The Season of Pickled Herring
I am Swedish by birth, only partly, but some. The Christmas holidays, these days, is Pickled Herring season. We didn’t eat it when I was a kid, and I don’t know when I developed at taste for it. Probably this happened during the years when I lived in the neighborhood of Ballard in Seattle in my young adult life, eons ago. Since then, the Christmas holidays always included pickled herring. There was a wonderful bakery/deli name Johnson’s and later Olson’s, I believe, where it was readily available. I used to go there and buy almond paste and air smoked and hardened lamb and pickled herring that they made in fifty gallon drums. Theirs was the best. They also carried about twenty-five brands of cod liver oil. I asked who bought this stuff. It seems that folks who grew up with it needed to be supplied consistently in their adulthood. Can you imagine drinking this stuff voluntarily?
Now that place is gone and we travel to Ballard to the Scandinavian Specialties shop on 15th Northwest. Theirs isn’t the best, but it is the best substitute we can find. My husband went two days ago and bought a couple of quart tubs of herring, a pint of lingonberries and some currant spread. We now make our own potato sausage so we don’t purchase that any longer. They do not have the air dried lamb. Times change and folks no longer eat these specialties. I guess I am old fashioned even though they are not from my youth.
I can remember as a kid trying to talk my mom into buying gjetost from the grocery during the holidays. Every year I would think I loved this. You can read about this brown, caramelized cheese that is considered Scandinavian Fudge on the internet at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunost. Each year I would take a few bites and it would languish until tossed to the chickens about April. My mom would give me a scowl and put the small package in the cart, but she knew it would not get eaten. My dad would eat a few bites too, but it was so cloying that it clenched the muscles in your jaws to rigor mortis.
Anyway, I found myself with pickled herring, the kind in sugared vinegar, not sour cream, my favorite. I also had on hand several other ingredients and wanted to make a Latvian salad I had had a few years ago that had really impressed me. It is also eaten in Finland, Estonia and Norway to name a few places. I made it last night for dinner with warm rolls and felt like the holidays had truly arrived. The recipe is below.
When I brought my love of pickled herring into the relationship with my husband, he turned up his nose and pooh hood the dastardly stuff. Said he wouldn’t get caught eating such weird ethnic stuff. Was this a slur on my heritage? Of course not, he loved me and yes he would try a piece, but only one piece.
I went off to work the next day and when I returned, he was making dinner. I decided to have a couple of pieces of herring as an appetizer before he served dinner. I rummaged through the refer to find the quart container I had purchased at Johnson’s. I couldn’t find it. We had eaten about a half cup the night before, but the remaining three quarters or so of the quart eluded my search. He had eaten it all for lunch. Boy, was he taken with pickled herring. I am glad, as I love it, but I was sorely disappointed to not have more than a few bites of that quart.
So for the Latvian version of Herring and Potato Salad, here it is. I noticed that my husband ate half of the salad today while I was it work. Luckily there was enough for a photo. Enjoy.
Estonia: Herring and Potato Salad
Estonian Herring and Potato Salad
For the salad:
- Pickled herring to taste, we use lots
- 2 red-skinned potatoes, boiled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 3 canned beets, cut into 1/2-inch dice ( I cooked fresh from the garden)
- 1/3 cup minced onions
- 1 large tart apple, cored and cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 1/2 cup diced dill pickles
- 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
For the dressing and garnish:
- 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard (I used brown mustard seeds)
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard plus I used some sweet and hot prepared too
- 1/2 cup prepared mayonaise
- 1 1/3 cups sour cream
- 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, drained
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 hard-boiled egg, for garnish
Cut the herring into half inch square pieces. Place in a large bowl and combine with the potatoes, onion, beets, apple, chopped eggs, pickles.
In a small bowl, whisk the mustards with the mayo until smooth. Stir in the remaining dressing ingredients (through the salt and pepper) and blend well.
Add the dressing to the salad: toss. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve garnished with sliced egg.