There’s something a little fishy about today’s food holiday. November 24 is National Sardines Day!
Hmm. Can’t say we’re particularly thrilled with this one, though sardines were extremely popular in the U.S. during the early part of the 20th century. These small, oily fish – related to herring – were named after Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean where they were once abundant. In some parts of the world, they are known as pilchards. They are usually served in tin cans after being packed in oil, water, or a tomato-based sauce.
Nicholas Appert, a Frenchman and professional cook in the early 19th century who liked to experiment with methods of preserving food, developed a technique that caught the attention of Joseph Colin, who was interested in preserving freshly-caught sardines, in order to ship them to soldiers in the field, giving them a nutritious, easy-to-carry meal. By packing them in tin cans, he was able to ship 30,000 cans a year by 1836; his tinned sardines became a big hit with the military. An alternate story has Napoleon Bonaparte helping to popularize sardines by initiating their canning in order to feed the citizens of the lands he ruled. No offense, but I’m not sure if I trust that guy.
During the early and mid-20th century, sardines were popular in America because of their low cost. They were a cheap meal for college students (kind of like ramen is today) and those who couldn’t afford lavish roasts. They gradually fell out of favor, with sales slipping in the 1960s and 70s. In 2010, the last sardine factory in the U.S. closed its doors for good. There are signs that the little fish are making a comeback, though I remain skeptical over this.
There are some food holidays we look forward to more than others. Today’s ranked waaaay down there. We dutifully bought a can of sardines, however – choosing ones that were packed in oil and lightly smoked – and wrinkled our noses as I peeled back the tin. Tara took a slice and put it on a cracker, while I just fished one out (pun intended) and ate it straight up. Surprisingly, neither of us found the fish nearly as disgusting as we thought we would. To me, it wasn’t all that different from canned tuna. I actually went back for more.