Blind Robins

I spent time on the phone this afternoon with my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law, a ninety-plus-year old woman. Though her eyesight is failing, her mind remains sharp and her wicked sense of humor is equally capable of slicing through a moment.

During our conversation, the topic naturally turned to herring, as conversations are wont to do. She mentioned a New Year’s Eve tradition in her family, while she was growing up, of snacking on herring from a jar or a barrel. Being something of a smoked and pickled herring aficionado, I warmed right up to the subject and told her about my own “growing up with herring” experience.

My experience involved buying smoked herring, dried to the point of having the strength of beef jerky. My childhood herring snacks were kipper snacks, as I recall, and sold in shrink-wrapped containers holding about six “sticks” of the salty treats. I have been unable to find them since my college days, or thereabouts, which translates into a lot of years.

Mardella knew exactly what I was talking about. She remembered the same snacks, though not shrink-wrapped, from her youth. “My father called them blind robins,” she said, and allowed as how that term might have been one of his own making, because she had never heard anyone else use the term.

Thanks to the wonders of Google and the availability of my notebook computer next to the couch where I sat during the call, I quickly found all manner of references to dried, smoked herring snacks called blind robins! Moreover, many of the websites had them for sale! And the pictures of the blind robins were exactly as I remember my childhood treats!

She was a little surprised at her own memory of those snacks from a time she said “must have been seventy-five years ago.” I wasn’t surprised, having had experience with her remarkable memory.

I promised Mardella that, when I order some blind robins, I will see to it that I send her a sample.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Blind Robins

  1. Sam Brungardt says:

    I grew up in west-central Kansas during the 1950s. During Lent, the Farmers Co-op Store in Victoria (population about 1,500), which sold not only groceries but also sewing notions and yard goods, overshoes, oil cloth for covering farm tables, inexpensive everyday dishes, etc.) carried a number of fish for this heavily Roman Catholic Volga German area. My father would buy boxes of frozen whiting, pickled herring, and also blind robins, which were not individually packaged but sold in bulk. Copying Dad, we kids enjoyed (or at least we said we did) the heavily smoked, salted, and fairly dry herring as a snack and Mom would fry the whiting for Fridays and other meatless days. We thought this was living pretty high on the hog!

    Maybe about a year ago I found blind robins being sold in St. Paul, Minn., at a Asian supermarket, where this distinctive fish had found popularity among Hmong and other immigrants.

  2. Gene Paplanus says:

    The blind robbins I got were like stiff salty big 6″x4″ fish fillets like beef jerky but can’t find them. Beenlooking 15

  3. I would love to know where to get the Blind Robins of my (very) early youth. We would rent a small place in Plumb Point, MD on the Chesapeake Bay. There was a very — perhaps 15′ square — grocery carrying some essentials — milk, beer — and what my father termed “blind robins,” extremely salty small single fish in cellophane packages. My dad and I would eat them together. He would proclaim afterward that now we could talk only to each other because of the adverse affect on one’s breath. I was 4 or 5 years old, loved those little things but don’t believe I have seen them since. That was nearly 70 years ago and my mouth still remembers them. I would love to know where they could be gotten.

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