Let the fish swim!

I might as well begin by saying it: I love food! I think it is fantastic, no matter if it is as simple as crunching a carrot, eating a fresh-out-of-the-oven bun dripping with butter or if it is more complicated as being presented with a gourmet dinner. I like snacks, desserts, breakfast, dinner, lunch, in between meals, high tea, midnight snacks. Everything, perhaps with the exception of chicory and Campari. But most of all I care for the Big Danish luncheons. To sit down by a beautiful table, where the snaps is already poured and the little glasses stands covered in dew, the beer bottles are grouped on the table ready to be opened, and the smell of herring and onion immediately sits in your nose. The fish just waits there, mouthwatering and ready to be eaten, salmon, eel, herring, shrimps, and everyone look at each other and smile because the next five hours or more you are going to snack, drink and chat together, there is plenty of time. It is nice. I love it.

I have participated in those kinds of luncheons as long as I can remember. My family are food lovers in general and I am told that very early in my life, before I even learned to talk I carried the nickname ‘shrimp-pate’. My grandmother fetched freshly caught shrimps by Fisherman Jantzen from Brunhuse when he came in with his boat at the harbor in Assens, she boiled them herself at home, and then the whole family gathered around the table to peel the shrimps for the luncheon. I was participating in this activity sitting in my baby chair and hitting my spoon very hard on the table, when they did not feed me fast enough. My grandmother made wonderful luncheons, and as I grew in consciousness, I ate my way through all parts of them with great joy. Fish, meat, hot dishes, cheese, coffee and chocolates. I drank my first snaps at such a lunch, it drove the tears to my eyes, and I had my first pint, just like many of the very important and hilarious family tales where told and retold at the never-ending luncheons, when all of the family or most of it were gathered around the long table.

1965: luncheon in the dining room in Oestergade in Assens. The young woman on picture 1 is my mother. On picture 2 you see Grandmother Else and Grandfather Hugo. Picture 3 is Grandfather Hugo and Aunt Mona – they had assigned seats and were always found next to each other during 50 years of luncheons.

1976: a lovely summer luncheon in the garden in Oestergade. Picture 2 – Grandmother Else in the middle talking to the cousins. Picture 3 – nice shirt, dad! Picture 4 – Grandfather and Aunt Mona. Pouring the snaps also known as aquavit (water of life).

1976: Picture 1 grandmother Else is talking to her son – my Uncle Jan. He is holding something. Picture 2 new perspective. I have no eye for the photographer I see only the platter holding the incomparable fantastic masked salmon. That is: steamed salmon from when it was caught and not grown, garnished with real mayonnaise, not from a jar, lumpsucker roe (cyclopterus lumpus), tomato, eggs and shrimps. I was rationed on this particular dish to a maximum of two helpings, sometimes three when grandmother succumbed. 1984: Luncheon in Nyadelgade in Assens. Little sister Rie with grandmother Else. Ries absolute favorite at that time was the pink sausage from Butcher Olsen.

When it comes to me participating in the luncheons today, there is only the tiny problem of me not eating meat anymore. The big Danish Luncheon is if anything a feast of slowness, you do not hurry, while you eat your way through a thousand small dishes (of meat). You take your time and it will be commented upon if any one person holds on to ten sticks of carrots for too long. In addition, carrots do not provide a solid base, if you feel like drinking snaps. One piece of vegetable pie might fill the stomach, but it would feel so lonely at such a luncheon! Of course, I do not participate solely for the food, but also for the company, and luckily, they still want me hanging around even if I no longer engage in the part of the feast where we all eat exactly the same. I am not thought of as a dangerous dissident, at least I do not think so, and yes, of course we do talk about why I object to real food, if any dare ask!

But what actually happens when a meat objector sits at the feast of meat – the big Danish luncheon? Let us begin with the fish, I eat the eggs and the curry salad, possibly there are some tomatoes, I grab those, if there is onions and cress, voila! they are on my plate, maybe a potato, lettuce, horseradish. YUM. I have plenty for my first bite, and so it continues. The meat arrives on the table, more tomatoes, roasted onions, mayonnaise, I wipe out the entire extra bowl of fried mushrooms meant to go with the paté, cucumbers, the Italian salad (tricolor – mayo, carrot and peas), the Russian salad (mayo, beetroot), cornichons, pickled cucumbers. It all goes on my plate, and now people at the other end of the long table might begin to whisper a bit. “Look, she is wiping the platters”, “She has gone quite wild”, “But husband, you know I do not eat the paté without mushrooms and beetroot”, “Can you really eat bread with only remoulade on top?”, “I wonder if she will stop when we reach the cheese!” And I will, stop when we reach the cheese, because by then I will be just like anybody else, you will not notice what I eat, and I am probably beginning to feel full, and I am not a vegan (another solid subject for conversation), so I enjoy cheese very much, thank you. I like the matured cheese, biscuits and grapes, maybe with some nuts and honey, and then perhaps a little fruit salad and a taste of risalamande (rice, whipped crème, a lot of almonds) with cherry sauce as an end to the meal. I will argue that it is not a problem at all to have a vegetarian invited to a Danish luncheon. You will not have to do anything extra, except maybe add a cold potato or two, the only thing is that it will be hard on the garnish, so make sure to have EXTRA GARNISH, plenty of garnish for every dish (and more so for every vegetarian you add)! Also, remember to have plenty of snaps, because vegetarians can drink more snaps than meat-eaters.

Now, it is almost the time for good old yule and all the fabulous big yule luncheons, and to that avail sis and I thought it might be fun to do something, which would be like the classic pieces of open sandwiches you eat at the Danish luncheons, but vegetarian. Under comments in the post ‘Meat objector!’ I also promised to give Birgitte an answer to what replaced my great love the matured pickled herring. Luckily, my sister Rie and her best friend Marie have a kind of gourmand club, where you are both capable of cooking the meal and eating it, and they got together and composed five pieces of vegetarian open sandwiches, which are a lot like the traditional ones. Furthermore, they chose their ingredients to be mainly traditional ones from the Nordic kitchen. I delivered three of the five snapses for the meal, because I think it is a blast to make herbal snaps.

1) Vege-tatar (cauliflower, capers, onion, dill, dijonaise with butter-toasted ryebread) with OP snaps from Sweden. 2) A walk in the woods (champignon, cream, lemon on toasted rye-wheatbread) with pine snaps. 3) Danish steak (beetroot steak with horseradish crème on ryebread) with rhubarb snaps. 4) Who came first? (egg, parsley mayonnaise on toasted oelands-wheatbread) with jonge graan jenever from the Netherlands. 5) Golden pieces (said Rie); (or Golden pieces from the wishing well (said Marie)) (brie, apple with roasted ryebread) with yarrow snaps

Now it only remains to say bon appetite and to propose the very toast, that has always been my favorite toast and the first toast to come after “Thank you for coming…” – namely “Let the fish swim! “. I think that anyone who has sat in on one of those Danish Luncheons by now appreciates how witty I think this is. Therefore, I must also readdress one of my earlier statements and add, that even though it might not be a challenge to have a meat objector eat at your yule luncheon (providing you have the garnish), it might be rather annoying.


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