Where is Herring in History?????

On first perusal of The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food (Книга о вкусной и здоровой пище) (1939) my initial thought was: "I have got to make herring." 
One of my all-time favorite movies is “Love and Death” (1975) by Woody Allen. In the film, apart from the wonderful existential discussions spread throughout the plot of a neurotic soldier and his distant cousin trying to assassinate Napoleon in czarist Russia, Diane Keaton’s character Sonja marries Leonid Voskovec, a herring merchant.
I’ve embedded a clip of his final words. They are about herring, of course.

No one can deny the importance of herring in history as both a food good and as part of the fishing industry. However, no one really writes about it. Numerous scientific journals have chronicled the herring’s life cycle but there are few references to herring in social history. Mike Smylie, a researcher interested in maritime history, particularly the fishing industry, wrote Herring: A History of the Silver Darlings (2011) which focuses on the importance of herring to the coastal peoples of Britain. He details how many towns on Britain's East Coast grew rich on the backs of the "silver darlings.” This book also includes recipes of how to prepare herring. Likewise, Daniel Rozensztroch and Cathie Fidler recently released Herring: A Love Story (2015), a book which focuses on the historical icononography of herring. Rozensztroch is a collector of the herring containers that were used to marinate and serve herring, and Cathie, has assembled an assortment of herring vintage stamps, posters, postcards, engravings, advertisements, paintings by famous artists, and easy-to-make traditional recipes. Neither of these texts, nonetheless, focuses on they key role of herring in the Russian diet.

Readers! If anyone is looking for a dissertation topic look no further than herring — or at least start by writing a Wikipedia entry about herring’s history, since even that doesn’t exist.
Since two of the Historical Cooks were out of town, I decided to change things a bit this month. There was no way that I wanted to prepare herring for just myself. Each time I would think of the dishes I was about to make I started to gag. So why not make it a party?!

For the herring canapés,I toasted a piece of rye toast with a slice of tomato. Then I placed a slice of hardboiled egg with a herring on top of the toast. I finished by piping a border of mayonnaise around the smoked fish and decorated with salad greens and more tomatoes. I only had vegannaise at home- so I used it as a substitute for the mayonnaise.

For the herring salad, I was apparently supposed to use a fresh herring, but I could not locate any. Instead I was stuck with canned smoked herring. I cut the herring into small pieces and threw it into a bowl with 2 diced boiled potatoes, apple slices from one peeled fruit, a diced onion, 1 boiled beet, and 2 hardboiled eggs.  I also added 3 tbsp salad oil, finely chopped fresh dill, and 2 tbsp white vinegar. Not so gross.

Actually, I rather enjoyed these dishes and might make them again. Herring is rather delicious. Since Kathleen is experimenting with a vegan diet for the month I made her versions of the dishes without animal products, which she also enjoyed - although I can't quite claim that what she ate was "herring salad" if there was no herring in it!

Kathleen and I sampled these dishes while throwing back a few shots of terrible vodka and watching "Love and Death." Not a terrible way to spend a Saturday evening.

(post by Alex Ketchum)


  1. I believe you should read Herring A Love Story a little more carefully, you would then see that the place of herring in the Russian diet as well as that of other neighboring European countries is clearly emphasized. It is written there that herring was eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a number of anecdotes that illustrate the fact. Wishing you a healthy appetite for the fish!


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