere, or surströmingspremiären, is a rather more northern tradition [than the crayfish premiere]. Here, salted herrings are left (and left and left) until they have soured, then they are sealed in tins and left to swell. Then, on the third Thursday in August, the year's supply of sour herring can be sold, and the parties can begin. Opening a tin of one of these babies is not for the faint hearted. You will either love the smell or run screaming from the room, but all around you people will be serving them up with chopped onions and potatoes and slabs of mature cheese."

How did they ever come up with that delicacy? How many Swedes had to die before they figured out the difference between merely fermenting the fish and turning it into botulism-on-a-cracker? And on a personal note, would YOU eat anything that came out of a swollen can?

Of course, you have heard of lutefisk. Norwegians don't have a premiere for this dish, but it is at least as revolting as sour herring and potentially as lethal. Lutefisk is dried cod soaked in lye until it becomes gelatinous, surprisingly firm, and translucent. It is an odd yellowish color reminiscent of things that glow in the dark or organisms that haven't evolved sufficiently to have eyes. Nothing about it reminds normal people of food.

The origin of this mess can only be speculated upon. Some say that the Swedes had a whole lot of dry fish when the Vikings attacked and rather than give the Vikings their fish, they tossed it all in a barrel of lye, but that didn't stop the Vikings. Another story is that the Swedes had a whole lot of dry fish when the Vikings attacked and tried to poison the horde by soaking it in lye and then serving it to them for dinner. Yet another story is that a Viking had some dry fish sitting around and happened to spill lye on it, and SURPRISE the fish started to spring back into fish shape and turn white, prompting all the other Vikings to pour lye on THEIR dry fish.

No one says what the Vikings were doing with all that lye--from what I have heard of Vikings it is unlikely it was for making soap and I seriously doubt it was for cleaning drains. I would guess it was for treating hides and that the first lutefisk maker saw what the lye did for the dried hides and knew that the hides, with the lye washed out, could be chewed without killing you. She took a long look at the hardly-digestible dried fish she had been subsisting on. "Couldn't hurt," she mused. This is completely a Saint Report speculation but it sounds at least as reasonable as the other theories.

Korean kim chee, Chinese hundred year old eggs, and some of those hard orange goat cheeses are more examples of what some people consider delicacies and, like the cod and the herring, they involve deliberately taking fresh wholesome food and turning it into rotten food and then eating it with gusto (and usually a whole lot of salt).

Human beings are amazing creatures. No other species could make enough weapons to blow up the world seven or eight times and invent lutefisk and sour herring. Makes ya proud to be a human, don't it? If we ever find ET, he sure will be impressed.


Saint Hyacinth of Cracow and Saint Clare of Montefalco both celebrate feast days today.


Getting cake and ice cream today: Robert De Niro (1943, NYC) and Maureen O'Hara (1920, Dublin).

Davy Crockett (1786-1836), Sam Goldwyn (1882-1974), and Frances Gary Powers (1929-1977) also were born on August 17.

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© Marilyn Jones 2000-2008