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CODPIECES AND CODFISH


Orange “Fishheye Orange” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The codpiece luckily went out of style along with hoop skirts and a dozen petticoats, but it’s importance to gentlemen’s fashion is undeniable. As men’s pants became more form-fitting, the figure nature had given them emerged to full-view, and lest it become an embarrassment, a separate small article of clothing called a “codpiece” was invented to protect/enhance their endowments. Though it was fashionable for several hundred years, eventually it was the Spanish who went too far and the codpiece reached it’s pinnacle of elaboration. Leave it to the Spanish.

The fashion world is a world of its own and ever will be. What goes around comes around, and yesterday’s fashion may again capture the designers of the future. However, the current style of the young men I see too often, bares the backside rather than the front, with baggy pants dragging on the floor in front of them, so I imagine it will be some time before the codpiece is needed.

What do codpieces and codfish have in common? Not a darn thing except the first three letters and the fact that they are both in short supply.

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Now, unfortunately, the codfish may be disappearing. The cod’s importance to American history is proven. It was the cod which first attracted Europeans to North America. When they discovered all sorts of delicious ways to cook cod such as fish and chips, brandade, cod cheeks, etc. it was the beginning of the end of the codfish. You might say it was gluttony which is doing it in.

In centuries past it was hard to find a family who did not have someone connected to fishing and the sea. In San Francisco it was small fishing boats catching salmon and crab. In Alaska it was halibut and salmon. But in Boston it was always cod. Young boys looked forward to the time they could join their fathers on the boats. In 1893 at the age of 14, my great uncle Philip Chamberlin signed on as a cabin boy on a four masted sailing ship to sail from Boston around the Horn. The SS Kennilwworth was the fasted ship of her day, and made the trip from Boston to San Francisco in 105 days.

For several hundred centuries, careful mothers protecting their children from any and all germs of the day, fed them a spoonful of codliver oil each morning with their oatmeal. Sadly I must confess that I gave each of my children a spoonful with their orange juice each day before school. It is an amazing fact of the good nature of children that they have either forgotten or forgiven me.

CODLIVER OIL

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Now, as a result of these centuries of over-eating, the cod is in short supply. In Boston, where the codfish is even used as a symbol, some restaurants hanging a replica of a cod over the front door, chefs are resorting to the use of “trash fish” to satisfy their fish-happy customers. The importance of the codfish to Massachusetts is undeniable.

Of course, to make these “trash fish” palatable, chefs are being driven to develop new recipes. They will probably have to choose new names for these throw-away fish with the funky monikers. The Blood Cockle for instance is a sort of chewy clam filled with some blood-red goop, which upon seeing in on a plate, a squeamish diner may lose his appetizer and his martini. Or the tautog, known as the poor man’s lobster. It has rubbery lips and buck teeth which look almost human. “Really sort of scary”, says Richard Garcia, executive chef at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel.

Mr. Garcia was part of the Chefs Collaborative which held the “trash fish” dinner, even using miniature trash cans to hold the heavily spiced Atlantic Pollock. It was a great success. A tribute to the chef’s ingenuity.

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8 comments on “CODPIECES AND CODFISH

  1. Lovely water colour Kayti.
    It reminds me of the colourful fabrics designed by Marimekko. Until a few weeks ago we still had a bottle of cod liver oil in the fridge. It was bought years ago. Our grandchildren are not really into all that health stuff anymore. I used to take an occasional spoonful, just for memory’s sake taking me back to Aunt Agnes and dusty attics with ancient suitcases made of cardboard.
    Hope the heatwave is abating.
    Yes, it is curious that young fashion is now deliberately ‘worn out’.looking and slovenly with unkempt hair and lots of steel/silver works hanging from noses, ears, tongues, eye lids and some other strange places that I suspect a metal detector would pick up as well.

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    • Glad you liked my “orange” painting. Dr. Advice thinks it’s horrible! It does rather resemble the Marimekko fabric doesn’t it? I had some pillows made of it. You are made of sterner stuff than I Gerard to willingly poke a spoonful of that nasty stuff into your mouth! All for memory’s sake. Aunt Agnes must have been very special!! Come to think of it, I have never seen one of those kind of kids go through a metal detector! Wonder what would happen?

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  2. What an information-filled post! All great stuff.

    Laughed at this … “Sadly I must confess that I gave each of my children a spoonful with their orange juice each day before school. It is an amazing fact of the good nature of children that they have either forgotten or forgiven me.” 🙂

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  3. Wonderful painting, Kayti. I’m really quite taken with it.

    It’s sad about the fish, isn’t it? We are lucky to have abundant salmon here, but there is a huge controversy about salmon farming and the effect on the wild salmon.

    The way the young people clothe themselves will always be a puzzlement to their elders, I think.

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    • Thank you MrsDaffodil. Every year or so they cut down on the salmon fishery here in San Francisco and along the coast north of us. I remember the days when fishing in B.C. the salmon were so plentiful. Too bad, and they ship so many to overseas markets. glad you liked the painting. Dr. Advice thinks it is horrible! I just titled it “Orange” originally. In some areas the clothing of the young is not too bad. We are not too far from the local high school, and some seem almost normal!

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  4. I’m quite fond of the painting. It reminds me of the parrotfish I met in the Caribbean when I first experienced diving. They were so funny and beautiful! This fellow isn’t so orange, but he clearly would be a good friend for yours!

    I never came upon cod liver oil. The favored tonic in our house was something called Multicebrin. It looks like it’s still patented by the Lilly company. It came in a square brown glass bottle with a screw cap. I remember it as a quart size but it probably wasn’t. It tasted rather good, as I recall. It must have – one day I got the bottle down, drank half of it and scared my poor mother to death. She called the doctor who said, quite reasonably, “It’s not like it’s rat poison. She’ll be fine.” And I was.

    I must have eaten cod at some time, but perhaps not. Not that I knew, anyway. I’m more of a shrimp, oyster, lobster and crawfish person, but I do really enjoy salmon, flounder and trout. Oh – and pickled herring. That’s from my Swedish Dad’s side. I always know when Christmas is coming because I get an overwhelming craving for herring.

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    • Your parrotfish is charming. Qhite a mate for mine. Maybe I should paint him too!. I don’t remember ever taking cod liver oil myself, but my grandma once made me drink quite a lot of olive oil for some reason. She had a strange sense of healthy eating. I couldn’t cook without it now. It’s also good toput on your face, cheaper than the beautiful and very expensive bottles of moisture cream in department stores. We eat all kinds of seafood, shell and otherwise. While living in Seattle and spending much time in Alaska and B.C. we naturally caught and ate a lot of salmon and halibut and crab.

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