Eat a dozen live herring – a stupid bet

A tribute to Herring.blueback herring

1986 Expo’86 in Vancouver. The Sunshine Coast Economic Development Commission started in ’83 a project called ExpOasis’86 to get maximum benefits from the world exposition. I was the only employee.  Also in ’83 a another project was started, AquaWest’86. This was basic a copy of an aquaculture exhibition in Trondheim Norway, every second years, every year with odd numbers, ’83,’85 and so on. I was attending both these, together with a delegation from B.C. that looked at the aquaculture opportunities.

A deputy minister announced in Trondheim in ’85 that we would run a similar trade show in B.C. during Expo’86 called AquaWest’86, we had worked on it for several years by then. And important for me, I was to run it. Every second year, on the even years, ’86, ’88, ’90 and so on. It was the main reason for the Gold Rush in Aquaculture in B.C.

One main part was an exhibit at the world trade fair, every day from 10 – 10 in six months, under the sails at the Pan Pacific Trade Center, visited by over 23 million visitors.

Hereby the problem. Two years earlier, working on budgets, strategies and general planning our part of the expo, I made a bet. Looking at the north american, and the world population that would visit a world trade fair during six months, I bet that over 30 million visitors would come by; or I would eat a dozen live herring.

I still insist that if the fairs chairman, Jim Pattison would have released the California advertizing budget early enough, I would not have to eat a dozen live herring. I was there every day for more than 12 hours for six months, without getting tired. It was such an energy generated by the millions of visitors from all over the world. Our particular aquaculture show got a lot of attention, especially from the Asiatic countries.

Meeting with foreign dignitaries was almost daily, and I still are in touch with some of the people I met. The most memorable was a lunch with the now King of Thailand, then the Crown Prince. He was very interested in aquaculture farming, especially Tilapia.

Many other species were also compatible with the flooding of the rice fields. My collection of business cards from the world trade fair was enormous, and used for many years later. And vice versa, I don’t know how many I gave out, but I got contacted from everywhere for years to come.

I ran the AquaWest’86 trade show with exhibitions of aquaculture equipment on several places in the Sechelt area, actually floating pens with rainbow trout about 2-3 lb. to be caught by rod and reel. The seminars were also run on the Sunshine Coast. We used the brand new Bella Beach Motel, they had a suitable conference area.

I love herring, grew up fishing and eating herring, fried as I will have the fresh herring tonight; smoked, kippered; my favorite, dried, salted, and pickled in tomato, mustard, fennel, onion and vinegar, sour creme, red beets, Christmas style, in tomato or olive oil, and so on. Every cook and fisherman has his own favorite, I love them all; and now alive.

Once you have a barrel of salted herring, man, you have the untold amount of variations of herring salads and preserves. A salted barrel, or bucket of herring are stable for a year or more, no rancidity, same in a salt brine. This is not a cook book, just a celebration of great tastes, an honor to the herring. For a mediterranean dish with sardines, use less, and use the mediterranean spices.

The salads are usually made with sour creme, chopped salted herring, and then the grandmothers or geographical customs takes over; pickles, apples, mustard, dill, lots of dill, beets, horseradish, chives, fresh fennel, carrots; probably anything the garden provides, taste good with herring. The east europeans have a great tradition with herring, Ukrainian and Russian herring salads, usually have whole herring sides, a mix of mayones and sour creme, one to three, pickled red beets, honey and often turnips or sugar beets, red onions for the looks, and topped with fresh herbs from the garden.

The pickled herring varies as much, some use any or all the ingredients above, but always more spices; a bay laural leave or two, star anise, white pepper, mustard, a juniper berry or two, be careful, one or two is plenty, caraway seed, apples, honey to balance, and all the fresh herb garden products. The main variations are the using various type of vinegar, often apple cider vinegar, or just plain 7 % vinegar, depending on taste, after that the herbs and spices are hand crushed a mixed in warm water with the honey. Fill the glass full, leave it in the fridge for a few days, turn it the first days to get the right mix, usually the spices are on the top in the beginning. Better after a week, and still as good after a year or so.

Traditions from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, the Baltic Countries , Ukraine and Russia are so varied and so good, that I might do a whole book just on herring salads and pickled herring, but they are probably already written, I think I just make a trip and taste them all. My love for herring is almost religious, and certainly can not be denied.

By the way, do you know the difference of an Atlantic and a Pacific herring ? Same genetic herring, but the Pacific have one more vertebra. An old herring fisherman,  found this out at the dinner table, while waiting for the dessert, sitting there counting vertebrae on his emty plate, this in 1957 . That is the story I have heard, and I am going to stick with it.

The actually day of eating the 12 live herring, was after a presentation and dinner, can not remember for what, but it was planned for a long time in advance. I had clearly lost, “only” 23 million came to the world fair, but it was a very successful world exposition, and a lot of spin-off benefits to the Sunshine Coast.

Bella Beach invested in a large salt water aquarium, for months in advance it was filled with salt water fish, and for this event it included 12 live herring, bait herring as we call them on the coast. They were swimming happily along, pretty,  silvery, and not knowing their destiny. A fair size crowd was present. There was no way I could chicken out. A representative from Federal Fisheries had been the main speaker at the forum, and senior as he was, he became the “judge”.

The week before, on my boat up the inlet, I had secretly tried to eat a live herring, to see how it was. It was not sushi. Almost no taste, except the salt water. The wiggling is the worst, and the trial run ended up in spitting the herring overboard for the seagulls to finish.

Now reality, in front of a fair crowd that wanted blood, I had to perform and pay my stupid bet. The owner had a small aquarium net, and caught the first herring, brought it on a silver plate, with a large napkin. I grabbed the poor herring, and always remember, you eat them, down with the head first, you don’t want the tail stuck in your throat. With the first herring about half way in my mouth, I bit it in half, mostly for show, and the effect was noticeable. Blood and guts running down my bearded cheeks, half a herring sticking out, with the tail flopping around.

A couple of chewing motions, as if I liked it, and the first one was gone. The first half actually ended up in the large napkin when I cleaned the blood and guts around my mouth, but the last half went down where it was intended. Shortly followed by a shot of Aquavit, and washed down with some cold brew.

Then it was routine, bite in half, tail waving, chew, and swallow, shot of Aquavit, and wash down. Not only the ladies turned away, some men did not like the wiggling of the tail either. A real man likes sushi, any way it comes, the fresher the better.

But, for the herring, what is worse, hanging on a sharp hook up the inlet, being eaten by a Dog Fish, a Rock Cod or if lucky, a Salmon; or being eaten at a nice restaurant, silver plates, by a half drunk bearded looser of a stupid bet.

After a while, the “judge” said that was 12, and I happily noticed a few silver herring left in the tank., I love Sushi, but this is different, but not bad, and probably healthy, all the salmon can not be wrong.

Later I often later grabbed a bait herring and did the show, for my fishing friends up the inlets. The shot of Aquavit is a must.  more pictures of anything “herring”

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