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August 24, 2002

Last night it was time. It had been too, too long—three years, in fact. But last night, I finally got to eat it again.

Fermented herring.

It is not rotten, it is not spoiled. It’s soured—fermented—under carefully controlled conditions. Many people are turned off by the smell. This is understandable, but unfortunate. Many others don’t like the taste. That’s ok—there’s no disputing taste. But don’t try to claim that it is inedible because it’s rotten fish, for that is simply not true!

I first had it when I was 14, at a camp in northern Sweden. Almost all the other kids were locals, and I have my mother’s family up there so felt like a half-local myself, and was determined not to be the squeamish southerner kid who refused the sour herring (even if a bunch of the northerners did, that wasn’t the point.) I rather thought I wouldn’t like it, even before I’d felt the smell; when I smelt the air in the dining room I was convinced I wouldn’t, but still set in my determination to eat. And I did, and found I liked it!

I haven’t had it more than perhaps a dozen times in my life, it is very much a seasonal fare, eaten in August-September, and not very frequently down here. Last night, I found that I liked the smell. It’s still a bad smell, but when I felt it it made my mouth water. Isn’t that odd?

I never have a lot, though; two herrings was yesterday’s tally, divided on three slices of thin flat unleavened bread covered with potatoes and onions and folded over into a sandwich. Heavenly. The pre-filleted fish was rather wimpy, but the newbies liked it (which proves that they are of the right stuff and just need to get used to it—nowt wrong with that) while the rest of us agreed that the jar from 1998 was much better than the one from 2002. There’s something I’d never known: even sour herring has its vintage!

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