The story of how Sweden came to cherish and love Surströmming is not just one but several. However, the base seems the same: POVERTY. You see, we were not always wealthy and one reason of course was our climate and our geographical deposition, with cold, and hot temperatures resulting in ice on the Baltic Sea and hot summers causing draught, but also over-farming laying land barren and the people to starve. So, there had to be a solution, and that was in how to store away food from one season to another. In the far north this was especially important to come to grips with as we had no ‘’electrical’’ refrigeration in the 16 th century. But also the winter season lasted into early June even on coastal cities like Luleå where snow and ice were in abundance, nor were there any rail ways in those days.

The solution came in an area referred to by name to as the High Coast. When Sweden’s then king Gustav Wasa went to war there was a shortage of salt for those remaining at home. The salt was used for storage in large barrels to keep the fish fresh. So, salt prevented the fish from going sour, and with the shortage made, what was stored, starting to ferment! The Swedish people were poor, and had no alternatives and they had to eat this fish anyway, and found that it actually was quite good, and very edible. That is how it all came about! 🙂

In this day, and age, Surströmming has become a tasty summer tradition bringing the grown-ups of families together late in August for a festive occasion! It is much looked forward too, and served in a special way on which soft bread, so called clamps are lain out and added onion cuttings, some sour cream, the fish filet in small pieces, boiled mashed potatoes, rolled into the clamp and served with beer and the occasional schnapps! And then we sing drinking songs for fun, and enjoyment and it brings the sense and feeling of what is Best of Summer close to us! The area where it all is said to have originated is Ulvön, located some 30 km south of the city of Örnsköldsvik, and that is also why you see a tin bearing its name and the filets.

My own take on this was as a child in my maternal grand mother’s summer house that at one time this was served and I never reflected other than that I liked it! I never thought this smells bad or rotten as I had no idea what that was – in fact I loved the smell of onions, and when I later saw the special bread being baked coming straight from the oven at my paternal grandfather’s house in Harads, they gave me it hot, and with the butter melting, and I could never get enough! Fish, at that time I would not touch! My first experience came from B2BLiST via Stefan Westberg’s cooking some 50 years later in my own offices and I loved it! So people, early education, my parents always said You must try it, if you do not like it you can leave it asides…but TRY you must!

P.s. In Stockholm, in the south of the country they have an annual gathering in celebration of the tradition IT is said that the people having had moved from the north cannot live without it, thus tradition has gone south and it is a luxury food, highly esteemed and only for our very best restaurants.. And yes, it is also said it is forbidden to take on aircraft, and that before they took away anything metallic in your hand luggage.. due to the….You guessed it: SMELL !\

Henrik Mjöman Riga August 29, 2023 for the B2BLiST event in early October!