The surprisingly political origins of German pickled herring

How Otto von Bismarck came to lend his name to one of Germany’s best-loved seafood dishes
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Bismarck Herring, from the German Cookbook
Bismarck Herring, from the German Cookbook

When historians talk about Otto von Bismarck’s diet they’re referring to the Diet of the German Confederation, the assembly of states that preceded today’s unified German state.

However, Bismarck wasn’t only the forefather of Germany and the country’s first chancellor, but was also a man of prodigious appetite, known for his love of drink, tobacco and fine food.

This public image appealed to Karoline and Johann Wiechmann, who ran a fish pickling business in Stralsund, on Germany’s Baltic Coast.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Wiechmanns, enamoured with Bismarck’s public persona, sent a barrel of pickled herrings for the stateman’s birthday.

The couple’s admiration for von Bismarck only rose in 1871, when Bismarck brought together the region’s various states into the German Empire. The couple sent him a second barrel following this triumph, accompanied by a note, asking, whether they could name their pickled fish after the great man.

 

The German Cookbook

Bismarck wrote back, granting their request, and, as chef and author Alfons Schuhbeck explains in The German Cookbook, now the term Bismarckhering applies to all German herring pickled in vinegar and spices.

Want to try fish the Bismarck way? Then you can recreate the Wiechmanns’ recipe, (and try plenty of other dishes) by buying a copy of The German Cookbook here.


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