As many of you probably know, Canada recently celebrated its 150th birthday (or at least, since confederacy) last weekend. Over here at The Taste Archives, we love learning about the different foods and cultures from around the world, but at the end of the day we are proud to call Canada home, and now that the dust from all the fireworks has settled , we thought we’d keep the party going and explore the vast array of foods our home and native land has to offer. So in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial (yes that’s a real word), we will be spending the next several weeks taking you on a culinary tour of all the provinces and territories that comprise our great nation.
Today we’ll be kicking off this road trip with our easternmost province, Newfoundland!
There’s one in every family…
Newfoundland (or more formally known as Newfoundland and Labrador) has arguably one of the most unique histories out of every province and territory in Canada. It’s kind of like your crazy uncle who no one else in the family really understands but you keep him around because he’s always great for a laugh, and you secretly all love him and are actually kind of jealous of his unashamed eccentricities.
Newfoundland has its own language, “Newfoundland English”, (a fun mix of British, Irish and Scottish- don’t ask us to decipher it!), their own time zone (they are 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic time and 90 minutes ahead of Eastern Time), interesting town names like Conception Bay, Heart’s Desire and Dildo (Seriously…seriously.), and its capital, St. John’s, is the oldest city in North America. Despite that, Newfoundland didn’t actually join confederation until 1939.
In the Beginning…
Newfoundland was inhabited by people long before the first European settlers arrived at its shores. In fact, the Maritime Archaic Peoples can be traced back in areas of the province about 9000 years! You can still see traces of their existence if you head to Port au Choix on the west side of the island. They were eventually displaced by the Dorset culture, who were highly adapted to the sea and living in a very cold climate. They mostly hunted through the ice for sea mammals. This practice, however, would have been severely affected during the Medieval Warm Period.
The Beothuk people were the first ones to migrate from Labrador to Newfoundland. They had bigger dogs, bigger weapons and better technology (we use this term loosely here) and so kind of took over the region. These people hunted caribou, deer and small game and started fishing and farming. The Mi’Kmaq, who lived on the shores of southern Newfoundland, harvested seafood. Both of these groups of people contributed to many of the traditional foods still eaten in Newfoundland today like clams and other shellfish and wild game..
Enter the Europeans
The first evidence of European contact in the area were the Vikings around the year 1000. There is archeological evidence of a Norse settlement in L’Ance aux Meadows, which is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Fast-forward to 1497 when British explorer John Cabot landed in Cape Bonavista. There is debate as to whether or not this was his actual landing place, or whether he landed at all, but somehow they came to this conclusion. For the next 400 years there was a lot of back-and-forth between the French and the English, until 1854 when the British established a “responsible government”. Editor’s note: we know we skipped a lot here but honestly we could go on forever.
During this time the dominion (it wasn’t a province yet remember!) also received a vast number of Irish immigrants, which is what has created this unique Irish-English society that was never really intended to happen but has grown into the Newfoundland that we know and love today. So in an effort not to bore you to tears, let’s move on to the food, shall we?
A Taste of Newfoundland
It comes as no surprise that this individuality would be reflected in the food you’ll find on the island. Like all of our Eastern Provinces, Newfoundland is a great place to find delicious lobster and other seafood, but today we are going to introduce you to some of the provinces more…erm… interesting dishes:
Cod Tongue: We know what you’re thinking- do cod even have tongues? Not really, or at least not the way we think a tongue should be. This quintessential Newfoundland dish is actually made from a flap of flesh found in the cod’s throat, fried up and topped with scrunchions which is a small piece of pork rind or fatback that’s been fried until crispy. This was a dish born out of necessity (food was much more hard to come by back in the day) and has now become a delicacy.
Tinned Cream: Not to be confused with evaporated or condensed milk, this topping is somewhat sacred to Newfoundlanders. Laws that limit the import of dairy products can sometimes lead to shortages of the tinned topping, which of course is devastating to all the locals. What else are they going to blob on top of their pies, cakes, and berries?
Bakeapples: Spoiler alert: these are not apples, they’re actually berries. Why are they called apples? Legend has it that someone asked what they were called in french by saying “baie qu’appelle?” and the name stuck. More than likely it’s actually that the berries taste kind of like apples, but we’ll let you decide which story you believe.
Fish ‘n Brewis: made with salt cod and hard bread (aka hard tack) that is soaked in water, boiled and mixed with scrunchions, this dish was created on fishing boats that had next to no access to any fresh food whatsoever. Yum.
Flipper Pie: Literally just seal flippers baked into a pie. Apparently seal was deemed acceptable to eat during Lent by the Catholic church, so guess what was on the table every night from March to April?
Toutons: Dough fried in pork fat topped with molasses and a pat of butter. Breakfast of champions.
Jiggs Dinner: This one has distinctive Irish roots from the large quantity of Irish immigrants that arrived in the province at the beginning of the 19th century. Think your classic corned beef-and-cabbage but with an east coast twist. Swap the corned beef with salt beef and throw in some pease pudding, which were yellow peas boiled in cheese clothe alongside the beef and veggies and dinner is served. For dessert? Duff- a dessert pudding boiled in a bag alongside the rest of the meal.
So much to see, so much to do, so much to eat!
If you’re planning a trip to Newfoundland and want to get the best cultural and culinary experience, here are a few places and events to check out:
The Fish, Fun and Folk Festival: This week-long festival takes place in the seaside town, Twillingate, every July. It has everything from fireworks, dances, live entertainment, museums and of course, food! Take part in an old-fashioned kitchen party or afternoon tea, head over to the “giant bake sale”, or participate in a root beer chug-a-lug! (Editor’s’ note: we don’t actually know what a chug-a-lug is) The small town also has a thriving recreational fishing facility, and as the coordinators say, “there’s nothing like eating a meal you pulled out of our cold blue waters just hours before!” This year’s festival runs from July 24th to the 31st, so there’s still time to plan a last-minute trip! Check out their website here.
Da Kooden’s Dinner Theatre: For those of you who appreciate dinner and a show, here you can eat a meal of traditional Newfoundland fare while taking in some live theatre performed by a group of local residents. It doesn’t get much more authentic than this, folks. Learn more here.
Cod Sounds: If you’re looking to learn a thing or two while you’re in town, Cod Sounds has many different cultural and educational tours to offer. You can have an outdoor adventure during which a guide teaches you how to forage for food the way the original people of Newfoundland did and enjoy a traditional Newfoundland boil-up on the beach with all of your tasty findings. If the great outdoors frightens you a bit, you can try some of their other classes that explore traditional Newfoundland fare as well as bread, cheeses and charcuterie…and you get to eat the fruits of your labour at the end of it all! Sign us up! You can learn more about the different class offerings here.
Lighthouse Dinners: Ever wanted to have dinner at the top of Atlantic Canada’s tallest lighthouse? Lucky for you- you finally can! This is an experience that hasn’t been has for 50 years, but this year you can take advantage of exclusive Friday night dinners at Point Armour Lighthouse. This lighthouse has major historical significance and is an opportunity that can’t be missed. But beware- this must be booked ahead of time so be sure to check the website for availability!
Roots, Rants and Roars Festival: Every September the town of Elliston invites both local and international chefs to this one-of-a-kind culinary event. It is a celebration of the food and culture of the province, and is the number one event for food-loving travellers to attend! Check out the website here.
Of course, we have barely scratched the surface of all the incredible foods and experiences Newfoundland has to offer so if you’re planning a trip be sure to do your research, and if you’ve already been or are a Newfoundlander yourself, please leave us comment telling us what you would put on your must-try, must-do list!