If you grew up in Baltimore (circa 1950-70), especially in Northwest Baltimore, you probably ate lots of coddies. As a young child, they were a staple of my diet, especially during summer vacations. My two suppliers were the local pharmacy (Weiner’s at the corner of Rogers and Reisterstown), or if they were out, the Candy and Nuts store (Barcelona – at the Hilltop Shopping Center). Even in high school, I would often pick up a few on my way home for a snack.
What is it? Coddie is shorthand for codfish cake. Though I’m pretty sure they have very little (if any) fish in them. They are mostly made up of some kind of mushy potato meal with spices, that are deep fat fried. They are traditionally eaten cold, smeared with mustard, between two saltine crackers. I remember the best ones had a crunchy edge. I often paired them with a chocolate phosphate soda (club soda and chocolate syrup). Or coke.
Coddies were only carried in certain stores. But wherever you found them, they sat on a metal tray, lined with wax paper, standing on end, overlapping with one another, like rows of identical soldiers. Whoever served your coddies grabbed them off the tray with a piece of waxed paper, counted out the appropriate number of crackers from a stack, and packed everything up in a brown paper bag. You generally supplied your own mustard. Or, if the store had a soda fountain, you could eat them on location.
Two companies made coddies back then. Cohen’s and Leiberman’s. I only liked Leiberman’s because even though Cohen’s were generally bigger, their texture was too mushy and the spices were different. My earliest memory is that they cost five cents a piece, then seven, later ten.
Eventually, I went off to college and never lived in Baltimore again. But the memory of the coddie has stayed with me across the decades. And I found myself periodically thinking of them, sometimes with INTENSE longing.
So, recently, when I discovered they still exist, I set out to get one. Here’s how they come now:
That’s it! No tray with waxed paper. No stacks of saltines nearby. You’re looking at $1.50 for a single coddie, with prepackaged mustard and crackers. Still, I was truly excited to re-experience such an important comfort food from my childhood.
Now, I realize there are many variables here. I am much older, my taste buds are probably not optimum any more, and my exposure to all varieties of food has expanded considerably over the years. Different companies may make them now. The coddie recipe may have altered. So, after I assembled my coddie (mustard smeared on crackers, coddie lovingly placed between), I was prepared for my first bite to be different from what I remembered.
I was NOT, however, prepared for what I got. It was AWFUL! Flavorless mush! The combination of spices tasted somewhat familiar, but that’s about all. It was NOT at all what I remembered. The texture was unappealing and it was virtually tasteless. If this had been my very FIRST taste, I never would have bought another one. And now I’m certain I will never try another one again.
Moral of the story: Childhood memories, especially around food, are better left tucked away and protected.
More about coddies:
Recipe for coddies from The Baltimore Sun
More background information about coddies.