The ladies of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Highlandtown will tell you it takes a lot of work to make a great 60-cent coddie.
Just ask them.
As the season of Lent closes, they have made 14,433 codfish cakes, the tasty seafood treat known as coddies in Baltimore. The coddie -- a deep-fried fish cake made of cod and potato -- is an old-fashioned favorite during the Fridays of Lent, when Christians traditionally abstain from meat. Because codfish is much cheaper than crab, the coddie is one of Baltimore's favorite treats.
Enjoying them often has nothing to do with religion. Many people have a meal of these cakes, which are served warm, often with potato salad and slaw.
But the ladies at Sacred Heart will tell you that finding a good Baltimore coddie is not so easy.
They are time-consuming to make and the salty fish tends to smell up a kitchen. People here love to eat them, as long as someone else makes them.
The ladies seem to feed all of Highlandtown and Canton with their coddies. Each week they bag orders. It is not uncommon for their faithful customers to phone in take-out requests of $35 or more. That's a lot of 60-cent coddies -- 10 cents additional for deep-frying. They also make $2.60 crab cakes, but far more people order the coddies.
These good-natured ladies, all volunteers, assemble at 6 a.m. a few days each week during Lent, which began Feb. 24.
They sold 1,706 coddies the week of Ash Wednesday. For each Friday of Lent, they sold an average of 2,500.
"It's a lot more trouble to make a good codfish cake than a crab cake. There's a lot of preparation. And it takes a full four days. You can make and sell a crab cake in one day," says Rita Hubbel, one of the Sacred Heart ladies.
Many of the ladies have known each other for many years. They often walk to the sprawling complex of church-convent-rectory and school that sits on a hill overlooking the harbor in the 3400 block of Foster Ave. The church is known in these parts as Sacred Heart's.
Its large and faithful congregation is known for its successful sour beef suppers, carnival and coddies. And the willingness for work of its army of volunteers.
The women who make the coddies belong to Sacred Heart's Holy Family Society. The most senior member is 83; most of the others are in their 60s and 70s. They work as hard as any chef half their ages.
Their leader is Bette Schaum, president of the Holy Family Society and a Pittsburgh native. She is proud to tell you her son Gregory played professional football for the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots.
L "My ladies never say no. And we have a good time," she says.
Mrs. Schaum says she expected that people would get tired of coddies during Lent but the demand only grew throughout the season. For today, Good Friday, her group made and sold 2,605 coddies.
The routine of her co-workers never varied through Lent's 40 days. In a roomy parish kitchen, they lifted pound after pound of raw salted codfish from wooden crates, cut it up and soaked it overnight. The next morning, they cooked the fish and carefully removed any trace of bone, scale or skin.
Step two was to wash and peel the potatoes that are boiled and then riced. The spuds are mixed with the raw cod and made into individual cakes. An ice cream scooper works nicely.
The ladies refuse to divulge many clues to their recipe, except to say, vaguely, that each codfish cake is about half cod and half potato.
"After each step, there's a lot of cleaning up, washing the pots and pans. And we keep the refrigerators spotless too," says Mrs. Hubbel.