Source – nationalpost.com
- “…Over here on the west coast of Newfoundland, you could be in the Rocky Mountains…The fact that they’re still able to live close to the land sets Newfoundland food culture apart. “It brings you back to a slower way of living and eating,” she says…Berry picking, moose hunting and salmon fishing are as much about family time and “keeping people close” as they are the food…It’s like (when) people talk about happiness. To me, you can’t find happiness. You have to do happiness.”
Alive with food stories’: Lori McCarthy and Marsha Tulk on the tastes and traditions of Newfoundland
In their new book — Food, Culture, Place — the Newfoundland authors connect recipes and stories across the island
Laura Brehaut, Oct 29, 2021
Living in Newfoundland, “you never know what you’re going to find on your doorknob from one day to the next,” says Marsha Tulk, photographer and co-author of Food, Culture, Place (Boulder Books, 2021).
Lori McCarthy, Tulk’s co-author and founder of culinary excursion company Cod Sounds , recounts a story about her friend Larry Hann, who taught her how to pluck turrs (a.k.a. murres) and has hung many of the thick-billed seabirds from her doorknob after the hunt.
“It got to the point where I would leave a cooler on my front step so Larry could just put stuff in,” says McCarthy. “I know people will find it hard to believe, I suppose. But it comes back to all the people that you put in your life; the people that you surround yourself with.”
This story of generosity is not unique, McCarthy adds, but part of the island’s food culture. In Newfoundland, you don’t have to hunt or fish for your freezer to be full of fish and game.
“(It’s) Newfoundland food distribution,” says Tulk, laughing. Whether sharing a pack of fish, a few moose sausages, cold-smoked herring or a loaf of bread, she may give all she’s made away, “but everybody else gets to benefit from it and that makes me happy.”
The day we spoke, McCarthy and Tulk were well into an eight-hour drive across Newfoundland, from St. John’s in the east to the Qalipu First Nation in the west where they spent three days running a program in the woods, storytelling with members of the Mi’kmaq First Nation.
“It’s bigger than people think,” McCarthy says of the island. Tulk grew up in Pasadena on the west coast of Newfoundland, McCarthy on the east, in Bauline — far apart both geographically and culturally. “Over here on the west coast of Newfoundland, you could be in the Rocky Mountains. The landscape is vastly different, which then creates a food culture that’s very different. So ( Food, Culture, Place ) became a coming together of east coast and west coast food stories.”
As much as there were differences, there were also similarities, adds Tulk. Wild caraway, which turns up in recipes for rye bread, sauerkraut, gravlax and pickled carrots, was one such commonality. While McCarthy’s mother and grandmother were picking caraway on the east coast, Tulk’s grandparents, great-aunts and -uncles, and husband’s parents were doing the same on the west.
“That kind of thing just absolutely sets me on fire,” says McCarthy. “Because you’re able to connect the place that’s so vastly separated by landmass. And it is interesting to be able to connect those stories across the island.”
Rather than relying on a calendar, Tulk writes in the book, she likes knowing the time of year by the foods she works with. This mindset provided the premise for the book, with chapters devoted to After the Long Haul, Jiggs ‘n’ Reels, On the Hunt and Pantry to Plate. The recipes and stories reflect a year’s worth of hunting, fishing, foraging, bottling and canning.
“The food dictates the season instead of the other way around for us,” says McCarthy.
Tulk adds: “Your menu is dictated by what is in Newfoundland.”
It wasn’t until McCarthy returned to restaurants after a stint in adventure tourism in the 2000s that she began to consider what made the food culture of the island so unique. The New Nordic movement was in full swing in Scandinavia, which prompted her to reconsider local ingredients. And the offshore oil industry had brought “big expense accounts” to Newfoundland, spurring new restaurants to open up.
“For me, it became, ‘Well, this is all great, but how come we’re not serving anything from Newfoundland? How come we’re not using all the food from here?’ … We have all this amazing product and people are coming from around the world, and they’re coming and eating in our restaurants, but we’re serving them food that came from where they came from,” says McCarthy, laughing.
Inspired to dive deeper, she started a personal chef business, which she stopped when she had children. She then delved back into the foods she grew up with, such as wild game; this immersion led to Cod Sounds and ultimately laid the foundation for Food, Culture, Place .
Roughly a decade ago, McCarthy began collecting stories of traditional food practices as she travelled across the island. Through word of mouth, other Newfoundlanders directed her to people who dried fish or cut meat “how it was always done.”
At first, she had no plans for this oral history other than to grow her own knowledge and perhaps donate it to the archives. But it became important for her to preserve these stories for the next generation so they would continue to live on.
“I remember thinking about how much I wanted to tell stories about here. My grandfather’s stories were so rich, and mom’s stories are so rich. And I was like, I’m only 30 years old. What kind of stories do I possibly have to tell?” says McCarthy. “We know how important storytelling is in keeping cultures alive. So I just really felt that we have to continue to tell them and collect them so that we can pass them on.”
Tulk was motivated to do the same with her collection of more than 32,000 photographs — some of which appear in the book — each with a story behind them.
“Food sparks a lot of imagery, a lot of memories, a lot of stories for people. And this place is so alive with food stories,” says Tulk. “It was just a beautiful thing to be able to have people look at an image and draw a story out of it. And nobody knew that story until they looked at the picture and started talking.”
People elsewhere may not be able to access products such as turr or ptarmigan to make some of the recipes in the book, but the authors hope that it brings an appreciation of place, and an understanding of why eating the way they do is so important to them.
For McCarthy, the memories tied to the dishes, and the fact that they’re still able to live close to the land sets Newfoundland food culture apart. “It brings you back to a slower way of living and eating,” she says, “and more intentional practices around eating.”
Berry picking, moose hunting and salmon fishing are as much about family time and “keeping people close” as they are the food. These practices also foster community connections, adds Tulk: “You might not go out and hunt something in particular, but you know someone who does.”
McCarthy recalls a moose she recently hunted with her dad and brother. The meat will feed six families, but the joy she gets from it is about more than the outcome. “Every time it goes on the table, there’s a story that came with that,” she says. “It can’t help change how you feel about the food that’s in front of you. It’s difficult to describe and I’m not really one for words when it comes to that stuff, but it’s the act of doing. It’s like (when) people talk about happiness. To me, you can’t find happiness. You have to do happiness.”