Tag Archives: fish

“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.

Is seal flipper, meat or fish?

ARCHIVAL MOMENT 

What to eat on Good Friday? 

Seal Flipper Pie

Seal Flipper Pie

The question has long been a thorny theological issue: is  “seal flipper pie”  meat or fish. It’s an important question because this Friday is ” Good Friday”, and on the menu in many households and restaurants in this province will be “flipper pie”

Good Friday is the day Catholics and others Christians commemorate Jesus’s death on the cross. It’s a day by tradition that most  people abstain from eating meat.  Fish tends to be the meal of choice for Good Friday.

The inclusion of seals within the category of “fish” is a most difficult issue for the more pious or traditional  in the community.

Those that are convinced that seal flipper pie can be served as fish do have some convincing historical  – doctrinal evidence to stand on.

As early as 1555,  the Swedish scholar and Catholic Bishop, Olaus Magnus (1490-1557), last Catholic Archbishop of Uppsala,  (Sweden)  in his history  (Historia de gentibus septenrionalibus. ) wrote that  in Sweden seal flesh was regarded as fish during Lent and eaten on Good Friday.

Research at the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archives indicates seal flippers are classed as fish.

In many Newfoundland and Labrador communities Catholics have been by tradition permitted to eat “flipper pie” during Lent which coincided with the seal-hunt. Local legend says a Pope, through the local bishop, once declared the seal to be a fish so that during Lent and on meatless Fridays, Newfoundlanders had a better chance avail of this “seasonal”  food source.

It has to be true. In a commentary on Bill C-45:  “An Act respecting the sustainable development of Canada’s seacoast and inland fisheries”  federal government officials in the commentary on the document wrote.

“The inclusion of seals within the category of “fish” stems from a long tradition, possibly explained by the ruling of the Church of Newfoundland that seals were fish, “so that even the most pious Newfoundlander can eat seal meat on Friday or during Lent.” 

According to the Code  of Canon Law (1917)  some interpretations  of certain of these church laws suggest that animals associated with water are allowed to be eaten during Lent, such as beaver, otter and frogs. This might also explain why traditionally, in Bay Bulls and the communities of the Southern Shore of Newfoundland that  turrs and sea ducks could be eaten on Fridays in Lent.

So, what will be on your plate on Good Friday?

Recommended Website: Bill C-45: An Act respecting the sustainable development of Canada’s seacoast and inland fisheries. Prepared by: François Côté, Science and Technology Division Elizabeth Kuruvila, Law and Government Division 20 February 2007. http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/LegislativeSummaries/bills_ls.asp?ls=c45&Parl=39&Ses=1

Recommended Reading: D. M. Lavigne and K. M. Kovacs, Harps and Hoods: Ice-Breeding Seals of the Northwest Atlantic, University of Waterloo Press, Waterloo, 1988, p. 104.

Hot cross bun, only on Good Friday!!

Archival Moment

GOOD FRIDAY, 1869

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

On Good Friday in 1869  Edward Morris, the Manager of the Newfoundland Savings Bank  went out for his daily constitutional,  a walk about the town of St. John’s.  He interrupted his walk, deciding to drop in on his friend Robert Kent.  Upon arriving at the house, he discovered that his friend was out but his father (Jimmy) was at home, in a heated argument with the servant of the house.

In his diary Edward Morris explained.

“I found  (Jimmy) disputing with the servant about a bun which she was giving him as a cross bun, he seemed very dubious, as indeed he might, for it was one of the old familiar type of common penny buns”.

This was not a small matter in 1869. Good Friday was a day of fast,  but one of the treats, on this day, was what we now call a hot cross bun.  Jimmy Kent  was not to be deprived of his “cross bun”  for  the inferior  “penny bun’.

Edward Morris had to play the referee. He wrote in his diary:

However, as I was appealed  to  for a decision , I was obliged, for expediency sake, to compromise  myself by saying  it was very like Lash’s Cross Buns and that seemed to reconcile poor Jim to the deception”

Lash’s on Water Street, St. John’s had a reputation for making the very best Hot Cross Buns.

