Log Cabin Chronicles

greg duncan

© 1998 John Mahoney

The Gallivanting Gourmand

Not a Newfie Joke, Eh?


"I's the b'y that builds the boat and I's the b'y that sails her," was my motto all weekend long on a trip to St. John's, Newfoundland, where I represented community newspapers from Quebec at an annual get-together of regional presidents and newspaper association managers.

I found out quickly that Newfoundlanders are a lively bunch who love to regale mainlanders with tall tales, and jokes, and take great pleasure in submitting visitors to all sorts of rituals.

Of primary importance, of course, is the tradition of screeching in a newcomer. This act has the purpose of making every visitor to Newfoundland an honorary Newfie, if only to halt the proliferation of Newfie jokes, once you are one.

Sherbrooke Record editor Sharon McCully was asked by one of her kids what she would bring them back as a gift from St. John's. "A joke." she replied and we all brought back lots of jokes to share. Here is one that sets the record straight and puts mainlanders in their place. "Why don't Newfies get hemorrhoids? Because all the assholes are on the mainland." Ha! Ha! Serves us right, though.

The act of screeching someone in involves the drinking of screech, of course, screech being a dark rum of questionable taste but of great importance to the history of Newfoundland. Its arrival by sail to the rocky shores of this colorful island brought with it a potent mixture of revelry and some unsavory characters who, when they were very bad, would end up hanging from the cliffs at the entrance to St. John's harbor covered in tar to discourage these characters from coming into town. The act of dipping them in tar ensured that their bodies would last a long time up on the windy exposed cliffs.

Back to the act of screeching in. Our ceremony involved biting the head off a salty, smoky capelin (a small herring-like fish) and washing it down with a hefty shot of screech. This was followed by an obligatory pronouncement of a phrase that was quite difficult. The screeching-in officer asks "Is you a Newfie now?" and you reply: "I is, you old trout, and long may your big jib draw." This essentially means that you hope their sails will be full of wind. I am now an honorary Newfie and I promise not to tell Newfie jokes ever again because as a schooner captain asked as we cruised the harbor: "What lies at the bottom of St. John's harbor and has two eyes? A mainlander that has just told a Newfie joke."

Our arrival at the Hotel Newfoundland saw us feasting on scallops, shrimps and cod tongues. The tongues were not bad but I admit they tasted and chewed exactly as I imagined - kind of rubbery with an obvious oceanic overtone. The lobster we had at Morgan's Pond, where we were entertained by an extremely talented dinner theatre group, was excellent. I am now a convert, as my previous experience with lobster never convinced me that they were worth the effort required to eat them.

We were served a partridge berry cake smothered in hard sauce as a dessert. Partridge berries taste somewhat like a cross between a blueberry and a cranberry and their texture marries well with a sweet, buttery icing.

I was treated to some of the best fish I've had in a while at the Hotel Newfoundland's lunch buffet - it tempered my screech haze and readied my gut for a schooner tour of the coast. Luckily I never sampled any of the iceberg vodka. Yes, at this time of year, icebergs flow directly by the harbor and the coastal winds send in an icy, salty breeze that chills a mainlander's bones and can only be warmed by a shot of screech. Screech and howl we did and I've never sang more than on this visit to North America's most eastern point.

Here is a recipe to enjoy, as it is lobster season and you should have no trouble finding them. Metro-Richelieu has a special this week on live lobster, five for $20. That's cheaper than the live ones at oceanfront in St. John's this week; they were $6.50 each.

Lobster Bisque

    1 cup milk
    1 cup chopped onion
    1-1/2 tsp. salt
    1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
    10 oz. lobster meat
    1-1/2 tbsp. Chopped pimiento or chopped red pepper
    1/4 cup ketchup or tomato sauce
    2 tbsp. butter or hard margarine
    5 cups milk
    3/4 cups evaporated milk or light cream
    2 tbsp. sherry / optional but tastes better with it.
Measure first 9 ingredients into a blender and process till smooth. Pour into saucepan. Add second amount of milk. Heat and stir until it boils and thickens slightly. Stir in evaporated milk or cream and sherry. Heat through but do not boil this time.

Makes 8 cups.

Recipe adapted from Company's Coming - Fish & Seafood, by Jean Paré.

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Copyright © 1998 Greg Duncan/Log Cabin Chronicles/6.98