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COD by Mark Kurlansky

COD

A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World

By Mark Kurlansky

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8027-1326-2
Publisher: Walker

 Cod--that whitest of the white-fleshed fish, prize of every fish-and-chips establishment--gets expert, loving, and encyclopedic handling from Food and Wine columnist Kurlansky (A Chosen Few: The Resurrection of European Jewry, 1994, etc.). There was one very good reason that tenth-century Vikings made it to the New World: Norway to Iceland to Greenland to Canada, they followed the exact range of the Atlantic cod. When explorers pushed off European shores in search of Eldorado, others made straight for the cod fisheries of the North Atlantic; the codfishers got by far the better results. Writing with a bright, crisp, journalistic flair, Kurlansky situates the cod in all its historic glory: the mysteries of the early Basque fisheries, the role of Catholic lean days in generating a profitable market, and the rise of the codfish aristocrats. The fish ascended from a commodity to a fetish: on coins, newspaper mastheads, tax stamps, official crests and seals. The author explains how a cod run could determine an entire regional economy and how salt cod figured in slave trading. Then came the steam engine and frozen food, changing the face of a dory-and-schooner fishing practice that hadn't seen a makeover in eons. The revolution wreaked havoc on the marketplace and just plain wrecked the bank fisheries. Territorial boundaries; the complexities of marine ecology; old, annotated recipes for preparing cod; place portraits of Gloucester, Mass., and Newlyn, England; and the current moratorium on cod fishing--Kurlansky sketches them all in his effort to compose this smart biography of the famous groundfish. Will the cod come back? Kurlansky demurs; maybe its place will be usurped by the ratty Arctic cod: ``Nature, the ultimate pragmatist, doggedly searches for something that works. But as the cockroach demonstrates, what works best in nature does not always appeal to us.'' (25 illustrations)