When I started my research for this book, as then yet unnamed, I wanted to get an idea of the geography and how people lived in Newfoundland. One of the first things I obtained was a map and that in itself was quite entertaining. It seemed like the Newfoundlander sense of humor had a lot to do with the names of the outports (fishing villages). The capital is named normally enough, St. Johns. There are the towns of Corner Brook, Marystown, Glovertown, and St. Lawrence – all whose names would not be unusual in many places.
Then came the names that were a bit different. Names such as: Bay Bulls, Frenchman’s Cove, Gambo, Burgeo, and Harbour Breton. And many more. Then came the names that were my first clue that this was going to be a special place. These included: Fortune, Witless Bay, Ireland’s Eye, Grand Bank, Twillingate, and Port au Choix. Further investigation led to: Seldom and Little Seldom, Tilting, St. Jones Within, Leading Tickles, Cow Head, Nameless Cove, Farewell, Joe Batt’s Arm, Heart’s Content, and Dildo. Imagine the t-shirts you might bring back. In planning the trips, it was hard not to include all of them for the sheer pleasure of saying I was there.
But a map certainly would not be enough research for this project. All of the many books I read were invaluable to me, understandably some more than others. I had read Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News years earlier and enjoyed it immensely, but it had not created any interest in Newfoundland. Though, after I was well into my research, I re-read it, understood it even more clearly, and now with a small base of knowledge appreciated it that much more.
The books which were the most influential are: An Innocent in Newfoundland by David W. McFadden – a wonderfully entertaining and descriptive first-person accounting of his trip through Newfoundland; Tilting by Robert Mellin – a celebration of eastern coast fishing villages – Tilting on the island of Fogo in this case; Cod by Mark Kurlansky – an absolutely engrossing and funny historical tome complete with recipes (!) about the role cod played in the world; and Jim DeFede’s The Day The World Came To Town (9/11 in Gander Newfoundland), a joyous and heart-breaking account of the unbelievable natural hospitality and generosity of Newfoundlanders when 38 jetliners were rerouted to Gander, Newfoundland after 9/11.
OK, so now I knew a little about Newfoundland and my knowledge was growing daily. I read the St. John’s, Newfoundland newspaper, The Telegram, on line every day so I could keep up with current events. Truly, this entire project would have been a lot more difficult if it wasn’t for the internet. I’m fairly certain I could not have found those books locally.
As I mentioned, the book Cod has recipes – here’s one of them:
Cod Roe - Fed to Frenchman or to Fish:
Roes of Cod well salted and Pickled are here neglected but are said to yield a good price in France to make Sawce withall.
When the same are to be used, bruise them betwixt two trenchers, and beat them up with vinegar. White Wine etc. then let them stew or simmer over a gentle fire, with Anchovies and other Ingredients used for Sawce, putting the Butter well beat thereto: We our selves on the Coasts use the Roes of Fresh Cod for sawce. Courtesy of: John Collins, Salt and Fishery, 1682.
Yum. I think.