Fiddlehead Ferns, Foraging
Traditional Newfoundland Jiggs Dinner
Dreams are made of this…….
Bite-sized Chunks of my Culinary Adventures in Newfoundland:
Part Four – Foraging, Iceberg Hunting and Friends, the culinary trip continues……
The dawn light stealthily stole over St John’s highlighting the colourful “jellybean” clapboard houses that glowed like promised sweeties in a jar. On opening my eyes I realised that today was going to be sunny, as the sparkling Newfoundland sky gleamed like a polished sapphire with nary a sign of candy floss clouds to be seen anywhere. I hastily showered and dressed, I was running late today and last night’s feasting had taken its toll on me! I grabbed a quick buffet breakfast at the hotel, fresh fruit and juice today, and then made my way down to the lobby where Amy (from the Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism Board) was waiting for me – today was another special day on my Atlantic Canada trip as I was going out “in to the field” (so to speak) with Lori on a foraging trip with a traditional “boil-up” to look forward to on the beach. A proper Newfoundland boil-up is cooking outdoors over a fire……hot tea is drunk, as in a “mug-up” and all manner of tasty food (grub) is cooked, it sounded like my kind of meal and activity, as I am a keen walker and as you all know, a keen eater too!
After meeting up with Lori, Regina and Tony, from The Reluctant Chef, whom I had met last night, we drove off to our “secret” foraging place! We were heading for Avondale on the Avalon Peninsular, and as we approached our destination I could see sparkling, clear “loch” like lakes and running rivers in bright blues…….it was cold though, and we were all layered up with mitts, hats and several coats and fleeces. We set off on foot over rocks and shingle beach with Lori pointing out all the maritime edibles along the way……some I knew and the names were the same, some were new to me and it was fascinating to taste what we had foraged along the way. I am an avid fan of lovage, as most people know, but the lovage we foraged on the beach was new to me and was called Scotch Lovage; it made me think that I may have walked past this aromatic herb many a time on my own beach walks in France and the North East of England – it has a similar celery flavour to that of my garden lovage has, only subtler ad the leaves are a vibrant and very pretty green.
Other herbs and greens that were foraged along the way were all sorts of Seaweed, Beach Pea, Oyster Plants and Goose Tongue, and as well as edibles, we also had to keep our eyes peeled for drift wood and wood for the fire. On arriving at the “secret location”, we all set about making our dining area…….our tables were long planks of wood which appeared to be old beams or telegraph poles and our trays were pieces of wood cut from logs that Lori had brought with her. The sun was getting hotter now and as we all peeled of some our outer layers, Tony surprised us with some champagne! It seemed a trifle bazaar, but wholly enjoyable, to be sipping champagne on a beautiful beach in Newfoundland with the smoke from the fire curling around us whilst we sat on our wooden seats!
There was a stone for the butter knife, tinfoil plates for the meal with plastic cutlery, but I can assure you that it was one of the finest meals I have ever had the privilege of eating……we dined on fiddlehead ferns (a first time for me, they tasted vaguely of asparagus), smoked mackerel, assorted home-made pickles, home-made raisin “lassy” bread with butter, my Bakeapple Pudding that I had made at Lori’s house the day before and mugs of tea completed the menu. There was an air of conviviality and friendship amongst us all and the scenery was simply spectacular. I can’t remember having as much fun on a beach walk for ages…….
We foraged for more herbs on the way back before taking the scenic route back to St John’s. I said my goodbyes to Lori, Regina and Tony for now, I would be seeing Lori and Regina at her home in Topsail later on that for a traditional Jiggs Dinner. But for now, Amy and I were on an Iceberg Hunt – Lori had information from a friend that there was an iceberg on Pouch Cove that was only “2 gunshots away from land”! Off we set and again, I was struck just how beautiful this part of Atlantic Canada is, with crystal clear lakes (lochs), babbling rivers and a stunning coastline, everything seemed to glisten and sparkle under the bright sunlight. We made it to Pouch Cove and there sitting right in front of us, was the iceberg, or icebergs, as there were at least two to be seen.
It’s hard to convey just how exciting it is to see at first hand an iceberg just sitting off the coast – I mean imagine if you saw one just floating by Scarborough or Bridlington in England, I am sure there would be people taking photos just like the people who were pulling off the road in Pouch Cove whilst we were iceberg watching. It was time to go and after being dropped off at the hotel, I just had time to shower and freshen up before my next highlight of the day, Jiggs Dinner at Regina’s house that evening.
A Jiggs Dinner is a Newfoundland tradition and much like a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or a Sunday Roast, it is much-loved and revered. There appears to be some main elements of a Jiggs Dinner that cannot be changed, and key ingredients are:
Salt Beef (Corned Beef)
Peas Pudding (Pease Pudding)
On arriving at Regina’s home for my Jiggs Dinner invitation, I was introduced to the family, poured a Screech and Pepsi (local rum and cola) whilst I watched Lori and Regina finish off cooking and serving the dinner; turkey is also part of some Jiggs Dinners, and I was thrilled to see that there was a very fine, bronzed bird sat on the kitchen table, so we were having the “full monty” tonight! The dinner had been cooking for most of the day, but as any good cook knows, it’s always the last-minute things that need attending to, such as making the gravy, carving the meat and putting everything into serving bowls etc.
The dinner was delicious and I was surprised to see a very traditional North Eastern English ingredient on the plate, namely Pease Pudding, or Peas Pudding as the Newfoundlanders call it; they also cook (boil) it the same way, in the same stock as the meat and it’s one of my favourite dishes. The dressing, what we call stuffing in the UK, was rich in savoury and onions and the turkey and salt beef was perfectly cooked and meltingly tender. As an avid vegetable lover, it was great to see so many veggies on the plate – potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnip and of course the peas pudding too. The wine flowed as well the conversation and it was then time for the pudding – Nan’s Figgy Duff (or Boiled Molasses Pudding as she called it), served with Molasses Cody (Coady).
The whole experience of being invited to someone’s home for such a wonderful meal, as a visitor and the meal itself was the highlight of my tour, and I would like to thank Lori, Regina and their families again for making my first Jiggs Dinner so memorable. I sadly bade my farewells, as this was the last time I would be seeing Lori and Regina again, and I had just one more stop on my way back to the hotel, so visit The Crow’s Nest in St John’s, which Amy kindly arranged for me…….
…….as my dad was in the Royal Navy and had mentioned it to me, so it seemed wholly appropriate to visit it whilst in Newfoundland. The Crow’s Nest Officers Club was founded on January 27, 1942 and is located next to the National War Memorial in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador, it is a private club which carries with it a long and storied tradition. The Club has become a unique museum, housing hundreds of military artefacts and one my favourite artefacts, if you can call it that, was the message on one of the beams on the club!
Day three was over, and what a day it had been – from foraging on the beach to iceberg hunting all culminating in a fabulous meal, it was an experience of a lifetime and I cannot wait to create my own Jiggs Dinner and Figgy Duff at home, and share the recipes with you all! DO remember to stop back next week when I will be sharing my last day in Newfoundland, it’s all about Fairies, Lighthouse Picnics and a Coastal Drive……..I hope you have enjoyed today’s story, see you soon, Karen
Disclaimer: I was the guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism and all my flights, accommodation and meals were included, as well as all trips, excursions and special cookery sessions with local chefs. With profound thanks to all the people and organisations that looked after me and made my trip so memorable and exciting.
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