Traditionally, the food available in Newfoundland and Labrador is that of necessity, not convenience. Life on The Rock has required method and respect for the land. Fish has always been abundant and, in Newfoundland, fish means cod. Whether deep-fried or pan-fried, salt fish cakes, or hung on a line to dry, cod fishing and its preparation has been a way of life. Every part of the cod is used from the fillet to the cheeks, tongue, britches and liver, and all are treasured by the traditional diet. Seal is also an essential and nutritious protein, and seal oil is very high in the omega-3 chain and boasts strong health benefits.
Hunting for seal or moose, or foraging for berries, is not only about survival, “It’s about teaching how to treat the land; how to care for it and maintain it for next year,” shares Lori McCarthy (Cod Sounds). “It’s not just that we are picking berries because it’s the only time of year to do it, it’s time spent together to grow as a family.” When dandelions appear in the spring, it’s the first green since nine months ago; and when it’s first feed of lobster; or when each profusion of berries are ready to be foraged, families get together and celebrate their harvest. These are momentous time frames that dictate life.
The forests offer blueberries, partridgeberries, bakeapple, cranberries and crowberries; and the farming provides cabbage, turnip, carrot and potato. Most of the cabbage is then pickled. Preservation methods are essential for lasting through the winter. Traditionally, after a hunt, whether for caribou, rabbits or ducks, the meat is salted, “bottled” and boiled. First Nations people would typically dry their Arctic char, caribou and moose. The only way to store vegetables would be in root cellars dug into hills, or down in the ground to keep them cold.
Welsh immigrants brought lamb, and today Newfoundland lamb is perhaps the most beautiful in the country. Recipes are typically a one-pot dish. Flipper Pie is seal meat slow roasted in the oven with vegetables like a stew. Jigg’s Dinner is an assemblage of hearty staple ingredients from salted beef to vegetables. Fish ‘n’ Brew is soaked hard bread mixed with boiled salt cod and scrunchions. Moose burgers and pea soup; Toutons and molasses; and braised rabbit pie are traditional dishes, and for dessert, baked pies and Figgy Duff, a pudding made with raisins, spices and breadcrumbs. Baking bread is vital sustenance, and three-bun bread represents the past, the present and the future.
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Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.