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Recipe – Baccala (Cod Fish Stew)

The following recipe is from the Italian (paternal) side of my family.  The principal ingredient is salt cod or baccala.  This dish was served on Good Friday every year before Easter.  Though my paternal family, who are mainly Catholics, do not abstain from meat as part of the tradition of Lent any longer, their ancestors did.  Fish, however, was not counted among the other meats, and was allowed during Lent.  This recipe would have been one of the last served before the breaking of the fast on Easter Sunday.  According to my informant, the salting and aging of the fish improves the flavor.  This celebratory dinner likely helped to mitigate whatever sense of deprivation anyone (at least fish lovers) felt during the meatless fast.  My family also ate the same dish after the midnight Mass at Christmas (!!!).

Baccala (Cod Fish Stew)

Heat:
1/4 c. vegetable oil in a Dutch oven

Add:
sliced onions:    4 large sliced
potatoes:     6 large peeled & cut in chunks
tomatoes:    2 large cans
1 piece of salted codfish which has been soaking 48 hrs. to get the salt out, changing the water frequently

Boil until potatoes are almost done.  Add the rest of the cod fish.

My informant added: “I buy around 1 lb. [of salt cod] at the Italian store.  This makes a great stew, but only I like it of my siblings!!”

Proverbs

Turkish Proverb

“Denizden babam ç?ksa yerim.”

“If the sea my father comes out of I will eat.”

“I would eat my own father if he came out of the sea.”

The informant is a 23-year-old from Istanbul, Turkey. I met her when we were working right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park one summer. I heard this proverb first from some mutual Turkish friends that I fell out of touch with. She agreed to help me by translating it and tell me what it means to her over facebook – as she has since moved back to Istanbul.

The informant uses this proverb to mean, “i adore seafood, no matter what i have in my dish, if it includes seafood, i would eat it absolutely!” The first time I heard this proverb I had a few Turkish friends visiting me in Los Angeles. They were living in Colorado at the time and had been for a few months. When I told them I wanted to take them to eat Chinese food (they’d never tried Chinese food before) they told that was fine but they wanted seafood too since they were near the coast again. They said that they didn’t think I understood how much Turks love seafood and used this proverb as evidence.

More than just a love of crustaceans is at play here I think, though. When I was dropping them off at the airport we had some extra time so I drove by the ocean and they were just silent until it was out of view again. Of all the things we saw in Los Angeles, this was the only thing that made them speechless. I think this proverb encapsulates not only Turks love of seafood, but also their love of the sea. The proverb itself almost makes it sound like it’s possible that their father could come out of the sea – they are that close to it.

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