American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food by Andrew F. Smith

Americans have had a long love affair with tuna, and American Tuna by Andrew F. Smith is just as good for a sociology read as a history one. With interweaving facts, interesting trivia bits, and historical recipes, he turns the facts he finds into a fun if cautionary tale of the tuna canning industry.

Our love for tuna is evidenced with the longevity of such recipes as tuna melts, tuna noodle casserole, tuna salad (including Nicoise), and others. It wasn't always that way. Tuna had to be sold to consumers as early catches. Tuna was originally caught for fish oil or fertilizer, but once food came into the mix, fishing soon became out of control and conservation was an issue.

The famous Tuna Club of Avalon:
[Their] main interest was to promote the sportsmanlike approach to saltwater fishing with rods and reels in hopes of stopping the massive slaughter of fish along the coast of Southern California by sportfishermen who caught thousands of fish with hand lines, only to toss them overboard.

Tuna Recipes and Advertising

There is a history of advertising with recipe booklets. How advertisers used (and still use) collections of recipes to promote their brands is interesting. Since tuna was new in the early 1900s, they had to be creative to get consumers, mainly housewives, 'into' their product. Instead of creating something new, they often simply tweaked recipes using this new product.
The goal of early tuna recipes was to add tuna or replace another fish or meat ingredient with tuna in existing recipes.
The first known publishing of the famous creamed tuna is found in the The Los Angeles Tuna Company's Panama Brand Tuna recipe booklet. Since tuna manufacturer's had little space to advertise a recipe they started the practice of printing them on the inside of the labels. Celebrated chefs, such as Jean Vulpat of the Hotel del Coronado, started using tuna in their menus.

From Trendy to Mainstay

Canned tuna became a cheap staple in households from WWI to the 1920s. The tuna casserole made its appearance in the 1930s and by the 1950s was a national comfort food. Because of the increased interest in tuna, consumer demand skyrocketed. Smith details what went on 'behind the scenes' so that factories and the fishing industry could meet consumer demand. He backs up his findings with a long bibliography so you can further your research (a good quarter of the book is 'notes.').

A great read for anyone with an interest in either the fishing industry, or historical recipes. He adds a few in the book to try.

Book Information:
Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher and any opinions are my own.