All of the St. John's shops would sell Good Friday or Hot Cross Buns.

All of the St. John’s shops would sell Good Friday or Hot Cross Buns.

Competition between  the many bakeries and shops in St. John’s to capture  the Good Friday Buns customers was fierce.  Advertising  typically started in the St. John’s newspapers on ‘Spy Wednesday’   and more on ‘Holy Thursday’  encouraging  the purchase of the Hot Cross Buns. You could easily place an advance order but they had to be picked up on Holy Thursday. All the shops were closed on Good Friday.

In Newfoundland, the Hot Cross Bun is the most famous, and probably the oldest, of the many English buns.  The Hot Cross Bun was originally eaten only on Good Friday.

According to tradition, Father Rocliff, a monk and the cook of St. Alban’s Abbey, in Hertfordshire, on Good Friday in 1361 gave to each poor person who came to the abbey one of ‘these spiced buns marked with the sign of the cross’, along with the usual bowl of soup. The custom was continued and soon spread throughout the country.

Hot Cross Buns became enormously popular in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if one recites the ditty:

 “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be”

Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten.

Definition: What is Spy Wednesday?  Wednesday (March 23)  is known as Spy Wednesday because on this day in Christian scripture,  Judas one of the disciples made a bargain with the high priest to betray his friend  Jesus for 30 silver pieces. (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:1-6).

 

Food, Lent and St. Patrick’s Day

Archival Moment

March 17

(St. Patrick’s Day and the Lenten Fast)

Foods fro the Lenten Season Advertisement, Evening Telegram

Foods fro the Lenten Season
Advertisement, Evening Telegram

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 has long been considered a significant date on the calendar of Irish Newfoundlanders, in fact on St. Patrick’s Day, all Newfoundlanders lay claim to some smidgeon of Irishness. The Irish in Newfoundland have for hundreds of years celebrated their patron saint with parades, dancing, drinking, and feasting.

St. Patrick’s Day, falling as it does during the fasting season of Lent has proven to be inconvenient, it has also proven to be a source of theological confusion.

Those who follow the Christian calendar and fast or abstain during the Lenten Season (Wednesday, February 10, 2016  and ends on Saturday, March 26th 2016 )  can relax,  bishops throughout the world, especially in dioceses with large Irish populations have customarily granted a special dispensation from the law of abstinence and fasting on St. Patrick’s Day. In the United States, in the resent past, at least 60 of the nearly 200 dioceses (most with large Irish populations) provide such dispensations.

So ingrained in Newfoundland food culture was the idea of the “Lenten Diet” that there was a time during the Lenten Season when grocery stores in their advertising in the local newspapers boldly bragged in their advertisements that they carried “Lenten Diet” products.

In the local  St. John’s newspaper, Evening Telegram, on March 18, 1914 , Bishop Sons and Company Limited, Grocery Department stated in their advertising that their “‘Lenten Diet’ products included Salmon, Lobster, Cod Tongues, White Bait, Royans,  and a large selection of other fish products.”

The Lenten Diet, The Evening Telegram

The Lenten Diet,
The Evening Telegram

E.P. Eagan a competitor of Bishops and Sons at his Duckworth Street and Queens Road stores in St. John’s boasted in his advertising in The Telegram, March 16, 1914   that he carried “Foods that are popular during the Lenten Season.”

It was in this cultural milieu that it would have been difficult to consider a good meal of Irish bacon and cabbage, the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal without an approving nod from the local bishop.

Irish bacon and cabbage, consists of unsliced back bacon boiled with cabbage and potatoes. Sometimes other vegetables such as turnips, onions and carrots are also added. Historically, this dish was common fare in Irish homes as the ingredients were readily available as many families grew their own vegetables and reared their own pigs. (As it was in Newfoundland.) In the mid-to-late 19th century, Irish immigrants to the United States began substituting corned beef for bacon when making the dish, hence creating corned beef and cabbage.

