Another subset of my cookbook collection turns out to be books and pamphlets with sardine recipes. About half the readers just made a face. At some point towards the end of the 20th century, the idea of eating Sardines took on a distasteful image in the media and the mind of many Americans. I can’t tell if it was a deliberate torpedoing by the folks who made money shipping fresh seafood around the country, or just too many cartoon characters mocking sardine cans and odor.
Being a cheap and obtainable source of protein containing vitamin B12, vitamin B2, vitamin D, phosphorus, selenium, calcium, niacin, copper, choline, and omega-3 fatty acids, Sardines were promoted by the government and nutritionists for many decades. These days mModern Americans have to struggle to replace those nutrients in our diet.
People LOVED Sardines, because they needed no further cooking, they were some of the best selling foodstuffs. The original prepackaged convenience food. Sardines and a box of crackers were a pretty decent meal. I think this absence of ‘cooking’ lead to it being left out of the majority of American cookbooks. Especially those published post-war when Americans were SICK to death of eating canned meats, and sardines started to develop a ‘broke food’ cache.
These recipes are from the Brides Cook Book published in San Francisco in 1912. The sardine recipes hold as high a status in the book as any other ingredient. they aren’t relegated to the back of the book, or hidden amongst the appetizer foods.
This Sardine Souffle recipe was enough to make me buy this 1937 Recipes from Warby Women’s Institute cookbook. It is probably the most elegant Sardine recipe I have discovered.
One of the disappointments I have found with older sardine recipes involves using them whole. Due to modern processing methods, the canned fish are processed longer at lower temperatures (about 40-60 minutes at 230F/112c) which causes the bones to soften which is what most modern consumers want. They don’t want to worry about getting a bone stuck or deboning before eating. Many of the recipes for ‘frittering’ or rolling the entire sardine in breadcrumbs are tougher to prepare when the sardine falls to bits in the process. My personal solution is to mash the sardine with a few soft breadcrumbs, and egg and then roll the nugget in panko crumbs to create a sardine croquette, which is a much more common recipe.