Jane Geier from Ellicott City said that she dined several years ago at Mama's on the Half Shell in Canton and enjoyed the old-fashioned Baltimore-style coddies that were served there. She was looking for the recipe so she could make them at home for her family.
Baltimore coddies, not to be confused with codfish cakes, are hand-formed, slightly flattened potato cakes flavored with salt cod and other seasonings and then deep-fried. They are traditionally served at room temperature, sandwiched between two saltine crackers with a dollop of yellow mustard. Sometimes referred to as the poor man's crab cake, this uniquely Baltimore food could be found at neighborhood soda fountains and delis all over town beginning in early 1920s.
As local historian Gilbert Sandler recounts in his book "Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore," "The coddie's origins are vague, but the way the descendants of the Louis Cohen family tell the story, it was grandfather Louis Cohen's wife, Fannie Jacobson Cohen, who created the coddie as we know it." Sandler further explains that according to Louis Cohen's granddaughter, Elaine Cohen Alpert, her grandparents were just barely earning a living from the small stall they ran in the old Belair Market where they sold sandwiches, cookies, and candy. They were searching for a new product, something no one else would have, to attract new customers and set them apart.
Not long after, the Baltimore coddie was born. The Cohens sold the first coddies at their stall inside the market for 5 cents each.
Word spread before long, and the coddies became extremely popular — so much so that the Cohen family opened a small manufacturing plant and were the first to mass-produce and market the product. From the 1920s to the early 1970s, Cohen's Coddie trucks were delivering the coddies all over Baltimore.
While not nearly as prevalent today, traditional coddies can still be found in Baltimore at occasional church fundraisers and places like the Suburban House and Miller's Deli in Pikesville, and even at Mama's on the Half Shell, where Geier found them on the appetizer menu for $5.50.
Susan Zeiger from Baltimore and Donna Marsh from Hanover both wrote in recently, hoping someone would have the original recipe for the Harley Burgers, which were sold at Harley's fast-food carryouts in the '60s and '70s in the Baltimore area. "They were the best subs, ground beef simmering in a red tomato sauce with lots of onions," Marsh said.
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Recipe originally appeared in The Baltimore Sun on May 22, 2002
Makes 16 to 20 coddies
1/4 pound salt cod, or 1 tablespoon cod paste, or 1 tablespoon fish flakes
1 to 1 1/4 pounds potatoes
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup crushed crackers
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
If you are using salt cod, soak the fish for 24 hours in a bowl of water. Change the water every 6 to 8 hours. Cover the fish with water in a pan and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and break with a fork; cool. Peel, dice and boil potatoes until cooked. Drain, mash with 2 tablespoons milk and cool. In a large bowl, combine salt cod (or cod paste or fish flakes), potatoes, crackers, eggs and black pepper and make into thin, palm-sized balls.
Flatten slightly and cook in a pan filled with 1/4 inch of vegetable oil. Brown cakes on each side and drain. Replace diminished oil between batches. To serve, place each coddie on a saltine cracker, top with yellow mustard and place another saltine on the top. Serve either warm or at room temperature.