It is not likely that you will find a restaurant menu that will feature a “Lenten Diet’ and even more unlikely that our local newspaper will offer a ‘Lenten Diet’ column,  best stick to the fish.

On St. Patrick’s Day, break the ‘Lenten Fast’   it is all about the parades, dancing, drinking, and feasting!

St. Patrick’s Day Event:  The Irish Newfoundland Association as part of their 39th Annual Irish Week Celebrations is proud to present their program for this year. Read More: http://irishnewfoundlandassociation.ca/irish-week-four-nights-four-events/

Museum Exhibit: At the Rooms take some time to see: Talamh an Éisc – The Fishing Ground, an exhibit at The Rooms, which introduces the Irish peoples who have been in Newfoundland and Labrador since the late 1600s, the exhibit explores the communities they built and celebrates the contributions they made to life here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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.

Females engaged as servants in the fishery

Archival Moment

May 5, 1884

An “apartment”  for the females engaged as servants in the fishery

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives A 44 1; "Labrador home-built 'floaters' beating North..."

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives A 44 1; “Labrador home-built ‘floaters’ beating North…”

The women of Newfoundland have long had a place on the fishing boats that have gone to the sea. These fishing boats were often small vessels, with limited space, that allowed for little privacy for the crew, especially for the women.

On May 5, 1884; A. J. Pearce, Sub collector at the Custom House in Twillingate responsible for  recording the arrival and departure of all vessels, inspecting the cargo of the vessels and insuring that all paid the required duties and taxes made it known that he wanted the privacy of women aboard vessels protected.

Under the headline “Notice to Schooner Holders” he posted in the local newspaper an announcement that read:

“Sailing Vessels carrying females engaged as servants in the fishery or as passengers, between Newfoundland and Labrador shall be provide with such separate cabin or apartments as will afford at least, fifty cubic feet for each of such females and the owners of such vessels shall provide for such females sufficient accommodation for sanitary purposes.” (Section I and V of the said act)

Captain’s of the vessels were warned if they did not conform to this new regulation they could face “a one hundred dollar fine.” 

The regulations were largely put in place for the women involved in the Labrador fishery, especially those involved in the ‘floater fishery.’ The Labrador fishery consisted of ‘floaters’ those who lived on their boats and fished along the Labrador coast.  Floaters brought their catch back to Newfoundland for processing. Women involved in the floater fishery were typically young and single, and their primary responsibility was cooking for the fishermen.

The regulations that were introduced describing the space to be provided as “a separate cabin or apartment’ was somewhat exaggerated. The reality was that the small space (50 cubic feet), below deck, tended to be just large enough to curl up into and sleep. The wall of this so called ‘apartment’ would be an old wool blanket.

In 1900, approximately 1200 women –one-third of the fishing crews- travelled in small schooners from the communities of Bay Roberts, Brigus, Carbonear, Harbour Grace and Western Bay to work as hired “girls” in the Labrador fisheries.

Captain Alexander Ploughman, of Ship Cove, Trinity Bay in describing the space allotted for women wrote:

“In most cases the accommodation is very meager being merely a screen dividing the female compartment from that of the men…in many cases they [women] are lying around like so many cattle.”

No matter what the cost of making the space for the women, Captain James Burden of Carbonear was determined to provide separate accommodation because he wrote:

 “I cannot think of prohibiting females as we have to make our fish on the Labrador. Two females are better than two men in many cases, and not half the expense.”

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives explore GN 1/3A Office of the Governor 1899-1901. Many of the despatchers make reference to the role of women in the fishery,. including GN 1/3/A   Despatch 265 , Employment of girls in Labrador aboard green fish schooners. GN 1/3/A Despatch 94, Girls employed in green fish catches, Labrador and GN 1/3/A Despatch 112      the Employment of female labour in the Labrador fisheries.

Recommended Website: Costal Women in Newfoundland and Labrador prior to Confederation. This virtual exhibit portrays the women who lived and worked in the coastal communities of Newfoundland and Labrador prior to Confederation http://www.mun.ca/mha/cw/index.html