During my weekend in Stavanger I visited the Norwegian Canning Museum, which I found utterly charming. It’s in Old Stavanger, stitting quietly amongst the pretty traditional houses. It was a cannery from around the 1920s to the 60s, part of Christian Bjelland & Co., Norway’s largest canned goods company. Later on after it shut it was preserved as a museum.
We had a very nice English speaking tour guide who took us through the process. Here is where the sardines were washed, and then taken away in wire baskets.
In Norway they’re also called brisling or brisling sardines. From what I gather they’re all parts of one family of fish, and it’s to do with what you can and can’t call a sardine, and competition with the Mediterranean fishing industry.
The fish were placed on rods by hand. At first they were put on one by one, but later on they developed these things where the fish could be lined up in a row, and the rod pushed through a row at a time.
The rods were lined up on these racks – about 700 sardines in each rack. This section was women’s work, by the way, and they were paid per item, whereas the men were paid for their work per hour. A situation that is no longer the case in Norwegian factories today I’m sure…
The racks were then slid onto carts, which went into the smoke ovens. They were oak smoked, which gave the Norwegian sardines their distinctive flavour. Our guide said just one of those ovens can get Very Hot, and when the cannery was operating all 14 would have been lit!
The smoked fishies then got their heads chopped off – more aesthetically pleasing, apparently. And of course in the days before health and safety laws, many a finger got caught here as well…
The sardines were then laid in the tins, in a very particular way. It’s really not easy, we tried! The women who did this back in the day went at a crazy rate of around 5 seconds per tin.
Lids on and sealed,
and then sterilised at 120 degrees Celcius.
And then, the most exciting part, the labels! The labelling and marketing was a HUGE part of the industry, and boy did they go all out!
Just some of the many many labels they produced back then. Can you tell this was my favourite bit? I wandered up and down the label section for ages. The rest of the museum also had replicas of the offices and board room of the canning company, from around the 1920s. There was also a video being shown, about the sardine canning process – a proper old school affair in black and white with a very cheery narrator. If I understand correctly it is the first ever advertisement to be shown on Norwegian TV. And then from the gift shop I came away with a t-shirt and my very own tin of sardines from one of the last canneries in Stavanger. These days most of the canning is done in Eastern Europe and sent back to Norway.
I really enjoyed the Canning Museum – such an eye opener and just a lovely snapshot of what life was like back then. I loved everything about it, from the original equipment and tools lying around, to the little plastic sardine props, and the labels, all those amazing labels! I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in Stavanger.
For more on Stavanger’s sardine industry the Museum website has plenty of info.
Visit my Flickr set for more photos from the Canning Museum and the rest of my trip.