Cod Liver Oil: for breakfast

And we’re back with a guest post by Licia Canton on – of all fishy dishes – cod liver oil. Stay tuned for next week’s foray into oyster cookery.


By the age of six I had been in Canada for two years. I was obliged to drink a little homemade wine at dinner because it was good for me. It would make me stronger, my Venetian parents said. The same with garlic.

I didn’t like garlic and I wasn’t crazy about wine as a child, either. But I disliked cod liver oil the most.

Every morning my mother put a spoonful of the slimy liquid into my mouth, followed by a teaspoon of sugar. That horrible taste of fish lasted all morning. It didn’t matter how much more sugar I sneaked before going up the hill on Bruxelles Street to St. Alice School, I was still burping fish at recess time.

I was a good, obedient daughter and therefore could not refuse the cod liver oil. My mother was the one who administered the medicinal fluid right after breakfast, and she was the gentlest person I had ever known. I was convinced that it wasn’t her idea. My father was the one who went on and on about how good cod liver oil was for kids.

Did he take it every morning before going to work? I didn’t know. I never asked. He was already at work by the time we had breakfast.

He didn’t go to church every Sunday morning either. But his kids wouldn’t get any Sunday lunch if he came home from work (Yes, he worked Sunday mornings, too.) and we couldn’t say yes to his “Did you go to church?” The times he did come to church (Christmas, Easter or a communion) he stood at the back. He never sat with us. I asked once why he did not sit with us. It would have been good for the regular churchgoers to know that I had a father. Standing was his way of doing penance, he said, for all the masses he had missed.

Eventually, I stopped taking cod liver oil, just as I stopped wearing the canottiera (the sleeveless undershirt I was forced to wear even after I began wearing a bra). My sister and I had to wear the canottiera (supplies of which we bought in Italy in the summer) all year round, even on the hottest summer days, because it was good for us!

I’d totally forgotten about cod liver oil by the time I had ditched the undershirt, but it came up again decades later, after I became a mother.

“Are you giving the children cod liver oil?” My father had pointed out that my kids looked a little pale. “You should give it to them every morning before they go to school. That’s what made you strong, remember?”

I didn’t like the thought of that at all. I remembered the fish taste in my mouth.

I was in the pharmacy one winter and stumbled upon the shelf with cod liver oil capsules. Either out of curiosity or sheer desire to stop my father’s “Are you giving them cod liver oil?”, I bought the capsules and took them home. By then I had read that cod liver oil enhances immunity. It also contains high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids and is a good source of Vitamin A and D.

I gave the capsules to the kids on a Saturday morning, not a school morning. Of course not.

Surprise! They didn’t like cod liver oil, either. I tasted a capsule to see if it was better than what I used to get… Yuck. It was the same oil even in capsules.

The next time my father asked if I had given my children cod liver oil, I quickly said yes.