There’s that wise old saw that the best is the enemy of the good.  And I’ve been wondering recently if the drumbeat that fresh vegetables (and other foods) are the best, the very best, isn’t perhaps the reason for what seems to me to be the so-so quality of many canned foods in American grocery stores.

In Mexico (and when I was in Spain too) I loved many of the canned goods. People served them proudly on any occasion.

Canned broad beans

Habas Extra Finos (tiny broad beans in olive oil). La Europea.

On returning from a trip or on a night when a cold or an overload of work made me reluctant to cook or to go out to a restaurant, they were a godsend.

Quality canned goods

Alubias. Spain Gourmet

Open three glass jars: two tall ones, one of white beans, another of red peppers, and a squatter one of tuna.  A couple of minutes later, the tuna and beans were arranged on one plate, the red peppers on another.  If they were available, a bit of chopped onion went on the beans, a sprinkle of fresh cheese, or an anchovy or two, or a smidgen of chopped garlic and a little olive oil went on the peppers.  Dinner was served de la lata (from the jar).

I was delighted to see that Jeff Koehler, in his lovely and very well received book, Spain, devotes two pages to las latas (tinned delicacies).  Lovely pea-sized broad beans in oil, fine spears of asparagus, the peppers I mentioned, artichoke hearts, and clams, sardines, squid, cockles, mussels, anchovies, along with pickled partridge and chestnuts in syrup.

You can find those (or their equivalents) in the United States but it takes a hunt.  In Mexico I could get them in any of the deli chains such as Europea (thanks to refugees from the Spanish Civil War who contributed so much to Mexican life) but even in my local Walmart. Not all of these were the very finest artisanally canned goods that Jeff talks about but they were of uniformly high quality.

So I can only assume there isn’t much of a market for fine canned goods.

May be that will change. With Lou Amdur of Lou’s Provisions and Wine,   Russ Parsons at the Los Angeles Times just conducted a sardine tasting that picked out the better quality sardines available. And I was delighted today to see that Luigi Guarino of Agricultural Biodiversity posted on the canned goods of Poland, commenting on their unusual vegetable soups and berry juices.

Polish canned goods

Polish juice, blackcurrant by the look of it. Luigi Guarino.

So, questions. What are the good quality canned goods in the United States?  And what are your favorite canned goods from elsewhere? And what would you like to see more widely available?


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