I can’t quite remember now, but somehow we ended up having a conversation about fish fingers. We didn’t have them very often at home – in fact, thinking about it, I only remember having them when I started having school dinners at secondary school. I guess in those days it was the cheapest fish, some other filler, and fried in lard – or maybe baked in the oven. I remember they were quite popular and were accompanied by chips which was a treat and not a daily offering. In our conversation we debated when we thought they had first arrived commercially, husband thought it was in the 50’s, I thought it was earlier. Surely, I said, people have been wrapping leftover odds and ends of fish in a coating and frying them for a very long time. He disagreed, and when I came to think about it, fish fingers as we know them depend on being frozen and freezing is only a relatively modern thing,
Later I looked up fish fingers, the history of, and went to Wikipedia:
Fish fingers (British English) or fish sticks (American English) are a processed food made using a whitefish, such as cod, hake, haddock or pollock, which has been battered or breaded. They are commonly available in the frozen food section of supermarkets. They can be baked in an oven, grilled, shallow fried, or deep-fried. The term “fish finger” is first referenced in a recipe given in a popular British magazine in 1900, and the dish is often considered symbolic of the United Kingdom.
I was right in thinking that the popularity, availability and quality of frozen food was what really made the fish finger the popular and beloved icon of British food and its advent was mainly post-war. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my dad worked for the Low Temperature Research Station in Cambridge, and although he and his colleagues were looking at the science of freezing, it was for food conservation, to give people better quality, a greater variety and safe food to eat. The man who changed the world’s diet by successfully and commercially producing frozen food of all sorts was Clarence Birdseye, a really remarkable man. Clarence was born in 1886 in New York and eventually became interested in food preservation, and learned from Inuit people he met that quick frozen fish, when defrosted tasted almost as good as fresh. Eventually, after much trial and many tribulations, he developed frozen food technology to a point where it could be commercially produced. He sold his successful company, but his name, although changed to Birds Eye remained as the well-known brand forever associated with fish fingers.
Clarence died in 1956, so would never have known of how fish fingers became such an important and much loved part of the British diet. He certainly never knew, and probably could never imagine the fish finger sandwich. Is that even a thing in the USA? I guess the classic FFS (if you can have BLT, surely you can have FFS! …actually, maybe you can’t, thinking what else those three letters currently mean.) would be made with white sliced bread, and there maybe an argument by purists whether it should be thick-cut and whether it should be spread with butter or margarine, tomato sauce and fried fish fingers. I must conduct a survey amongst those family and friend who eat them, because it’s actually not something I enjoy, and it may be heresy, but I don’t particularly like fish fingers either!