— I saw in the news this week that the last sardine cannery in the United States has closed. What a shame! The cannery fell victim to fishing quotas, changing customer taste, and competition from lower-cost countries. The Stinson Seafood Plant was located in Prospect Harbor, Maine, and had been in operation for a hundred years. The first sardine cannery in Maine was built in 1875 and the production peaked in 1950 with 350 million cans being packed that year. The intensely fish smell of herring has been the smell of money for generations of workers in Maine who have snipped, sliced and packed the small fish into billions of cans of sardines on their way to America’s lunch buckets and kitchen cabinets.
The Stinson cannery was owned by Bumblebee Foods, and their sardines were packaged under the brand name, Beachcliff. Being a connoisseur of sardines, I purchased and ate the Beachcliff brand and did not like them. They were not the small, silvery fish that people knew as sardines. When you opened a can of Beachcliff it looked as if someone had hacked a Perch half-in-two and stuffed it in the can. They had no taste and very little smell about them. They did not resemble in any way the small, oily, silvery sardines that we ate while growing up out in the Blackburn community.
When we wanted sardines, we went to Dude Hudson’s store and brought a dime can of Possum. If you remember, the can had a picture of a possum hanging upside-down on the front. Possum sardines had a strong, fishy taste and a peculiar smell about them. They were delicious. I think they were the best sardines ever packed.
Sardines were so handy. You could carry a can of sardines in your back pocket while chopping or picking cotton. Whenever we got hungry, we could pull out our can of sardines, get your sardine key out of your pocket, and open the can. A sardine just fit on a cracker and the oil would glisten in the sun. A liberal dose of Louisiana Hot Sauce would add so much to the sardine and cracker. When the sardines were eaten and washed down with an RC or Double Cola, you could crumble a cracker into the oil and eat that. You could then flatten the can and nail it over rat holes in the corn crib.