a book about cod


“a biography of the fish that changed the world” is the subtitle of cod (1997) by mark kurlansky & succinctly describes this interesting book / kurlansky is the 1999 winner of the james beard award \ the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in north america

though tasteless & flavorless, cod meat is more than 18% protein and only 0.3% fat / when dried  it is nearly 80% protein \ a basque-speaking cod hauled by a medieval fisherman from a basque folktale begins the fascinating story of this once highly valuable fish / basques were able to travel long voyages because they knew where to find huge schools of cod & which they salted \ this provided them with a nutritious supply that would not spoil for a long time / but the vikings had actually been curing cod centuries before the basques \ the difference is that unlike the basques, they did not have salt / they preserved cod by drying them in the frosty winter air \ because of its long history as preserved food, cod is generally thought of in its dried version, not fresh

it would not have occurred to me that this material for fish sticks that my favorite young people love had such an impact in the economic & thus political history of the new world <politics & economics tend to be intertwined>\ the entrepreneurial spirit of the colonists came to fore in their fight to keep their fishing & trade rights / rearing the head for colonial independence & bringing to fruition adam smith’s theory of the “invisible hand” <& the benefits of a free market & the growth of trade> \ i think books such as this give life and make the teaching & learning of history and economic theory much more interesting

one interesting bit of history is that during the time that the british were successfully fishing new england waters & supplying the cod market, the pilgrims were starving! \ in 1624, there were 50 british ships fishing the coasts of new england, up from 10 in 1621 when the pilgrims first arrived / aside from being unprepared <they did not know how to farm, fish or hunt> & the influx of more and more pilgrims, another reason given for their failure to take advantage of this abundant resource <cape cod, hello> is their rejection of unfamiliar food \ it must be a british cultural trait / the same behavior is noted in other books written about in this blog <books about india pale ale, rubber & tea>

interesting too are the innovations developed in the fishing industry where the cod is the central character / among them was freeze drying \ invented by the new yorker clarence birdseye / he sold his company to the postum company \ whose owner renamed his company to general foods / filleting machinery was introduced in 1921 & reduced waste \ freezing + filleting = fish fillets or sticks / and it became a commercial success / “scrod” which is a small cod fillet became a household word with the industrialization of filleting / the gorton company still makes fish sticks <you can find it in the supermarket’s frozen section> \ fish sticks are now mostly made from pacific pollock

the last section of the book  which is less interesting to me is about the damage done by overfishing & how countries try to mitigate its effects / overall, an excellent read, very well-written \ interesting, entertaining & informative

my favorite curmudgeon had suggested another mark kurlansky book “salt” but i chose to read this / next will be about the basques

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