Growing up in a cross-cultural household there were many moments when you realized that your home was a little ‘different’ from many of those around you. As a kid I went to a variety of private schools with large international populations so those differences seemed quite ‘normal’, however when I began public high school I began to realize that maybe I was a little bit ‘odd’ Growing up with a Jamaican mom not only was my vocabulary for local fruits and vegetables at times quite different from my classmates, many of the items that I ate on a regular basis were as well! We were even different at times from the other Jamaican-Trini homes cos of the Jewish influences that mom had on her cooking. One such influence, that she happily passed on to me, was a loving and liberal use of sardines.
As a child, sardines were comfort food. I learnt to eat them with lime juice, salt, and pepper sauce from quite young. When she was feeling particularly upbeat and generous, she would make a huge batch of sardine fritters, and leave them on the stove for us to eat during the day. These fritters were something that her grandmother taught her, and were basically smashed fish, combined with eggs and herbs and pan-fried on both sides in a generous amount of butter. Nothing could be more delicious to me and I especially love their creamy middles, and pan-charred edges.
It was only when friends started to come over to visit, and would turn up their noses at the ‘gross’ things seen and smelt in our kitchen that a sense of ‘otherness’ started to come over me. I remember going to school a day and hearing that they had told people that I offered them something that looked like ‘lizard guts’ and feeling particularly hurt. It was very odd to me that something that had always signified love and togetherness could be received so poorly and mocked. I started to feel rather odd about sardines at that point, and mom’s adamant insistence that such foolish people shouldn’t merit a second of concern on my part did little to help.
Slowly but surely I began to develop an odd annoyance and discomfort with my Mother’s once-loved Sunday morning offerings of sardine fritters, eating them (when I did) alone, and always making sure they weren’t around if anyone came over. Then in 2002, the following article from the Jewish Journal caught my eye, and changed everything.
From “Nothing’s Fishy”
These were the fish that had always been with us, as we fled medieval Spain and during high times in Venice. They were the boxes that came along with the Frisco Kid, when he traveled to the San Francisco during the Gold Rush. This was my history. It was nourishing. It was good.
For the first time I realized that I wasn’t alone, and oddly enough the idea that others had had to negotiate culinary ‘otherness’ made me realize how foolish I had been. High school was now over 10 years in my past. I was not in touch with any of the people who caused me embarassement all those years ago. Indeed I had not talked to many of them after graduation, so why was I still carrying this weight? Mom -had- been right? Such foolishness SHOULDN’T merit a second of my concern.
Ever since that day I have been happy and proud to express and share my love of little tins cans of smelly oily fish In fact, one of the first things I made for Jason was mom’s Sardine Fritters (of course I have developed my own twist on them). I watched as he apprehensively put his fork into them and carried the first piece to his mouth. “Whoa! These are good!” or something to that effect was his automatic reaction, and it felt great to have that fear that history would repeat itself fade away. Since that time he’s had me teach him how to make them, and he’s even given them to his parents! When he posted his love for them on Facebook, his profile was instantly innundated with a sea of ‘grossed out’ reactions. But this time I could genuinely smile and laugh. They don’t merit a second of my concern
This recipe for Sardine Pate comes from Nigella Lawson and if you don’t like sardines, or know someone who doesn’t I really suggest giving it a try. The lime juice makes sure that the odour is cut, and the generous portion of batter, softens the sardines flavour, blurring it into something more indistinguishable and mouth-satisfyingly creamy. Although the recipe also calls for parsley, I like to make it with chadon beni (culantro) as well. It’s perfect with water crackers and I’ve made many times for myself and when entertaining others. I’m happy to say that it truly feels like coming full-circle to now be able to share it here
This recipe has been submitted to Weekend Cookbook Challenge
1 x 120g tin sardines in oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2o z softened unsalted butter
fresh chopped parsley to taste
salt and ground white pepper to taste
1. Empty the whole contents of the can (fish and oil) into a food proccessor.
2. Add the remaining ingreedients.
3. Whizz in the food processor until completely amalgamated and perpectly smooth.
4. Taste and make adjustments as necessary.
5. Spoon into serving dishes (ramekins are ideal).
6 .Cover and refrigerate.