Wood Working: This humble food has influenced world historyA few years ago a kind reader from Hudson called to inform me that I had bollixed up a famous quote about her hometown, which happened to be Boston.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
A few years ago a kind reader from Hudson called to inform me that I had bollixed up a famous quote about her hometown, which happened to be Boston.
I somehow never got around to correcting it so I am doing so now, for reasons which will become apparent.
In my quote, I wrote:
“Boston, home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Cabots speak only to Lodges
And the Lodges speak only to God.”
The lady from Hudson said, “No, no, no. The Lodges were upstarts, came later to Boston than the Brahmins like the Cabots. Here’s the correct quote”
“Boston, home of the bean and the cod
Where the Cabots speak only to Lowells
And the Lowells speak only to God.
The Lowells meaning James Russell Lowell and that crew.
Which brings me to this week’s subject: Cod.
Whole books have been written about the influence of codfish on world history.
I was introduced early to cod because our family originally came from New England and in our poverty ate lots of dried salted cod, which came in cunning little wooden boxes and was dirt cheap.
We eventually graduated to steaks and chops, and when I was about 35 I was surprised to learn that ritzy people from the East Coast still ate it.
That happened when Charles W. Bailey II, editor of the Star Tribune and Bostonian and Harvardian (class of ’50) invited me to lunch at the tony Minneapolis Club that was so hidebound that when women demanded membership the city’s movers and shakers built them a separate (and hardly equal) entrance.
I anxiously waited to see what was on the luncheon menu. Would it be Pheasant under Glass? Or maybe Peasant under Glass?
Guess what? It was the same stuff my mother served on the heels of the Great Depression: Creamed Salt Cod on Toast Points.
And there they were, the movers and shakers of the Mill City, wolfing it down at the Minneapolis Club with stiff upper-lip gusto.
I didn’t know dried cod still existed until Merlin the butcher at Dick’s ordered me some. It still comes in a cunning wooden box with a sliding door atop.
My wife and I just polished off a pound of it, which now sells for about $10.
But that pound goes a long way. Three meals worth to be exact, because when dried it is way more flavorful than when it is fresh, sort of like a mushrooms, an item I can’t tolerate unless it is first dried, then reconstituted.
Here’s how I make it like my mother’s. I soak half a pound of dried fish in cold water, changing the water several times, after which I take it out in a few hours.
Then I simmer it in fresh water for about ten minutes. I drain it, soak it again in cold water. (The box directions say it should soak for 24 hours, but that makes it too bland.)
Then I shred the cod in small pieces. I make a béchamel sauce of five Tbsp. butter, five Tbsp. flour, three cups of milk.
I add the codfish and heat. I butter good homemade white bread, reheat the mixture and pour big globs of it on the bread.
If you are French you might want to do it differently.
Cook the soaked cod along with some waxy potatoes. Add milk and run it in the blender until you have pudding-like consistency. Garnish with toast points.
And if you are Portuguese, which you probably aren’t, slice up a bunch of waxy potatoes, sweet red pepper, onions and sauté in a quality olive oil until tender, add the soaked cod and warm it. Serve with crusty rolls and snipped Italian parsley.
If you’re still in doubt about dried cod’s efficacy and wish to prove me wrong, make it the way Italians do.
Soak the cod until it fluffs, shred, add raw onion, chopped tomato, parsley toss with oil and vinegar, eat chilled.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554