Tag Archives: cod

“Fish and Brewis is the dish that Newfoundlanders yearn …”

January 18, 1917

Archival Moment

Fish and Brewis served to the Newfoundland Regiment in the trenches of France.

Fish and Brewis served to the Newfoundland Regiment in the trenches of France.

“Fish and Brewis” has long been one of the most common meals served in Newfoundland and Labrador and during the First World War (1914 -1918) Newfoundlanders were determined to see the meal served to the ‘boys’ of the Newfoundland Regiment. The people of the Dominion of Newfoundland were so resolute that this Newfoundland delicacy be available to their ‘soldiers boys’ in the trenches of France that a “Fish and Brewis” Fund was established to purchase and send overseas the two main ingredients, dried cod fish and ship’s biscuits.

Like most people in a foreign land, the men of the Newfoundland Regiment missed the comfort foods of home. One historian reported, Fish and Brewis is the dish that all Newfoundlanders yearn when away from home.”

Fish and Brewis (pronounced “brews”) is a combination of salt cod and hard bread, which is a small, compact cake, made with flour and water and sometimes called “hard tack.” The dish is frequently sprinkled with “scruncheons,” which are crisp fried bits of salt fat-back pork, and the scruncheons are sometimes fried with onions.

In a letter dated January 18, 1917, Charles P. Ayre, the Honorable Secretary, of the Fish an Brewis Committee, in St. John’s received a note from Captain (Rev.) Thomas Nangle expressing the thanks of the Ist Battalion, Newfoundland Regiment in France for the feed of the “Fish and Brewis.” He wrote:

“it would be hard to find in the whole British Army a more contented unit than the boys from “Newfoundland” on that Sunday morning we had Fish and Brewis for breakfast. The men enjoyed the meal to such an extent that even in the line … arrangements for them to have this ration once a week while it lasts.”

Nangle gave much of the credit for the meal to the Newfoundland cooks who cooked the “home produce” the dried fish and hard tack. He wrote:

“That it was cooked properly let it suffice to say that our cooks are Newfoundland cooks, know their business, and did it properly.”

The military historian Gerald W.L. Nicholson author of The Fighting Newfoundlander noted that there was one ingredient was missing. He wrote:

“The shipment did not include fat pork, which when fried into ‘schruncheons” added the crowning touch to the fish and brewis. The battalion’s cooks substituted with bacon, and produced a treat which evoked from every true Newfoundlander expressions of deepest satisfaction…. “

The Newfoundlanders were all very contented with their breakfast but an Essex Officer, not familiar with the delicacy was heard to say “What the hell is that?”

A young soldier of the Newfoundland Regiment writing to his mother on January 25, 1917 wrote:

“ I have been informed that the good people in dear old St John’s have gotten up what they called a “Fish and Brewis Committee”to gather funds to buy some bread and fish to send to “Our|boys to make a treat of Fish and Brewis for them. I am sure they will enjoy and appreciate it because the fish you sent me in one of the parcels was simply grand. I cannot find words to describe to you how delighted I was to get it.”

Recommended Exhibit: The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. It involved thousands of our people in world-changing events overseas and dramatically altered life at home. Our “Great War” happened in the trenches and on the ocean, in the legislature and in the shops, by firesides and bedsides. This exhibition shares the thoughts, hopes, fears, and sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who experienced those tumultuous years – through their treasured mementoes, their writings and their memories. – – See more at: https://www.therooms.ca/exhibits/always/beaumont-hamel-and-the-trail-of-the-caribou#sthash.HNEnynnP.dpuf

Recommended Cook Book: Edward A. Jones spent decades sampling and lovingly collecting salt cod recipes from around the world. The result is Salt Cod Cuisine: The International Table, 2013 a remarkable collection of 250 step-by-step salt cod recipes that celebrates salt cod and its place in world history and culture.

