16 December 2002
As an adjunct to the previous entry, I suddenly noticed more than one literary reference in my title, and I thought I'd best point it out; I wouldn't like anyone ever to forget that Uncle's great castle is called Homeward. Apparently, there is a little clique of Uncle fans among the current crop of fantasy writers; I can't remember where I heard that, but it was recent news. If anyone out there doesn't know what I'm talking about, check out the Uncle books by J P Martin. They're a joy. 'Specially with the Quentin Blake illustrations, which are exact to the mood and the moment.
Last night I went to Graeme's 50th birthday party. I really had to agitate to get there, because he lives in the middle of nowhere so I had to find a driver and then beg a lift; but I really didn't want to miss it, because he promised an Extreme Food event. Graeme is the herring man of men, or the man of herring men, or some such; he's written the encyclopaedia that the fish so obviously deserves. Anyway, to those who came early he was offering surströmming, or fermented Baltic herring. The joy is that it's still fermenting. The tins it comes in bulge visibly, and have to be opened underwater; birds are alleged to fall dead from the sky as the smell uprises. Traditionally this is done in the open air; Graeme did it in his garage. The water frothed and bubbled, and the garage went from full to half empty at startling speed. I stood it out, boldly; I have in fact smelled worse foodstuffs (I was just going to say 'smelled worse', but thought that was open to misinterpretation, and me just out of my bath and all...); on street corners in Taipei they sell stinky tofu, and the odour of that is just vile. This was pretty strong, though - and Graeme says that the serious surströmming eaters leave the tins till they're almost spherical. Ours were only just bulgy.
Having decanted the fish, the trick is to rip the flesh from the bones with your fingers, spread it on buttered flatbread with raw onion and slices of cold potato, double it into a sandwich and eat, washing it down with schnapps or akvavit. So we did, and it ain't unpleasant at all. Not a thing to do often, but on special occasions, and in the open air, and with a bunch of bold souls, surely.
© Chaz Brenchley 2002
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.