Fish sticks: Remembering E. Robert Kinney, the man responsible for them

Fish sticks: Remembering E. Robert Kinney, the man responsible for them

Fish sticks, for me, are synonymous with childhood. I have many fond memories of sitting at the kitchen table enjoying the breaded fish morsels paired with macaroni and cheese, green beans and the most essential component of all – ketchup. I must have eaten enough fish sticks as a kid to enable a community version of Finding Nemo to be performed in my stomach.

And fish sticks were super easy to make. Remove package from freezer. Place fish sticks on cookie sheet. Put cookie sheet in oven. Voilà. Plat de Poisson. (The French really need to pick a new word for fish. I hope they get on this soon.)

Today, I learned that there was a man responsible for the commercialization of my childhood treat, E. Robert Kinney, and that he had passed away on May 2 in Arizona.

The Bangor Daily News wrote an obituary on the Maine native and devoted the following to the invention of maybe one of the greatest frozen products ever:

In the late 1950s, Kinney joined Gorton’s Seafood Co. as a vice president, stepping into the role of CEO two years later. While at Gorton’s, he successfully turned fish into a convenience food by packaging and selling it as frozen sticks. The company became the first to receive the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s seal of approval on its frozen seafood products.

That’s all there was on the fish stick part of his life, though. He did many other great things in his years, but none affected my life as much as fish sticks. I needed to know more.

But there’s might not be a lot more to know about the might fish sticks. They had been around for many, many years before Kinney. The Foods of England Project found the following published recipe on fish sticks from 1900 in its entry on the product:

What Kinney did, though, was set the path so that my busy single mother of two children didn’t have to go around fiddling with cold cooked fish, cold cooked rice and egg whites. What Kinney did was to help provide a finicky child – fish sticks, for awhile, were the only non-McNuggety meat product I would eat – a source of happiness at the kitchen table, a place that too often produced things made from either cow and tuna, neither which I believed at the time should belong in my digestive system.

He took a chance on a product that many might have thought crazy at the time. (You want to freeze what, Mr. Kinney?) Afterward, he went on to have a very successful career and I got to have breaded fish morsels drenched in ketchup. Now that’s what I call a happy ending.

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