Canadian fish sent to England, an opportunity for Newfoundland

Archival Moment

January 29, 1915

Fish PosterIn the early days of the First World War, Newfoundland businessmen began to look for opportunities, especially opportunities to expand the fish trade.

With the declaration of war in 1914 the North Sea, the traditional fishing ground for England was closed. The local papers reported:

“The North Sea fishing fleet has been badly hampered and almost put out of action this season through the menace of mines and the result has been a serious depletion of the fish supply so large a part of the food of the British people.”

The famine assumed such dimensions that Cardinal Francis Bourne, the leader of the Catholic Church in England, granted a dispensation to the Catholics of England allowing they may eat meat on Fridays and Fast Days, the Cardinal explained that the step was necessary because of the high price of fish.

The first group to respond to the famine being experienced in England was the fish merchants of the Pacific Coast of Canada. The Canadians were well placed strategically because just months previous the grand trunk Pacific Transcontinental Railway line had been completed allowing fish from Prince Rupert, British Columbia access to markets in Eastern Canada and the United States.

In an experiment to help feed the British three Canadian express refrigerator cars carrying thirty tons of halibut taken from the waters of the Pacific Ocean off Prince Rupert passed through the city of St.  John, New Brunswick, where the fish was then shipped by the steamship to the British market. The fish would be carried over 6,500 miles before it reaches the consumer.

The Evening Telegram in St. John’s reported:

“ A trial shipment of 20,000 pounds of halibut proved to be successful, when opened in England it was found to be in first class condition leading to the placing of other large orders. “

Newfoundland fish merchants, aware that “large orders” for fish were being demanded by the British people, saw an opportunity. They knew immediately, “that great development in this new trade will continue till the end of the war.”

The new trade resulted in an economic boom, wartime conditions kept prices high, and Newfoundland merchants continued to supply their traditional markets in Europe, the Mediterranean, Brazil and the Caribbean. The boom lasted until 1920.

Recommended Archival Collection:   From your home visit the website, The Great War: http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp This site contains the military files of over 2200 soldiers ( we have another 4000 on microfilm) from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served in the First World War. These files are searchable by name or by community and will therefore provide invaluable information for all viewers, but will be of particular interest to those who are conducting either family or community research.

Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.

Recommended Museum Exhibit: Flowers of Remembrance: Level 2 Museum Vitrine: A number of flowers are associated with the First World War by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, including the familiar forget-me-not and poppy. Such commemorative flowers and their role in the collective memory of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are profiled. Using artifacts and period imagery relating to The Great War commemoration, The Rooms staff explore the significant role these flowers played across the last century.

The Portuguese White Fleet in St. John’s

Archival Moment

April 10 at 7:00 p.m.  (Presentation at The Rooms)

The Portuguese White Fleet in St. John’s

Photo Credit: A 34-28, Portuguese White Fleet, St. John's, NL

Photo Credit: A 34-28, Portuguese White Fleet, St. John’s, NL

Join local business man, Jean Pierre Andrieux at The Rooms as he shares a collection of images surrounding the Portuguese White Fleet in Newfoundland. From the evolution of the White Fleet to the end of an era, these images capture memories of three and four-masted ships moored two and three abreast in St. John’s Harbour, playing soccer on the waterfront, parades, decks piled high with wooden dories and so much more.

St. John’s became the primary port of call for the White Fleet, which fished for approximately six months of the year. When the ships made scheduled and unscheduled calls to replenish supplies, make repairs, provide shore leave, land sick or injured men or seek shelter from bad weather, the sailors and fishermen became a prominent part of St. John’s life.

The presentation is presented by Engaging Evenings at The RoomsTheatre, Wednesday, April 10 at 7pm.

Recommended Reading: Port O’ Call, Memories of the Portuguese White Fleet in St. John’s, Newfoundland, by Priscilla Doel (Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, 1992).

Recommended Website:  The White Fleet – Portuguese Fishermen on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zpMPmhPdWI