Black bread and pickled herring

Kim Darnell, on a grocery shopping run for me, came across a line of very thinly sliced, dark, dense, intensely-flavored rye breads from the German company Mestemacher — one variety marketed as “Natural Fitness Bread”:


She was tickled by the name, and also remembered bread like this with pleasure. As did I: the black bread (Schwarzbrot, sometimes called Bauernbrot ‘peasant bread’) of my childhood. A platform for cheese, sliced smoked meat, and (especially) pickled herring (herring in sour cream was a great favorite of mine).

Well, it turned out to be cheaper than the stone-ground crackers I’ve been eating, and full of warm memories for me, so I now have one package of Natural Fitness Bread and one of Whole Rye Bread:


Black breads are typically cholesterol-free and very high in fiber, but with a fair amount of salt.

From Wikipedia:

A simple, all-rye bread can be made using a sourdough starter and rye meal; it will not rise as high as a wheat bread, but will be more moist with a substantially longer keeping time. Such bread is often known as “black bread” (Schwarzbrot in German, chyorniy khleb in Russian) from their darker color than wheat breads (enhanced by long baking times, creating Maillard reactions in the crumb). The German Vollkornbrot (whole-grain bread) is something of an archetypical example, containing both rye meal and cracked whole rye grains (which are generally soaked overnight before incorporating into the dough). It is used both as an appetizer substrate for such things as smoked fish and caviar and as a sandwich bread. A very similar, but darker, bread, German-style pumpernickel, has an even darker color derived from toasted leftover bread and other agents. Due to the density of the bread, the yeast in the starter is used at least as much for the fermentation character in the bread itself as it is for leavening. Danish rugbrød (rye bread), another archetypical example, is typically made with sour dough, with either straight rye flour or mixed with whole and/or cracked rye kernels. Any breads containing wheat flour are not considered rugbrød, but white bread. A variety of seeds, such as pumpkin, poppy and caraway, may be added for taste. Rugbrød is a staple lunch food, typically eaten topped with cold or warm fish and meats, cheese or any other cold cut.

As stated above, all-rye breads may have very long keeping times, measured in months rather than days, and are popular as storage rations for long boat trips and outdoors

On the company, which started out as just a bakery, until they caught a ride on the natural organic healthfood train, from their website:

Mestemacher was originally founded as a small village bakery in 1871 and is now world market leader of organic rye bread, characterized by its long shelf-life without the use of preservatives. As the first producer of packaged whole meal breads of controlled organic agriculture, we have been promoting the growth and existence of organically cultivating agriculturists for more than 30 years. Since the first production in our Gütersloh manufacturing facility with our own large mill, we have developed delicate flavours each year. Safeguarding the natura environment is vital and Mestemacher takes great pride in actively promoting the ecology and protecting nature.

For export, they have separate product lines for the US, Croatia, Canada, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Bosnia, UK, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Japan. Black bread around the world! There are 18 products in the US line, including the two above (all, I think, kosher).

Being now in possession of some excellent black bread, my thoughts turned fondly to pickled herring, especially in sour cream, as in the Vita product I remembered from my adolescence, still available:


Like black bread, pickled herring is originally a food of the people, but it can be elevated, as in the pickled herring offered by Russ & Daughters (on E. Houston St. in NYC):


If you don’t know your way around NYC, you might well know about Russ & Daughters from the food writings of Calvin Trillin.

That’s Jewish pickled herring. But there is much much more. From Wikipedia:

Pickled herring is a delicacy in Europe, and has become a part of Baltic (Estonian: Marineeritud heeringas, Latvian: marinēta siļķe, Lithuanian: marinuota silkė), Nordic (inlagd sill), Dutch (zure haring), German (Bismarckhering), Czech (zavináč), Polish (śledzie w occie), Eastern Slavic, Scottish and Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine.

Most cured herring uses a two-step curing process. Initially, herring is cured with salt to extract water. The second stage involves removing the salt and adding flavorings, typically a vinegar, salt, sugar solution to which ingredients such as peppercorn, bay leaves and raw onions are added. In recent years, other flavors have also been added, due to foreign influences. However, the tradition is strong in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, The Netherlands, Iceland and Germany. Onion, sherry, mustard and dill are some of the traditional flavourings.

… Pickled herrings have been a staple in Northern Europe since Medieval times, being a way to store and transport fish, especially necessary in meatless periods like Lent. The herrings would be prepared, then packed in barrels for storage or transportation.

(Both black bread and pickled herring are designed for long storage and easy transportation.)

Kim then got me some herring pickled in dill sauce, from Whole Foods, and I had a nice nostalgic peasant lunch. With more to come.

On the fish, from Wikipedia:

(#5) North Sea herring, ready to be grilled, fried, or preserved by salting, smoking, or pickling

Herring are forage fish, mostly belonging to the family Clupeidae.

Herring often move in large schools around fishing banks and near the coast. The most abundant and commercially important species belong to the genus Clupea, found particularly in shallow, temperate waters of the North Pacific and the North Atlantic Oceans, including the Baltic Sea, as well as off the west coast of South America. Three species of Clupea are recognised, and provide about 90% of all herrings captured in fisheries. Most abundant of all is the Atlantic herring, providing over half of all herring capture.

Herring played a pivotal role in the history of marine fisheries in Europe, and early in the 20th century, their study was fundamental to the evolution of fisheries science. These oily fish also have a long history as an important food fish, and are often salted, smoked, or pickled.

Or salted or pickled and then smoked, in kippers:

A kipper is a whole herring, a small, oily fish, that has been split in a butterfly fashion from tail to head along the dorsal ridge, gutted, salted or pickled, and cold-smoked over smouldering woodchips (typically oak). [This process is referred to by the verb to kipper.]

In the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, Japan, and a few North American regions, they are often eaten for breakfast. In Great Britain, kippers, along with other preserved smoked or salted fish such as the bloater and buckling, were also once commonly enjoyed as a high tea or supper treat, most popularly with inland and urban working-class populations before World War II. (Wikipedia link)

In Japan, a traditional breakfast includes grilled or smoked fish (along with steamed rice, miso soup, and various side dishes), and herring is one of the fish used for this purpose.

One Response to “Black bread and pickled herring”

  1. Ula: Lithuanian Food – Digesting Diversity Says:

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