Pickled Herring Of The Year Competition and Other Delights, 12 October 2016

Not all that many people are familiar with the Pickled Herring Of The Year competition. But if you are part of the wider cousin-hood of my mother’s family, in particular the Briegal branch, then you probably know all about it.

Briegal table, minimally laden when the photo was taken, thanks to Hils for the photo
Briegal table, minimally laden when the photo was taken, thanks to Hils for the photo

For more years than I can remember, Jacquie Briegal has hosted a fast-breaking dinner at the end of Yom Kippur. Breaking the fast, for most of us who attend, has become a nominal term for the family gathering, as hardly any of us now participate in the fast itself. But that is no reason to abstain from a jolly family gathering and feast for theoretical “fast-breaking”.

I worked in the morning and into the afternoon, but had taken the opportunity to arrange some real tennis late afternoon, with a view to using Shanks’s pony to get from Lord’s to Jacquie’s place in Swiss Cottage.

A couple of days prior to my real tennis game I was asked if I could stay on an extra hour. As I have reported before, click here, this quite often happens in the Lord’s real tennis fraternity. As it happened, I realised that I could do that and still get to Jacquie’s in reasonable time. What I didn’t realise (or at least didn’t think about) was quite how much two tough singles matches on the trot would take out of me.

First up was my old friend from NewsRevue, Chris Stanton. I have mentioned running into Chris at the Lord’s real tennis courts before, click here, but I had not played him before today. A tough gig for me, even with the handicap adjustment, which we both thought a little understated. Still, it was good to chat with Chris again before we started, remembering NewsRevue friends, songs and sketches gone by. Then after Chris, another gentleman I hadn’t played before, with vast real tennis experience and a less than generous handicap adjustment to compensate; I somehow got a draw out of the second match.

Suffice it to say that I started my two hours on the real tennis court feeling like a leaping salmon and ended it feeling like a pickled herring…

…which segues us nicely and effortlessly (well, actually the walk from St John’s Wood to Swiss Cottage felt far from effortless that evening) to the Pickled Herring Of The Year Contest. I neglected to mention above; part of the family tradition of breaking the fast at Jacquie’s place is for the meal to begin with a veritable smörgåsbord of starters, focused around varieties of smoked and preserved fishes, primarily various types of pickled herring.

My (self-appointed) role in this herring-fest is to judge the Pickled Herring Of The Year. The rules are pretty straightforward:

  • I alone decide the results – attempts to influence my decisions meet short shrift in this competition. That might sound a bit dictatorial – it is meant to;
  • Only the actual chunks of pickled herring varieties are eligible for the competition. Smoked salmon and gravadlax (ever-present) need not apply;
  • Nor does Jacquie’s delightful chopped herring qualify for the contest, although Jacquie did once get a lifetime achievement award for the chopped herring – the equivalent of Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize For Literature – controversial but undoubtedly both are achievements worthy of the highest possible praise.
As it happens, this is not a photo of the moment Jacquie received her lifetime achievement award; perhaps it should have been. Thanks to Hils for the photo.
As it happens, this is not a photo of the moment Jacquie was garlanded with her lifetime achievement award for chopped herring; perhaps it should have been. Thanks to Hils for the photo.

We were a relatively small group this year; Jacquie and Hils of course. Josh (Jacquie’s grandson, Hils’s nephew), cousin Jane and her daughter Ruth, cousin Michael (always the last to arrive as he does actually go to shule and fast), plus me and Janie.

Hils and Janie - again not from a herring-fest occasion - thanks to Joy for the photo.
Hils and Janie – again not from a herring-fest occasion – thanks to our neighbour Joy for the photo.

Jacquie does not adjust the quantity of food served for the number of people who happen to be attending that year, so there were easily as many varieties of herring up for the award as usual (six) and huge quantities of other food. I haven’t even mentioned the main courses, including place goujons, salmon fishcakes, gefilte fish balls…nor the enormous variety of salads, breads, other accompaniments, several varieties of honey cake, other sweetmeats…

…I’m sure you get the picture…

…I’m equally sure that you, dear reader, now rapidly want to know the results of this year’s competition so you can stop reading and go off to eat something – your mouth is no doubt watering by now.

Bronze herring 2016 – wine pickled herring;

Silver herring 2016 – schmaltz herring;

Gold herring 2016 – sweet pickled herring.

Unusual for the sweet to win, but this year one of the sweeter herrings was perfectly balanced in the combination of sweetness and sourness; it also had a superb texture, a little like the schmaltz herring texture that quite often wins.

 

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