This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
"When it reaches its full growth, the true sardine is a little smaller than the herring; at this stage it is fat, oily, and of a mediocre taste. It weighs between a quarter and a third of a pound. This fish, which on the coast of Cornwall is known as the 'pilchard,' and in Brittany as the 'winter sardine,' appears toward the close of the cold season, and vanishes by June. It is then more than two years old. This sardine is"salted, bat never preserved in, oil; It is the so-called summer sardine which is fried in boiling oil, packed in tin-boxes, and shipped all over the world. This is the same fish as the pilchard or winter sardine, only it is a year younger. It arrives off the Breton coast in vast shoals during june, and thenceforward until November it is taken in nets, the bait used being the salted roe of the codfish or a minute species of shrimp procured in the neighborhood. Whither it goes and where it passes the cold season is unknown, but it is believed to be a deep-water fish, which only in the months mentioned comes to the surface.
This is certain, however, that it is met with only near that section of the Atlantic coast of Europe which extends from Cornwall to Portugal".
"Nearly all the fish eaten in America as sardines come from Maine. They are small herring. Sometimes only a bushel or two are taken at a time, and at others so many as to endanger the net. The degree of dexferity with which they are cleaned is astonishing, especially as it is done by very young chil -dren. After this they are placed on large gridirons and suspended over a hot fire to broil. The boxes are prepared with attractive French labels indicating olive-oil, but this is false, as the oil is cottonseed. The packing is another operation at which little people are expert. A fish is seized in each hand and laid lengthwise in the box, first a head at the outer end and then a tail. After the boxes are full, a small quantity of oil is poured in, and then they are passed to men who solder them tightly. They are next thrown into an immense caldron, where they are boiled two hours, thus completing the cooking process and dissolving the bones of the fish. The actual cost per box, including all expenses, is said to be five cents".
"It is safe to say that the sardines of Messina are not to be surpassed, though they may possibly be equalled. Like Greenwich whitebait they are rather a specialty of the place. The waiter breathes a shrill whisper through the speaking-tube which communicates from the ground floor to the kitchen. A satisfactory response comes very promptly in the shape of a faint sound of frizzling. As the whitebait are merely immersed for come seconds in a wirework cage in some boiling oil, so the sardines are sent up with startling celerity, considering the Italian habit of procrastination. The tiny fish, delicately browned, are served on a soft bed of frizzled parsley. By way of condiment, there are simply a couple of sliced lemons, and the result is so tempting, so fragrantly appetizing, that you scarcely take time to disengage the fish from the bones".
The fishermen all along the coast from Gaeta to Naples have various ways of cooking fish which are unknown in the great hotels. Many of them are interesting, and might be attractive but for the predominating flavor of garlic. Fresh sardines, crisply fried in oil, are quite admirable eating, but the fishermen have discovered a more excellent way of dealing with them. They place them in a shallow tin, imbed tnem in breadcrumbs, add a few savory herbs, pour a little good olive oil, squeeze a lemon or two over them, and then bake them over a sharp fire. The result is unexpected, but not disagreeable.
(1)-Try devilled sardines for breakfasts, teas, and "snacks." They are easily done. Broiled lightly, a dash of lemon-juice, a pinch of cayenne, and there you are, don't you know! (2)-Take S or 10 sardines, drain a little from the oil, cover with mustard and cayenne. Broil lightly, or fry in a little butter or oil. Serve on fingers of buttered toast.
Sardines dipped in batter and fried are nice, though not very substantial, and some persons like pilchards cooked in the same way, though they are too strong flavored to suit all palates; a plentiful accompaniment of lemon is desirable.
A favorite Parisian dish is made of sardines carefully skinned and boned, laid on slices of buttered toast, and then put into the oven, with buttered paper over them, to get hot. Before serving lemon- juice is sprinkled over.
Rice parboiled potatoes half an inch thick. Melt a piece of butter in a stewpan, and put in a layer of half the potatoes. A couple of chopped onions and some parsley must be stewed with a piece of butter in a small stew-pan. Chop sardines and stir them into the latter. Stew for a few minutes, then spread them over the potatoes in the stewpan. Cover with the other half of the potatoes, and stew them ten minutes; or the whole maybe done in the oven,with the dish covered.
Sardines on buttered strips of toast spread with grated cheese.