Friday, April 19, 2013

Ancestry: Pickled Herring & Beets

I must be getting old.

I remember as a kid going to my paternal grandmother's house in Brooklyn and watching her and her 9 sisters (there was 1 brother, the poor thing) eat pickled herring and beets.

I was repulsed and swore I would NEVER eat this. Disgusting.

The Jackson sisters (strange name for a Jewish family, must've been changed at Ellis Island) all lived in either Brooklyn or Queens, and would get together almost daily to play cards and eat.

Yes, this was their life.
Raising their children and preparing the meals.

Mahjong, Canasta and other card games were the daily grind.
Babka and coffee, gossip, then a little smoked whitefish salad on a bagel, what could be bad?

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes all plagued these sisters later in life.
But why give up what you love?
Take a little saccharine pill from a pretty silver case every day, and you buy some diabetic chocolate.

Were they all heavy? Yup.
But most of them lived well into their 80's (probably because they didn't eat processed foods).

My grandmother lived in a 3 story brownstone in Brooklyn, and they rented the ground floor out to tenants in the 1940's and until the house was sold in the 70's. I can still see that gross looking fish stuff and the red soup on her table.

Even though they were all American born, they hung onto their parents' Eastern European cultures by eating borscht, babka and smoked fish, of any kind.
Bring it on. Sable, herring, salmon, whitefish.

I couldn't wait to get away from them and their fish.

Well look how I've changed my tune.
It must be in the genes, I always say.

I eat smoked fish and beets almost every other day!
Even my husband loves it.

Here is a simple snack that I make instead of having a piece of cake lately.

It's packed with protein and goodness and makes me smile everytime I eat it.
I think of my heritage.

It's all about food and love (and the love of food!).

Pass the sour cream.



SarahB said...

I love that you are substituting smoked fish and beets for CAKE!!!

Pauline said...

We are Scandinavian, not from Brooklyn, and we LOVE pickled anything! especially fish!
Nice post.

Janet in Phoenix said...

I'm of Czech descent and grew up eating pickled herring in sour cream sauce and pickled beets with onions. Yum! Haven't had it in ages but now I'm hungry for it! Beautiful post!

Anonymous said...

I take consolation in the fact that we're all getting old TOGETHER, Ms. Snacks. What part of Brooklyn was the brownstone? Shoulda hung onto that piece of real estate, huh? Love this post - so much fun imagining the Jackson 10 (+ poor thing) in their prime!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Oh what a delight Miss Stacey to hear you wax poetic about what you ran away from in youth. It's a beautiful thing to embrace this part of your heritage. Pickled herring is something I never took a liking to, but truth be told, I've never tried it, not even when I was in Amsterdam, where it's practically sold on street corners. Bring on the beets and I swear, I WILL try pickled herring on your say-so. But substitute it for cake? never gonna happen.

Raksha said...

Thank you, Stacey. My heritage is East European Jewish like yours, and your post brought back wonderful childhood memories of my Aunt Tillie's house in the Bensonhurst area of Brooklyn. Tillie (actual given name - Tamara) was my mother's oldest sister. She lived with her husband and my cousin Alice, a teenager at the time, on the first floor of the house. My great-aunt Esther, who was my grandmother's youngest sister, lived on the second floor. Esther, not my own mother, was the Jewish mother who cooked the first potato latkes I ever ate in my life. They were a revelation to me: I couldn't have imagined before I tasted them that anything could possibly be so delicious.

There are differences, of course. I don't recall when I first tasted pickled herring, but I also don't recall having an aversion to it. As with most Jewish foods with the possible exception of gefilte fish, it was love at first bite. Another difference: I don't eat pickled herring or other kinds of pickled fish every other day. As a matter of fact, it's been well over a year since I last treated myself to a jar of pickled herring. Thanks to your post, I intend to correct that little oversight TODAY!

Stacey Snacks said...


My grandmother's sister was also Esther (no Tillie, I don't think, but there was a Becky, Edith, Irene, Bessie, Morris (the brother), Molly....I can't remember the other names).
They lived in Crown Heights, Bensonhurst & Prospect Heights.

I didn't try the pickled stuff till in my 20's. Now I buy a big jar of pickled herring at Costco now (Acme fish makes good stuff, all natural), and I swear, I throw it in my arugula salad w/ some roasted beets and red onion almost every other day! I love it! It's part of my healthy eating diet, no joke! (pickling is just vinegar and sugar, really).

AdriBarr said...

What a lovely post. It is interesting, isn't it how we can grow into our own culinary heritage.

Melbourne Girl said...

Great story Stacey! Love it!

Bites from life with the barking lot said...

Beautiful post Stacey. I think part of growing older is remembering things we didn't care for and smiling about them. It makes the heart feel good.

Debby Foodiewife said...

Don't shoot me, but I have different memories of herring and red beets. My mother maid this salad, daily, at her delicatessen. I had to learn how to make. I couldn't eat it. No amount of money could get me to do it, but the little old ladies always bought it. To this day, I just can't handle herring salad. Oy vey. I'll take cake, please. xoxo

Nata said...

I am of Ukrainian heritage and we too eat pickled herring and beets, usually only at holidays, but I eat it year round. There's nothing like herring in wine sauce as a snack. I love your recipes!

Jenn said...

LOVE me some pickled beets and herring!

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