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.


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.



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.