You shall have a fishy
On a little dishy
When the boat comes in.
The herring is a tasty fish
It makes a cheap
And nourishing dish.
The first verse is a traditional folk song from the North East of England. I can play the tune on the accordion, (just!) The second verse is my own doggerel. In living memory Ewan McColl (father of Kirsty) wrote the Shoals of Herring, a folk song in traditional style which many people are now convinced is ancient.
In the stormy seas and the living gale
Just to earn your daily bread you're daring
From the Dover Straits to the Faroe Islands
While you're following the shoals of herring
Herring, dangers of over fishing aside, was once a staple food of Great Britain and Scandinavia. A particularly nice Saturday afternoon tea, after a cold afternoon spent watching my team lose, was a kipper and several slices of Hovis. Another treat from one of the East End Jewish delicatessens was a rollmop herring, pickled in vinegar. In the UK it is a fairly humble delicacy. Not so in Sweden – they have surstromming, a fermented herring, which is causing a bit of a fuss.
Some say surstromming, a fermented herring, smells like garbage left out in the sun for days.
But now the fish has been banned from several major airlines, classified along with dangerous weapons like shoe bombs and firearms.
The Baltic herring is fermented in barrels for months before being put in tin cans, where the fermentation process continues.
The decision has made many Swedes very angry indeed.
Surstromming is as Swedish as Volvo and Ikea…….
But now major airlines like British Airways and Air France argue the cans are pressurised goods, and must be classified as potentially explosive.
The dish is no longer allowed on their flights, and the sale of the delicacy from Stockholm's international airport has been stopped.
That has made producers of the surstromming choke on their fermented fish, calling the airlines' decision "culturally illiterate"…..
The leader of the Swedish Surstromming Academy, an organisation promoting the dish nationally and internationally, said any airline worried about explosives and foul smells should first ban bottles of champagne and French cheese before attacking the pride of the Swedish cuisine.
I have never, (I think I would have remembered) eaten surstromming. But while in Stockholm Airport a few years ago I did buy two jars of herring, one in mustard and one in a red fruit sauce which were delicious. So much so that when my husband and I were in Reykjavik the following year I pounced on the hotel buffet breakfast table with some glee. A portion of herring in mustard was followed by some forest berry fruit salad.
“Where are you off to?” said my husband.
“Seconds” I said. “I have just spotted some of that lovely herring in red fruit sauce”.
“After fruit salad and herring in that yellow stuff!” cried a true Yorkshireman. “You’ll be sick. I’m getting some coffee and going into the lounge, ba gum!”
He won’t eat jellied eels or pie and mash with green liquor either.
But enough said, I’m hungry.