Posted by: Erica Retrochef | July 11, 2011

Sardines and Scalloped Potatoes

I’ve been looking at ways to bring a little more calcium and protein into our diet, and for some reason decided sardines would be a great way to do that. Now, theoretically, they are indeed an excellent solution. However, I’ve never actually eaten a sardine, and I’m not really a “fish” person in general, so I find myself somewhat baffled that I suddenly chose sardines as the way to go.

Even crazier, I decided an excellent introduction to sardines would be through a retro recipe.

(I have clearly learned absolutely nothing over the last couple of years.)


Costs 40 cents (November 1952)
4 servings    Woman’s Day Kitchen

1 15-ounce can sardines
6 cups diced, cooked potato
1 can cream-of-celery soup
1/2 cup diluted evaporated milk
Buttered crumbs

Drain sardines; reserve liquid. Put potato in greased, shallow, 2-quart casserole. Combine celery soup, milk, and sardine liquid; heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Pour over potato. Sprinkle with crumbs and paprika. Bake in moderate oven, 350°F., 20 minutes. Top with sardines; bake 10 minutes longer.

This doesn’t actually look all that bad. Well, unless you’re me. I don’t like much seafood, and I’ve never been able to bring myself to actually open a can of sardines to see what’s inside. (If Buzz orders the occasional anchovy pizza, I make him eat it in another room, or preferably outside. Poor guy.)

This was my damn idea, so I braced myself and opened up the sardine can, and promptly fell to pieces. One sardine had a length of spine sticking out of its neck, left over from the decapitation process presumably. As I fled the kitchen, I begged Buzz to debone them for me, and I’d be back in a minute.

A few deep breaths and I returned to start working on some non-fish thing.

I took one look at the results of Buzz’s deboning efforts and had to leave the kitchen again.

Moving on to something I can actually stand to look at, here are some lovely buttered breadcrumbs browning in a pan. Mmmmm.

(Actually, they were pretty bland. But at least they’re not vertebrae!)

Cream of celery soup isn’t all that bad, but mixed with sardine juice, you get fishy cream of celery soup. This is a bad flavor combination.

Adding a heavy dose of paprika helps the breadcrumbs pick up some flavor. No doubt this level of spice would horrify the 1950’s housewife.

Buzz laid the fish on top, since I still was completely unable to touch them.

I did request at least half the casserole be covered with sardine flakes, rather than whole fish. Given my reaction just to the visuals, I knew I wouldn’t be able to actually put my fork into an unbroken sardine.

And then, unfortunately, after an all-too-short baking process, it was time to eat this.

Heaven help me.

What utterly shocked me about this was who enjoyed it. The kids and I had the sardine flakes, while Buzz had a serving from the whole-fish section of the casserole. My son took one look and declared he hated it. (He does this for everything that isn’t cheese, though.) My daughter took one look and eagerly cried, “Is that TUNA FISH?”

“Um… Yes, yes, it’s tuna fish.” And she starting stuffing her face. This kid never stuffs her face, she’s dainty and picky. She thought the fish tasted amazing, the potatoes were pretty good, and she even asked for an extra fish. Meanwhile, Buzz, the fan of sardines, was slowly taking bites while trying to ignore the flavor.

So this is pretty hit-or-miss. Don’t make it if you hate sardines, don’t mix the fish juice into the potatoes, and consider a small batch rather than a whole casserole. It may be an affordable family meal, but it’s expensive dog food!

This and other terrifying sardine recipes are originally from Woman’s Day 1952, and have been preserved online by Curly Wurly. Thanks? 😉



  1. :giggling:
    I’m not a fish person either, and this reminds me hideously of when my sister tried to fix fish for me for my birthday in college. Could. Not. Look. At. It. What is WITH all of those BONES!?

    It’s just a bad sign for a recipe, if you can’t even look at one of the ingredients…

  2. I’m a fan of anchovies, actually, but not so much sardines. I don’t really have a problem with sardines, but they don’t have the same appeal as their smaller kin.

    This dish sat in the fridge for quite a while after we ate it for dinner. I felt that I ought to eat some more of it, but I never could bring myself to do more than nibble a bit. It wasn’t the fish that were bad, really, and I ate some of them off the top. It was the fishiness of the potatoes that made it difficult to eat proper servings of this dish.

    Based on the fact that this was promoted as a budget extender, I suspect tinned sardines must have been (comparatively) cheaper in 1952. That’s not really surprising, given how much the Grand Banks fishery was shrunk over the last several decades. But the net result today is that this is certainly not an especially inexpensive entree.

  3. This may be the single most unappetizing thing you’ve ever made! You get big props for actually finishing the dish and then EATING SOME. I wouldn’t have made it that far. There ought to be some kind of medal for making heroic sacrifices in the name of one’s blog, ’cause you’ve earned one!

    • Nooooo, there have been a lot more unappetizing things than this 🙂 It wouldn’t have been quite as bad if the potatoes weren’t so fishy. And one family member thought it was delicious!

  4. Gross, guys! Yeck!!!

    Yeah, we usually judge the sucess of a dish on whether or not we actually finish it. If we don’t finish the leftovers or just plain throw it out, then it is a big fail.

    Again. Yeck.

  5. What a sissy! Though I admit sardines are gross to look at. The expensive imported ones are tiny, beautiful little silvery things layered in olive oil, to make a sandwich on rye bread, with onions and ketchup. Or mustard. One time I bought a can of sardines in a dollar store and to my horror it contained ONE honkin’ big sardine! …There’s a Scandanavian dish called Jansen’s Temptation very similar to the sardine thing, only using anchovies….aaannndd…that concludes my thoughts on sardines. Carry on, I look forward to future recipes!

  6. […] of a few vegetables we manage to eke out of the garden each summer. Seeing eyeballs and scales and spines all over my kitchen isn’t really relaxing for […]

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