A different kind of fish tale

13 years ago

To the editor:
    “Codfish cakes?” Hard for me to believe. Two friends had gone to an expensive restaurant. “Yes,” says Jean, “Maya had cod and they were really good. It is a bit pricey there, but it was her birthday, something special.”
    If they made them in-house, did they use fresh cod? I went to the phone book to call the restaurant, but it was too early, so I went to nostalgia land instead.
    At home in Houlton codfish cakes came from a can, but when I was at UMaine Orono, my Bangor landlady made them for breakfast once a week from salt cod that came in a wooden box and had to be soaked. She added leftover mashed potato and an egg or two and put the patties into a well-greased frying pan. Nicely browned, the cakes were very tasty.
    I still liked the ones from a can, though, Gorton’s Codfish Cakes. Open the top, open the bottom, press up with the lid to remove the contents, cut into four slices and fry. An alternative was to put the contents into a bowl and add an egg. Mashed potatoes were already an ingredient, but some cooks added more.
    We were definitely fans and when the familiar cans were not to be found in State College, Pennsylvania or here in Rochester, we brought them back from visits to Houlton.
    One day I was surprised when my brother Leonard said on the phone that he still ate them. “Oh, yes, they’re fantastic. JoAnn always knows what I want for my birthday dinner, and then we have them once a month.” “Well,” I told her “they need an egg added and something crunchy, so she adds celery and onion. That’s the way Ina made them. I stock up whenever I get back home.” He took them back first to California, then, as they moved, to Wisconsin, Montana, and Washington state.
    During one of my visits up home, he called with an urgent request, “Send me 12 cans, if you can find that many. Friends took me to two supermarkets to amass 10, which I packed and mailed. I would gladly do it again, if the cakes — and Leonard — were still around. He left this world six years ago. However, any Heaven he might imagine would include shelves full of Gorton’s Codfish Cakes.
    End note: My friend called later on to say that she was wrong: They were crab cakes in the restaurant, not cod. I thanked her for the nostalgia trip.
Byrna Porter Weir
Rochester, N.Y.