First taste of sardines at mid-life nests many stories

You would think at my advanced middle age — let's just say I'm old enough to know better — I would have tried most everything I'm remotely interested in by now. But, guess what? The other day I ate sardines for the first time in my life. Don't ask me why, I just had the idea that it was time.

My quest for sardines took me to the supermarket, where they can be found on the shelf right at eye level. Turns out there are many different varieties of sardines

First you choose how you want them packed: in water, olive oil, or soybean oil. Then you choose any flavoring: plain, tomato, spicy, and more.

If you read more closely, you can even choose the county of origin. For my first can I chose plain sardines packed in water from Canada. I figured, if there was anyone I could trust for a momentous occasion like this, it would me my many friends to the north, eh.

Sardine cans open in one of two ways — peeling back a metal top with a pull-tab, or inserting a little key to peel back the top. Mine had the pull-tab.

You pull the tab back, drain the liquid, and there you go — four little fishies with their heads cut off all squeezed tightly into the little metal can.

Now, at this point, I know many would just be grossed out, but you have to give new things a chance. How are you going to know if you like something or not without trying it?

I got out two pieces of bread, placed the sardines between them, and ate them that way — plain, no lemon or cocktail sauce or anything.

For some reason, I had thought they would be really salty, like anchovies, but they were not at all. In fact, they had a very nice taste, different from tuna but in the same vein. I thought they were great and I'm kind of bummed now that I waited this long to try them.

I did a little research on sardines — they are actually called pilchards, and can be herring or several other varieties of small fish. Before canning, the heads are cut off, and I found out that quality sardines will be allowed to swim in water without eating for a while so they can empty their digestive systems before packing, so you are not eating their waste.

This, I realize, may be too much information for some people, but it's like the black line in shrimp — better to know what it is and deal with it, I think.

When you mention sardines to people, you quickly realize that everyone has a sardine story. For example, my father told me he loves sardines and eats them all the time, despite the fact that I never remember them in our house growing up and I've never seen my father eat them. Go figure.

Similarly, my mother says she had a friend who made delicious sardine sandwiches on rolls with lettuce, tomato, and more. I wished I’d have known that years ago; it sounds very tasty.

A friend of mine, a fellow motorcycle rider, told me a great sardine story. Back in the ’70s, he rode his motorcycle to Mexico and packed some sardines as a good portable meal. He opened the can very carefully, not pulling the top all the way off.

He punched some holes in the top and installed some wire, making a little handle. He then placed a candle in the empty can. The top acted as a windbreak, and he used that candle in the sardine can for many years when camping. I love it when you can re-purpose something like that. So much better than tossing it in the garbage.

Perhaps the best sardine story comes from another buddy. He's 75, has been eating sardines all his life (they are full of nutrients and very good for you, so there you go), and claims he's saved every empty sardine can he's every had. He apparently has them stacked floor to ceiling, and is seriously considering contacting the Guinness Book of Records to see if he can get in it. Now how great is that?

He also saves the drained oil from the sardine cans, and once, when he was low on gear oil for his bike, he used the drained sardine oil to top up. Now there's a guy who really loves sardines.

It's funny that I went so long in life without trying something so basic and appealing like sardines. When you consider that these cost about a buck a can — not much more than cat food — you wonder why you don't see them around more.

I mean, I've never seen sardines on a restaurant menu anywhere (though they are considered a delicacy in other parts of the world) and I've never ever seen anyone eating sardines — but they tell you they love them if you ask them. Sardines must be one of those simple, private little joys that people just take for granted.
You know, I've never eaten oysters —