Yep, you read that right.
As you may recall, I’m one of those weird folks who actually enjoy foods deemed disgusting by many Americans: anchovies and sardines, in particular. Anchovies don’t just add a unique umami flavor to pasta sauces and Caesar dressing, they make a delicious topping for white pizza, too. Unfortunately, few people in my life agree. So it’s always exciting to find someone else who enjoys salty, oily canned fish; it’s like a special club made up of friends you’d never expect to know.
Like my freshman suitemate’s grandmother.
My living situation freshman year of college was…well, interesting, as is the case with basically all college freshmen. My college arranges students in suites, which are made up of a few bedrooms (single or double) all connecting to a common living room. So instead of getting to know just your roommate really well, you also get to know four other suitemates pretty well, too. And since you don’t have much of a say in who these suitemates are, you end up in one of three situations: becoming best friends; hating each other; or being surprised every day with unexpected stories and experiences.
Mine was definitely the latter, courtesy of my suitemate Charysse.
Charysse had a single, and she kept to herself for much of the first month of college. We all did, when we weren’t sticking like glue to the few friendly people we found. (My roommate Daena and I pretty much went everywhere together.) But around October, something changed, and Charysse started spending more time with us in the common room, and we got to know each other real fast. Charysse posted her graded chemistry lab reports up on the walls, because she goaded her TA with ridiculous conclusions comparing the study of chemistry to the study of love. The TA responded with outraged comments, which made for excellent posters. Charysse also led us in afternoon singing sessions, which she taped on a little hand-held recorder. We discovered a shared love of Led Zeppelin and rocked out to Kashmir on quiet weeknights. It was one of those friendships that can only develop in college, when you’re thrown together with people you wouldn’t normally get to know. You discover how much you actually have in common with them.
|Jacques Pepin Celebrates! (actual poster from PBS)|
One of the most memorable aspects of that freshman year, aside from all of the above, was coming home to discover that Charysse had gotten another package from her grandmother. Her grandmother loved to send her all sorts of random gifts, which, while thoughtful, rarely had anything to do with anything. A typical package might include a creased PBS poster of Jacques Pepin (which went up on the walls, of course) and six can openers (one for each member of the suite). We had a lot of fun trying to decipher what these gifts meant.
But the strangest package was the one with the sardines. Her grandmother sent some big cans of sardines, along with a few other items that I can’t recall. And after a long discussion of what this latest gift meant, Charysse opened up the cans and ate the sardines. I don’t remember if I joined in–this was early on in my anchovy-sardine career, and I may not have even tried them by that point. But something about those little fishes nestled in their tin packet of oil appealed to my adventurous side. And I mentally added sardines to my list of approved foods.
It’s a silly little story, one that makes me smile the way college stories do. But I always think of it whenever I’m dealing with sardines.
Unfortunately, The “Settlement” Cook Book‘s version is less than stellar. You mash up sardines and hard-boiled eggs into a kind of paste, which you then spread on sandwiches. It’s a perfectly serviceable meal, but it lacks flavor. Perhaps the eggs cut the fishy flavor of the sardines. Honestly, when I’m eating sardines, I want the full experience. You’re wrinkling your nose, I know, but it’s true. Go big or go home, they say, and it’s the same with sardines.
Just ask Charysse and her grandmother. They’ll tell you.
What about you? Do you have any weird food preferences? I’d love to chat…
(adapted from The “Settlement” Cook Book)
1 4.25 oz can of sardines in oil
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
1-2 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tsp olive oil
Rinse the sardines with fresh water and drain. Pick out the spine and other prominent bones from the fish. With a fork or potato masher, mash together the sardines and eggs in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper, then add just enough olive oil to bring the mixture together into a paste. Serve on toasted bread with fresh greens.