My earliest and most abiding memories of cod liver oil are tiny, cold, and spherical. The, if I remember correctly, vitamin A&D capsules that my mother would give to me now and then out of the fridge; little golden translucent things, a little smaller than peas, that would succumb with a gratifying -snap- as one bit down on them. Which is not how you are supposed to take them, it occurs to me now – why imprison it safely within a gelatin pearl if you’re just going to end up with cod liver oil in your mouth anyway? I think it was less out of an appreciation for the taste than the fun of popping them (see also the slightly larger, football-shaped vitamin E capsules, anyone else who grew up in a vitamin-stocked household), although presumably there was no deep, typically juvenile loathing for the stuff, otherwise I shouldn’t think this would remain a positive memory – the total failure of regular negative conditioning to condition behaviour in the rest of my life (ie: drinking a million beers, looking forward to things, etc.) notwithstanding..
But as it turns out, I like cod livers.
This was revealed to me quite by accident, or, if not by accident, by coincidence. Sometime last summer, while visiting my friend James in London, the topic of cod roe came up, which, James clarified, resembled in most important aspects – consistency, richness, if not specifically taste – liver. Indeed, at the time there was some confusion over what actually was and from whence came the gross thing he was enthusiastically recommending I try (in fairness, his enthusiasm was qualified by the advice to “Go gently, good friend”), and it was with this hazily contoured endorsement in mind that I impulsively bought a tin of cod livers at the grocery store a few months back (since discovering whelks a couple of years past, and scarcely more recently having come to appreciate anchovies, the world of tinned fish has seemed to open for me like a pelagic vista, teeming with already-tinned fish). These sat in the pantry until very recently, when, while re-reading Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste, I ran across his story of “The Curé’s Omelette” – a tuna and carp roe omelette – which in context sounded delicious, even if, the words sitting thusly unadorned in front of one, some of the attraction might be lost. Now, of course cod and carp and liver and roe are wholly nonidentical, but their analogy (both gross things that are retrieved from the erstwhile darkness of the inside of a fish) was sufficient to pique my curiosity for the which of them that I actually had.
And it’s good. I see big things in the future. Who knew that something so universally loathed by the young as cod liver oil could become in adulthood something to cherish? I mean, I suppose everybody knows that actually, in principle at least, because kids are stupid and don’t like things that aren’t Bugles or Deep & Delicious Cakes or Jolly Ranchers, and for this among other reasons (inherent treachery) are not to be trusted. But that the received prejudice that cod liver oil is gross was sufficient, until dislodged by careful reflection, to eclipse my own less unpleasant memories of the thing itself, is worth bearing in mind for all of us who think that we know what we like. That said, it is less in the oil than the liver itself that the appeal resides – I just ripped it around with some smashed up little potatoes and fresh parsley and pickled lemon to cut the richness, but I think a go of it could be made just smeared on toast, provided one had the right salt.