‘Tis the sild season

 Photo: Wikimedia Commons A commercial catch of herring, or sild.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A commercial catch of herring, or sild.

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

Sild has been called many things. The Dutch call it baring, the Polish sledz, the Portuguese arenque, the Turkish ringe, and the Japanese nishin. You might know it better by its German name hering, and contrary to popular belief, not all Norwegians eat it. However, those that do can’t get through a winter without it.

Popular at Christmas pickled or in a sauce, it is also readily available year round in the stores, and at this time of year fishermen stock their freezers when the schools of sild (herring) are moving. If you are fortunate enough to drop your line full of un-baited hooks into such a school, you can’t reel in the fish fast enough. Dusk or dark will give you an advantage as the sild swim deeper in daylight.

 Photo: Jacob Bøtter / Flickr A school of herring, still decidedly unpickled.

Photo: Jacob Bøtter / Flickr
A school of herring, still decidedly unpickled.

I dug around a bit on the Internet (weblinks at the end of this article) and found some interesting facts about sild. Clupea harengus as it is known in Latin (see this week’s Barneblad for a clarification of how Latin names work), is a fatty fish which grows to be an average of 20-30 cm, can weigh up to 500 grams, and is found anywhere between two and 400 meters below the surface of the sea or fjord.

But it is the economic impact these small fish had on the lives of so many that is really interesting. Towns lived and died according to the abundance of sild swimming in the sea. Up until and through the first half of the 20th century, sild was plentiful, supporting many coastal towns in Norway and Iceland. Spawning along the coast of Norway and around the Færøe Islands, their larvae then drifted into the Barents Seas as the mature fish headed to the north and east of Iceland, returning to Norway each Spring.

In the 1960s, for whatever reason, this pattern changed and this, one of the world’s greatest herring resources, vanished. Herring towns struggled to survive, some even sliding into non-existence. After the 1980s, according to the article mentioned below, the sild populations slowly began to recover, specifically in Norwegian waters. For more information, read The Rise and Fall of Herring Towns by Lawrence Hamilton, Oddmund Otterstadand, and Helga Ögmundardóttir at: pubpages.unh.edu/~lch/HamiltonCh04.pdf.

If you have some sild available in a body of salt water near you (or at your local store), this Danish website has 100 recipes to get you started with your own sild preparations. And if you have herring stories of your own, please feel free to share them with the Weekly.

snl.no/sild (in Norwegian)
www.fao.org/wairdocs/tan/x5933e/x5933e01.htm (in English)

This article is a part of Heidi Håvan Grosch’s column Rønningen Ramblings, which appears a couple times a month in the Norwegian American Weekly.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 17, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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