happy birthday, and thanks for all the fish

last night, i went into the kitchen to make dinner. now, i can’t cook in a messy kitchen and brni has a habit of dumping stuff on the counter which means i MUST clear the counter before i can cook (even when the offending stuff is not in my way).

so i pick up a plastic shopping bag and ask brni, “what is this?” he says, “it’s your birthday present.” i am taken aback and exclaim, “we don’t DO birthday presents!” and i look in the bag. it’s a wacom tablet. i’ve wanted a wacom tablet for years!

i cry.

then he gives me another present — baccala!

for those of you who are not italian and are not initiated in italian foodways, baccala is salt-cured codfish. the fish is split, filleted, salted and hung to dry. it looks just like a large ping-pong paddle, only stinky.

in the old days, dried, salt-cured cod, or baccala, was found hung in the kitchen of every italian home. before cooking, the baccala was soaked in water for 3 days. the water was changed everyday to both hydrate the fish and rinse away the excess salt. after the baccala was all plumped up, it was cut into chunks and poached in a tomato, onion and pepper sauce. of course, every region had it’s own variation, but for the most part, this was the theme.

now, italian women, being very practical, had the concept of multi-tasking down before there was even a word for it. so, it’s no wonder that when the children were acting up they were threatened with the biggest, hardest thing at hand–baccala! this was such a common household weapon that baccala became slang for spanking.

“you want a baccala? no? then get out of here!”

the practice of hanging baccala in the kitchen died out a generation or two before i came along, but i grew up with the threat of baccala over my head just the same. i think i was a teenager before i knew that baccala wasn’t the english word for spanking.

and yesterday, brni gave me my first, real baccala. it’s real stinky, but it’s the best birthday present ever!

i think i know what i’ll be making for our anniversary dinner on april fools day.


3 responses to “happy birthday, and thanks for all the fish

  • Judy

    This is a neat fun story and so sweet a gift. And the Wacom tablet. I got a mini one at Christmas but have only used it to get my signature in the computer so far. I have a relative of Italian descent and he’s a chef so I bet he knows all about baccala! So cool!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Anonymous

    Baccala/Spanking
    now, italian women, being very practical, had the concept of multi-tasking down before there was even a word for it. so, it’s no wonder that when the children were acting up they were threatened with the biggest, hardest thing at hand–baccala! this was such a common household weapon that baccala became slang for spanking.
    That makes much more sense than the story I was told about how baccala came to be used for spanking.
    It wasn’t until I was in my late teens/early 20’s before I found out that baccala was actually dried fish. Puzzled, I asked my grandma why we used baccala to mean spanking and this is what she told me:
    A long time ago, a mother was preparing baccala for dinner for her family and a visiting guest. Fearing that she wouldn’t have enough baccala to go around, she told her children to say no when asked if they wanted more baccala.
    That night at dinner, the mother brought out the baccala a second time and walked around the table asking everyone if they wanted more. When she reached her children, she asked “do you want baccala?” and underneath the plate she was holding, her other hand was tilting from side to side, (the Italian sign for spanking). The children replied “no, mama, we don’t want baccala” and all ended well.
    Diane

    Like

  • descartes_rock

    This is fascinating. I love your baccala story!
    I am partial to stinky foods — mostly cheese though. Have never come across baccala, but my parents used to eat something called “rollmops” (not sure if that is the right spelling) which was some sort of horrible pickled fish. My mother once cooked tripe for dinner, and the stink just about knocked me out.

    Like

You must be logged in to post a comment.

%d bloggers like this: