Newfoundland Cuisine

My mom visited recently from BC. She had been in Newfoundland visiting family, and stopped in Toronto to see her favourite offspring before heading home. Unfortunately, her visit was interrupted by a panicked call from the east – my grandmother had been admitted to hospital and things did not look good.

After immediately booking a flight back to the Rock, she packed her bags and a mere 24 hours later, was headed to the airport again. This time, I went with her.

I haven’t  been back to Newfoundland in over 15 years, and I thought that if things were serious with my grandmother’s health, I had better go now – before it was too late. So I hopped on the next flight to Deer Lake with my mom, and only two hours later we were in the land of Terra Nova.

I stayed with my Aunt K for three days, a large portion of which was spent at my grandmother’s bedside at the hospital. She improved bit by bit – by the time I left the situation was not quite so dire. The remaining time was spent engrossed in activities such as eating, shopping, and more eating.

The highlight of my newfie culinary adventure was a Jigg’s Dinner, cooked in my honour by my kooky and fabulous Aunt K.

A Jigg’s Dinner is a newfoundland tradition, and consists of a roasted turkey, vegetables and other accoutrements. “Sounds like Thanksgiving!”, you must be thinking to yourself. But there’s one thing that sets a Jigg’s Dinner apart from any old Thanksgiving dinner. And that thing is Salt Meat.

Warning: the following blog post contains graphic depictions of salted navel beef and high amounts of sodium. Reader discretion is advised – but also, reader vicariousness is strongly encouraged.

My Aunt kept referring to this “Salt Meat”, and when she took me to her basement where she kept her bucket of salt meat in the deep freeze, I inquired as to which type of meat it may be? Its pinkish tone and glorious marbled appearance made me think of briney pork. Incredulous, she responded with: “What do you mean, what kind of meat? It’s meat!”. “But…what animal does it come from?”  I asked, still perplexed. “It comes from a cow, m’love” she said, shaking her head at my silliness.

Let me take a moment to comment on how charming newfoundland is. It’s like a whole other world out there. The landscape is lovely and green and full of rolling mountains. The locals talk with a peculiar accent –a combination of Irish and something from the deep south – and their phrases are speckled with terms of endearment, regardless of whether you know the person you’re speaking with or they’re just behind the window of the local Tim Horton’s drive through. They do not dispense with pleasantries. The beginning of any conversion begins with questions and assurances from both parties as to their well-being, general happiness and observations on the current weather. It’s the – dare I say – quintessential Canadian friendliness that seems to have become extinct or at least endangered across the other provinces.

Overheard in Corner Brook:

-“Well, hello and good morning! How are you today?
-“Very well, very well, m’dear. It’s a lovely day and how are you doing?”
-“It is very nice indeed and I am just fine. Well, then, what can I get for you?”
-“I’ll have a large double double, please and thank you, and a medium vanilla latte and a blueberry muffin, m’love.”
-“Alright, that’ll be $5.46, drive on through now and it’ll be right out”
-“Thank you kindly and you have a great day, you hear?”
-“I will and you as well, love”

This is how it would have played out in Toronto:

-“NEXT IN LINE!”
Customer barges up to the counter. “uh, yeah, gimme a humungo uber no whip extra hot super caf frappuccino…”
Interrupting, the cashier hollers “HUMUNGO UBER NO WHIP EXTRA HOT SUPER CAF FRAP” over her shoulder. Turning back to the customer, she says -“Seven-forty-five” without making eye contact.
The customer holds a debit card out uncertainly until the cashier points to the terminal and sighs. “Insert chip”, she says wearily. The customer starts to plunk in his PIN when the cashier suddenly hollers “NEXT!” into the melee behind. The next customer shoulders in beside him, already placing their order. Meanwhile, someone across the restaurant is yelling “HUMUNGO UBER NO WHIP EXTRA HOT SUPER CAF FRAP” and slamming his drink down onto a counter which is being observed by a crowd of beady-eyed, under caffeinated, newspaper carrying Bay street types.

Yes, a different world altogether.

Anyway, back to the Salt Meat. The whole point of the Jigg’s Dinner is that you simmer this brined beef slowly over several hours, and eventually add all of the vegetables to the pot, so that while they cook they absorb the flavour and saltiness of the beef. The other factor is the Peas Puddin’, which requires a standard puddin’ bag to cook in, of course.

After doing some research on the internet, I discovered that salted navel beef comes from the piece of cow just below the brisket, next to – you guessed it – the navel. It is a rather tough and fatty cut of beef, and requires a lot of salt and cooking time in order to turn it into something edible. It is also, curiously, the same part that corned beef comes from. Yummy.

Anyway, the peas puddin is started by filling a puddin’ bag full of split peas, and suspending the bag in the pot of water that the beef will be cooking in. Aunt K was very careful to note that it is best to tie a string to the bag and attach it to the handle of the pot, for easy future removal and to avoid the bag burning to the bottom of the pot.

Then the beef is lowered into the water and the pot lid goes on. About 3 hours later, the entire house should be filled with a lovely meaty aroma. Kind of like beef stew, but…somehow different.

While basking in the aroma of cured meat cooking, it was lovely to enjoy a local Newfoundland brew, A Quidi Vidi Honey Brown Ale.

After the 3 hours, Aunt K drained the water out of the pot, and filled it once again with fresh, hot water. I imagine that this cuts down on the salt content. Once the water came to a boil (and about 45 minutes before serving), she added vegetables: carrots and turnip, to boil for 15 minutes. Then came the whole, peeled potatoes and an entire head of cabbage, cut in two.

She gave the whole pot another 30 minutes to boil, then removed the puddin’ bag to make the peas puddin’, which is very simple. Take the cooked peas out of the bag, stir in butter, salt and pepper.

At about this time the turkey was ready to come out, and oh boy, was it ever perfect. Golden crispy skin and plump, juicy little limbs. This turkey had been cooked with home-made stuffing inside the bird, no short cuts here. A quick gravy was produced, and it was ready to go.

The whole mess was spread out on the table family style, and like a hunger-crazed pack of dingoes, we dug in.

The salt meat was…well, salty. And yummy. I being the uninitiated prude that I am, cut off most of the fat bits and savoured the stringy but flavourful meaty bits.

The whole thing was fabulous. As there was so much turkey leftover, the next day we had hot turkey sandwiches for lunch.

Slices of bread, topped with leftover turkey bits and smothered with gravy. And served with homemade french fries. Divine.

Following lunch, and not ones to let a good feed go to waste, with the leftover peas puddin’ and salt beef, we had home-made pea soup with doughbouys (aka dumplings) and freshly baked butter pull-apart buns.

The next morning, my last in Newfoundland, my other Aunt S treated me to another newfie staple.

I can’t remember what she called it but it was a meringue-pie-like dessert – except made with lemon cream crackers as the crust, lemon pie filling and cool whip as the topping.

This will be another new favourite of mine. It was so easy to make and utterly delicious, despite the edible petroleum product that crowned its lemony peaks.

Finally, after 3 days and about 6 pounds gained, I came back to Toronto and to the gym, fresh with all kinds of ideas for this coming thanksgiving.

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Categories: Food, Travel

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5 Comments on “Newfoundland Cuisine”

  1. February 25, 2015 at 7:42 am #

    I was so excited to spot this on your blog. I am from newfoundland, not living there currently. Loved seeing all of these pictures. I was there a couple of summers ago, and will be back there in the fall for a wedding. I will probably be dieting before I go in anticipation of all the food I will need to eat while there!

  2. September 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    What an interestingly delicious adventure! Nice to learn about some Canadian traditions (from the other side, I’m in BC)!

    • September 20, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

      It was very interesting indeed! I found a place in Toronto that sells products from newfoundland and am tempted to make the trip across the city to get some…

  3. September 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Sophie you are a really interesting writer. Puts a true smile on my face. Great comparison between ordering coffee in NFLD & TO!

    • September 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

      Thanks Carla! I must admit, this blog is sometimes my outlet for the frustrations of city life 🙂

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