June 22, 2021

Codfish Cakes

A companion piece to last year's johnnycake recipes, and another purported favorite of Captain Nat's

Codfish Cakes:

Recently the family of former HMM Curator Carlton Pinheiro generously loaned us Carlton's own copy of The Wizard of Bristol, L. Francis Herreshoff's definitive biography of Captain Nathanael G. Herreshoff. This particular copy of The Wizard of Bristol is especially interesting because it contains Carlton's notes and observations in the margins, carefully penciled in his meticulous handwriting.


For example, a few pages into Chapter 7: "Captain Nat's Home Life," L. Francis describes the course of Captain Nat's typical day, beginning "at 6:00 a.m.—even earlier in the summer— [he] worked in his drafting room or model-making room until 8:00 a.m., and used to say the early morning was the best time for him to work, then had breakfast at eight, and sat quietly thereafter for a half hour or so reading the paper or some engineering magazine. At nine or before he went to the boat shop…" Next to this, Carlton wrote "I had always heard that Captain Nat had Johnny-cakes 6 days a week. On Sunday – codfish cakes. Some attribute long life to eating this ambrosia." Where might Carlton have heard such a detail about Captain Nat? Well, Carlton's grandmother was a cook and housekeeper for Miss Agnes Herreshoff (Captain Nat's eldest daughter) for many years while she continued to live in the family home, Love Rocks – so it is certainly possible there is some truth in his note!


Whether it is fact or legend, and whether or not they lead to long life, cod* cakes on Sunday sound pretty good to us. Since we've already shared recipes for johnnycakes, we thought we'd share the missing element of this possible secret source of Captain Nat's longevity with you today. This is an un-fussy recipe, so don't worry too much about the quantities – it can all be adjusted more-or-less to taste; the most important thing is to remember to start soaking the salt fish far enough ahead.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup salt cod, soaked (about 1/2 lb before soaking)
  • 2 – 3 medium sized potatoes, (1 – 1 1/2 lbs) peeled and diced
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • pepper to taste
  • flour for dusting
  • Optional: parsley, white onion

Instructions:

  1. soak cod in a bowl of water 8 – 24 hours in fridge; change water at intervals 2-3 times (or more to taste) to reduce saltiness
  2. drain and rinse cod and cut into 2" pieces
  3. rinse, peel and cut potatoes into 1" cubes
  4. boil cod and potatoes together in water until potatoes are cooked through, 15-20 minutes; drain
  5. mash potatoes and cod together
  6. add egg, butter and pepper (optional: parsley and diced onion if desired) to mashed cod and potatoes
  7. form into 2 – 3" patties and dredge in flour
  8. pan-fry cakes in a skillet over medium-high heat in olive oil or butter until golden, 2 – 3 minutes per side
  9. serve warm with parsley for garnish and/or a side of fried eggs if desired

*haddock or pollack can be substituted if you can't find salt cod; check the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch database for sustainable alternatives. If using fresh fish, poach and flake fish ahead, skip boiling with potatoes, and don't forget to add salt!

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