Back in the days of sail, when Gloucester was the greatest fishing port in the Western Hemisphere, much of the famous schooner fleet was made up of “white-washed yankees.” Men from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland who became US citizens in order to prosper doing what they did back home: catch fish. Those days are gone of course, but we still have connections to our cousins up North. We still race our dories against the Lunenbergers and many of us Gloucesterites have some Novie and Newfie blood within us. However one thing that I wish still lingered is the food traditions that these burly men used to keep up their strength out on the banks.
What they ate out there, especially the men who fished for weeks or months in the salt cod industry, was certainly not health food. If you were lucky enough to survive a lifetime out in a two-man dory hauling fish in by hand, you usually had a heart-attack or stroke in your future. Fresh food ran out quick on a schooner with 18-24 hungry fishermen, and what they did eat was loaded with salt, and usually cooked in fatback (my god that sounds so good). In lieu of much sleep, these men ate to keep going and so a good cook was a vital cog in this fishing machine.
Surprisingly the Nova Scotians and Newfoundlanders did not eat as much fresh fish out there as you would think, but they did like an occasional fish chowder. When they ate fish at all, what these men looked forward to was an old favorite from home called fish and brewis (pronounced fish and bruise) that is still popular in Newfoundland. The other day I found this great video by the lovely Bonita on how to make fish and brewis, which has only made me want to try it more.
I have wanted to try this for some time, but one of the ingredients – hard tack or another hard-baked bread – isn’t something I’ve seen locally. I’ll have to get some of my friends together to try it since nobody in my house wants to try it. There is another variation that Bonita mentions called fisherman’s brewis that is the same dish but you keep the ingredients separate. I personally think mixing it all together sounds much better, a real comfort food dish that has the potential to change my opinion on salt cod.
If you want to try it yourself, check out the recipe over at Bonita’s Kitchen along with many other traditional Newfoundland dishes.