Seasonal Flavors: Christmas Eve Cod Fish Soup

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One of the enduring mysteries of my father is why he waited so long to share certain recipes.  We learned early not to ask him about his childhood Christmas memories. We would hear, “I only got an orange. We were too poor for gifts.”  And, “We never had a Christmas tree; we would walk down the street at night and look in other peoples’ windows to see their tree.” Grump grump. It was sad. They lived in the city during the Great Depression and it was rough.

On the other hand, he did have one happy memory of being chosen at the age of eight or nine to sing “O Holy Night” in the town’s Central Park and he would repeat that performance for us at least once each holiday. Think Perry Como or Tony Bennett, same beautiful voice.

Thankfully, the sour memories did not mean that he transferred that to our childhood. We loved Christmas and had great Christmases. My mom saw to that. Her childhood was full of all the things that a farm can provide: great food, an enormous Christmas tree (actually, she claimed that there was a decorated tree in every room!) and a family affluent enough that she loved to tell how she didn’t find her toy dishes until two days later because the pile of gifts for seven children was so large.

But I digress.

It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that Dad announced, “We always ate codfish soup on Christmas Eve.”

I’ll bet that like me, this does not inspire you to run out and make this as a holiday treat.  But I suppose it is a way that inland Pennsylvanians, Sicilian immigrants, could have the traditional meatless, seafood dinner on Christmas Eve without a huge expense. You see, this soup starts with salted cod, cod that could be shipped whenever.

I can still find boxes of salted cod at Foods of All Nations. After recovering from the shock (fish soup—what, mom???), my kids now look forward to it.

Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas Eve Cod Fish Soup

  • One pound box of salted cod and lots of water for soaking
  • 6 cups water for the broth
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, preferably the center stalks with the leaves, chopped
  • ½ tsp basil
  • 1 tsp dried parsley

My father’s recipe also calls for 3 chicken bouillon cubes, which I would never dream of adding (too artificial). This was always a point of contention with us. Do what you like!

The cod must be soaked in three changes of water over the course of a day to remove most of the salt used to preserve the fish.  Do this the day before preparation, keeping the soaking fish in the refrigerator.

Combine all other ingredients and cook until the vegetables are tender. Cut the cod into one-inch squares and add to the broth. Cook gently for five minutes and serve immediately. We never ate soup without grated Romano cheese, so pass the cheese.

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