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A dish made with herrings, vinegar, onion and sugar. Originally a method of preserving the fish, which would only be abundant at certain times of the year. The season began in early June off the Shetland Isles, and during the summer months moved down the coast on both the West and East sides of the British Isles, reaching as far as Sussex and Cornwall. The Dutch fished the same waters, so developed their own recipes. The great herring city was Yarmouth, which had a great autumn fair.
Originally herrings were prepared in a very primitive fashion, salted in heaps on the shore without being gutted. But later the methods of the 14th century Dutchman, William Beukels/Beukelzoon, were adopted. The herrings were gutted and soaked for 14-15 hours in brine, before being barrelled up in rows between layers of salt. It was important to keep the air from them, for this caused their fat to oxidise, so that they became rancid. For this reason in the middle ages, it wasn"t possible to preserve them by drying.
The smoking of herrings was a technique developed in the late 13th century, probably in Scotland. See 'Herrings; smoked'
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