Newfoundland, a rock in the cold North Atlantic Ocean, welcomes her guests with warm and generous salutations. Like all island people, they are unique; many parts of the province are made up of little fishing villages, out ports and islands, where residents have learned to thrive with a little ingenuity. This is evidenced in their crafts, their paintings, and their music.
Their approach to food is no different; fish and moose are the main sources of protein in the natural Newfoundland diet. With a plentitude of off-shore cod nesting along the easterly Grand Banks, codfish recipes are abundant and have many variations, including cod tongues, cod cheeks and britches. “Britches” get their name because of their resemblance to a pair of pants, and are filled with cod roe. Fittingly, the lady fish wears the britches in the family. Moose was introduced to Newfoundland in 1940 by its sister Maritime province, New Brunswick. It was a match made in heaven, as moose can be boiled, broiled, stewed, or canned in a bottle. Have it in sausages or burgers. It is the ultimate healthy meat as it feeds on fresh fodder from the forest. Gardens and livestock are harder to produce because the terra-firma is mostly rock and much of the land refuses to play host to agriculture. Codroy Valley, on the province’s southwest coast, is one of the few regions where farming can be carried out.
Newfoundland is the only province in Canada that has its own dictionary to explain some of its expressions. Do not try to guess what is in a recipe from its name or you will soon find yourself in a conundrum. For example, Figgy Duff is a pudding without figs. Figs are what Newfoundlanders call raisins, and the duff is a pudding made from bread, raisins, spices, and molasses steamed in a pudding bag. Similarly, bake apples are not apples but bog berries, sometimes called cloud berry. They smell like apple pie when the sun shines on them, hence the name. And the ultimate Newfoundland steak is really baloney – and we all know there is a little baloney in everyone.
Jiggs Dinner is a traditional meal commonly prepared and eaten on Sundays in many regions across Newfoundland and Labrador. It is a popular boiled dinner that belies its name.
3 pounds (1.5 kg) salt meat
2 cups (500 ml) yellow split peas
1 large turnip, peeled and cut into eighths
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch (5 cm) lengths
6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 head cabbage, cut into eight wedges
2 tablespoons (30 ml) butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Salt meat, cured in salt brine, is not the same as corned beef (which is preserved in a solution of salt, sugar and salt peter). Look for salt meat where Newfoundland/Labrador foods are sold. If unavailable, corned beef may be substituted, but the flavour and texture will be different.
Soak the salt meat overnight in cold water, changing the water at least once. Rinse meat one more time. Place in a large pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boiling point, reduce heat and simmer for at least two hours.
Place split peas in a cloth bag or a clean tea towel, gathered up and tied at the top, leaving an extra length of string. The peas should form a loose ball; if tied too tightly they will not cook properly. Place bag in pot with the salt meat and tie the bag to the pot handle to keep it off the bottom and prevent scorching. Return to boiling point, then reduce heat and let it simmer for another 10 minutes.
Add vegetables 2 to 5 minutes apart, starting with turnip, then carrots, potatoes, and finally the cabbage.
Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until vegetables are tender. Drain off water. Carefully open the bag of peas (the peas are very hot), turn peas into a bowl and whip, adding in the butter, salt and pepper.
Cut the salt meat into cubes, and serve with boiled vegetables and mushy peas, called peas pudding, accompanied by pickled beets and sweet mustard pickles. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Kiss the cod!