Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent and the Sardine Funeral

After years of gathering tidbits to share on this blog, if there is one thing I have learned it is, there are feasts for all seasons and all walks of life. Humans have always celebrated important occasions with a feast whether it be the celebration of a new life or the passing of an old, we seem to find comfort sharing the basic act of praising food or in this case, burying it. Today we celebrate the funeral of the sardine which marks the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent.

Book of Festivals Dorothy Gladys Spicer, ©1937
Miercoles De Cenizas Entierro De La Sardina

The "Burial of the Sardine" (Entierro de la sardina) is a much celebrated festival in Spain. It is celebrated on Ash Wednesday and is a symbolical burial of the past and the promise of a rebirth. The tradition was the subject of Spanish painter Francisco de Goya in an oil, "El Entierro de la Sardina."

(courtesy of wiki)
El Entierro de la Sardina

The funeral procession for the sardine is a gala event. There are parades, marching bands, costumes and colorful floats. But why oh why celebrate the sardine by burying it?

It seems, there are two different stories as to the origin of the tradition. The truth, apparently, has also been buried in obscurity.

...The first story dates back to the XVII century, when Charles III, King of Spain, who wanted to celebrate the end of the festival with the commoners, ordered sardines and wine to be served at the countryside picnic. The weather that day was hot, very typical at the time of year, and the sardines began to smell foul due to the heat. The people wanted to get rid of the bad smell and realized the only way to achieve that was to bury them. The king consented to this. The people wept at the thought of no longer getting free food and having to begin the observant period of abstinence.

I'm more inclined to summarize that the burying, or in some cases the cremation, of the sardine has more to do with the pagan festivals associated with the coming of spring and the preparation of the planting fields. Fish makes an excellent fertilizer:) (have I ever told you the story about how we use to plant fish bones under the tomato plants in my Father's garden?) However, today, gardening with sardines will have to wait for another day:)

I would much rather memorialize the "silver harvest" as a meal to revel! (sardines are sometimes called the silver harvest because of the way the moon reflects on their iridescent bodies:)

...While debates commonly arise as to the exact origin of the word Sardine, it appears to have first been used in the English language some time in the 1400s. It is believed by some that these fish got their name from the Italian island of Sardinia, along whose coasts they were once found in abundance. Sardines are actually a small and oily fish belonging to the Clupeidae family of Herring. There are different standards in different lands for what officially makes a sardine, but some nations consider anything longer than 6 inches to be a "Pilchard" and not a Sardine...Sardines | The Superfish
Portugese Gebuine Sardine Recipes

Different Countries, Different Fish, One Name

Although they all bear the same name on package labels, there are dozens of different small fish sold as sardines. Sardine producers in Portugal, Spain and France work with what are known as pilchards. These are fat, flavorful fish, usually fitting only 3-5 to a can. The Codex Alimentarius, the international body that oversees labeling laws, requires that the label for any fish other than pilchards that are canned as sardines must state the type of fish inside the tin. On the American East Coast what we used to call "sardines" were actually North Atlantic herring. Pacific sardines are sardinops sagax, and are also in the herring family. Norwegian sardines are Brislings (also known as silds or sprats), a small fish native to the North Sea. The good news is that all of these can be excellent! (Sardine History)
Sardine Recipes

What Are the Benefits of Eating Sardines? Apparently, some believe them to be "health food in a can."

...They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins...(The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating; New York Times)
...All sardines are very low in mercury, which is the biggest problem with much seafood. Generally speaking, the bigger the fish — the higher on the oceanic food chain — the more the mercury. Shark, tuna — and yes, salmon too — are all high in mercury. As befitting their name, sardines are small. About the lowest on the food chain, they are also among the fish lowest in mercury...The Sardine Diet
Portugese Sardine Die-cut Recipe Book

I wasn't surprised to discover that some of the best sardines in the world come from the waters of Spain and Portugal. The list at Chow for The Great Sardine Taste-off confirmed my beliefs. I'm sure it hasn't changed much since 2006.

Ready for some recipes? Here's a Sardine Casserole from The Art of Spanish Cooking by Betty Wason ©1963.

Sardines in Casserole

This is, however, a celebration. I think we need some Deep Fried Sardines as found in Tapas; The Food & the Music.

Deep Fried Sardines

I haven't decided what I'm giving up for Lent yet this year but after researching this post, I know for sure I will be digging that humble sardine can out of the cupboard a bit more often this Lenten season. It just seems too good to overlook and Marion and I just happen to adore them on a fresh pieces of Italian bread as is!

The Sardine die-cut booklet featured in today's post was published in Portugal. Unfortunately, I can't make out any more of the information with glasses on and a magnifying glass!

1. The burial of the sardine in Tossa de Mar
2. 26 Things You Never Knew About Sardines
3. 6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines
4. Yes, you can make sardines at home (pressure cooker)
5. How to Select and Store Sardines (The George Mateljan Foundation)