Hooked on Sardines: Something Fishy's Going On in Aberdeen
A garlic festival put Gilroy, Calif., on the map.
Memphis goes mad for barbecue in May. Beaujolais nouveau arriving in Paris each November provokes dancing in the streets.
Without sardines, no Aberdeen Sardine Festival. Without a can, there would be no sardines, since the FDA allows several small fish — including herring, pilchards, bristlings and spray — to be sold as “sardines” when canned.
Canned sardines have a varied history. During World Wars I and II, sardines were a vital and convenient protein source for troops. Remember the keys attached to the cans that pull off the lids?
By 1921 sardine canneries and reduction factories which turned fish into fertilizer operated around Monterey, Calif., where just off shore billions of Pacific sardines were harvested annually.
Overfishing decimated the industry, which moved to Atlantic ports in the U.S. and Canada. Sardines earned their place in literature when John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row” chronicled the rise and fall of the Monterey factories, now ghostly museum tourist attractions.
A poorer quality product from Thailand and other Asian sources diminished the sardine’s appeal. The once-popular sardine sandwich fell from grace with a thud, only recently recognized as an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-12, calcium and antioxidants at a relatively low price.
However, in the Chowhound’s Great Sardine Taste-off, only sardines imported from Spain, Portugal and Scotland ranked high enough to stand alone. Fish should be plump and meaty, never mushy. Olive oil is the preferred packing liquid; avoid mustard, tomato sauce or flavored varieties.
Nancy Oakley, of Pinehurst, loves them so much she ordered fresh “sardines” from Fresh Market for her husband’s birthday. They were yummy straight off the grill.
Best-quality canned sardines are just as yummy straight from the can arranged on a bed of dark greens, with finely chopped white onion, lemon wedges and capers. Drizzle sardine oil over the greens and serve with pumpernickel spread with unsalted whipped butter. Just as good: an open-faced sardine and ripe garden tomato sandwich on crusty French or Italian bread, with a dab of aioli (garlic mayo).
Find other innovative sardine recipes, including fritters and pizza, at http://www.chow.c...>
Sardines have earned their way back into the pantry, for other than emergency meals. Get reacquainted at the 20th Annual International Sardine Festival on Oct. 12 at Aberdeen Lake.
-- Deborah Salomon
But nothing even comes close to Aberdeen’s 20th Annual International Sardine Festival from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at Aberdeen Lake.
Sardines, crackers, Moon Pies, RC and BYO Tums: Mm-mm different.
No sentient resident of Moore County hasn’t heard about how Randall Moss’ daughter Kay banished him and his odoriferous sandwich from the store that fateful lunch hour.
“It was awful,” Kay — a non-sardine eater — recalls.
What transpires amazes Randall’s widow, Dot Moss.
“It was just intended as a one-time thing, a group of friends having a picnic lunch,” she says.
Randall took off for Aberdeen Lake, where year after year he was joined by sardine-scarfing cronies and a few flies. The event went forth and multiplied into Aberdeen’s major tourist attraction with entertainment, T-shirts and a Sardine Queen, but absolutely no politicking, even though unofficial Chief Sardine Jamie Boles is up for re-election to the N.C. House of Representatives.
Ode to the Sardine Festival
Twas the night before the Sardine Festival, and all through
Not a creature was stirring, not even a Sardine Queen.
The cans of sardines were stacked up high with care,
With boxes of T-shirts and hats to wear.
All of Moore County were resting snug in their beds,
While visions of Moon Pies danced in their heads.
And Mamma in her robe and I in my Sardine tee,
Had just settled in, catching the late news on TV.
When out in the kitchen I heard such a splatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
I found Mamma standing there with a plain saltine,
For on the floor had fallen her last sardine!
She was so upset, a tear ran down her face
I searched for one more can, I looked all over the place.
When, what to my wondering eyes I should see,
But one last miniature can, with eight tiny fish-ee.
Now tomorrow’s the big day, let’s go to sleep fast,
Tomorrow we’ll eat sardines and listen to bluegrass,
We will buy T-shirts and hats as proof that we came,
And the parade of Queens, Jamie will call out their names.
Now Frances! Now Susan! Now, Laura and Mary!
On, Dolores! On, Grace! On Alisa and Terry!
Then flies will come buzzing, on the food they will crawl,
Now, fly away! Go away! Shoo away all!
Many sardines will be eaten, some plain, some hot.
Some people eat none, get past the smell they cannot.
No matter how you eat them, perhaps with mustard sauce,
Remember to eat one in memory of Randall Moss.
When the food is gone and the band ceases to play,
We will pinch our nose and to each other we’ll say,
“So long. Farewell. See you later alligator.
Goodbye. See you next year. I’ll smell you later!”
— Brian Moss
Therefore, the rumor that Sarah Palin will appear is absolutely false, says promotions and sanitation director Charlie Needham.
The food’s free; donations (averaging $5 per person) pay for the event with the remainder benefiting children’s charities. For many years sardines were donated by Port Clyde brand packers, in Maine. Now they are purchased wholesale through Penick Village. Other benefactors sweeten the pot.
In good weather, attendance tops 1,000.
“One year it rained so bad you couldn’t see the parking lot — but we still served over 500,” Boles says.
Tourist websites and Our State magazine take notice. Sardine lovers from all over the U.S. and Europe have been spotted spreading the oily little devils on saltines. A double amputee shows up every year to buy several T-shirts and is not seen anywhere until the next festival.
Recently, a core group of old-timers joined Jamie Boles for a breakfast planning session at Bojangles’. For the opening hymn Needham sang a self-composed ditty: “He’s a sardine man, and when he dies we’ll place him in a can.”
The group, which included Elba and Bill Thorpe (who will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary at the festival), Bob Currie — “The Bud(weiser) Man,” and Ed Lancaster exchanged lore galore — like what really happens when a sardine supporter dies: Committee members attending the visitation drop a can or two in the casket.
Conversation shifted to the Sardine Queen, who must be between 18 and 75, contribute to the community but need not exhibit talent or mermaid curves.
That didn’t stop sardiniac Nancy Oakley, of Pinehurst, who started the dress-up tradition in the late 1990s. On the way to the festival, Oakley and a friend bought tiaras and glitter-painted themselves Miss Sardine and Miss Saltine, not knowing a chosen queen awaited coronation.
“We were the ones interviewed by The Fayetteville Observer,” Oakley says.
The next year Randall Moss asked Oakley to be the official monarch.
“I screamed yes,” says Oakley. “Who wouldn’t want to ride on the back of a convertible?”
Her Majesty appeared in a huge casting net festooned with sardine cans emptied by the sardine-loving Oakley family. Fishy earrings, a crown and scepter completed the outfit. Since then, queens have appeared in flippers, goggles and sequined mermaid dresses.
But the coveted costume is a Sardine Festival T-shirt, some with enough cache to fetch $250 on eBay. For this 20th anniversary, Moss’ daughter Kay Moss has created a quilt from the 19 T-shirts plus an embroidered memento of the first event. Finding the T-shirts wasn’t easy.
“I had to go on Facebook,” Moss says.
Fun is the operative here, Bill Thorpe affirms.
“It’s a bunch of old guys having a good time and sharing memories of the past,” Jamie Boles adds.
Kay Moss agrees: “Isn’t this the goofiest thing?”
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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