An interesting blend of the historical with the culinary that also makes some important ecological points, Kurlansky’s Cod traces the history of the Atlantic Cod fisheries from the secretÂ fishing groundsÂ of the Basques and the Viking settlements in North America through the current age of depleted stocks and strictly regulated fisheries.
Kurlansky weaves in stories of the New England colonies, the West Indies, the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Iceland, and their conflicts over fishing rights. He discusses the role of salt cod in maintaining plantation economies and the slave trade.
The biology and ecology of the codfish is detailed, along with discussions of fishing methods and their impact on the environment. Through Kurlansky’s meticulous research and engaging narrative, we witness the seemingly inevitable march toward the extinction (or at least the “commercial extinction”) of a species that had been viewed as inexhaustible. The lesson provided can be applied to resource management situations around the world and throughout history.
Especially fascinating is Kurlansky’s narrative of the “Cod Wars” fought between Great Britain and Iceland in the 1950’s through the 1970’s. The battle over fishing rights escalated to involve the Royal Navy and the use of ramming tactics by Icelandic Coast Guard vessels in a game that nearly proved deadly.
Cod is an ecological and historical work, but it is also a cook book, with historical recipes accompanying each chapter, plus a supplementary culinary section at the end of the book. I’m not much of a chef, but I found the glimpse of the cooking and eating habits of past generations and other cultures to be fascinating.
Kurlansky’s little anecdotes, his historical recipes, and the literary quotations on the subject of codfish that end each chapter are all nice touches that add to the flavor of this fascinating narrative.