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When Marsha Tulk received a gift certificate from her husband to take a rabbit butchery course from Lori McCarthy, she had no idea that she and Lori would become fast friends and co-author an award-winning book titled Food Culture Place — Stories, traditions, and recipes of Newfoundland.

When they met, Lori was operating a business out of St. John’s, NL called Cod Sounds. Along with being an avid outdoors person, chef, forager, and educator, the intrepid entrepreneur longed to do something that provided more depth and meaning. She created three-day and six-day cultural residencies and rebranded her company as Food Culture Place. She now operates from her home and studio in Mobile, 40 kilometres south of St. John’s.

By the time COVID-19 appeared, Marsha and Lori had become fast friends. Marsha is also a professional photographer whose love for taking photos and capturing stories started at a young age when she found her grandfather’s darkroom. Later, while archiving his work, she discovered a window into the traditions of her beloved island.

Serendipity came into play. “I always knew I would want to write a book with beautiful photographs,” Lori says. “When I found out about Marsha’s photo collection from her grandfather and that she’s a professional photographer, I asked if she would team up with me. She said ‘Sure’ so off we went.”

Food Culture Place is a delicious read and candy for the eyes. This 302-page book is also a deep dive into the heart of Newfoundland. The authors organized the book according to the four seasons, with stories, photos (both new and old) and recipes. “This is how many people still eat on this island. We hunt, fish, harvest, smoke, salt, bottle and preserve it when it’s in season,” Lori says, “to be enjoyed and treasured later.” 

The first section, “After The Long Haul” (April, May and June), opens with notes from Marsha’s experience with the capelin roll, when millions of small fish move into the sandy shores along the coast to spawn.

“The closer you get to the beach, the stronger the smell of wood smoke from the campfires dotted along the coves. Everyone has a chance to fill their buckets, bags and coolers. Those who cannot wade in to get their own won’t go home empty-handed; more than enough nets are dipped and thrown to catch several meals.” The capelin catch goes on deep into the evening. Marsha once counted 30 campfires in one night.

A few pages later you’ll meet Larry Hann, who’s showing Lori how to pluck a turr. A big pot of boiling water is to the ready. “Make sure the bird doesn’t touch the sides of the pot,” Larry says. “If it touches the pot you will tear the bird.” This could be serious, as torn skin means the fat of the bird seeps out and removing feathers becomes sticky business. Lori’s mum chimes in, “You need a bottle of rum to spend the afternoon pickin’. ” Of course, there are recipes with each story, including Seal Flipper Supper, Barley Stuffed Squid, Pickled Fireweed with Coriander and Cumin, and Spruce Tip Syrup.

The second section, Jiggs & Reels, is a roundup of all that land and sea has to offer in summer. Think: Moose Pastrami, Salmon Gravlax, Halibut Tacos, and Apricot Raisin Cake.

They tucked the latter into the book for two reasons. First, Marsha says, “In many communities in Newfoundland, it’s a long-standing tradition to include a blank recipe card with a bridal shower invitation so that the bride-to-be has a collection of tried-and-true recipes to use during her married life.” The recipe uses ingredients that most people have in their pantries in case you have unexpected visitors in the summer.

During berry-picking season, it’s common to see people in ditches, on trails, bending over in fields, picking bakeapples, blueberries, partridgeberries, and cranberries. Lori says they were tempted to call the fall section “All Hands Arse Up,” as anyone from Newfoundland would know why. It’s all about filling pantries and freezers with berries for the winter, which would then be used to make jams, jellies, cakes, cookies and tea biscuits.

“On the Hunt” moves through October, November, and December, with “Pantry to Plate” on its heels for January, February, and March. Each section showcases recipes, stories, and traditions, along with quotes from Lori’s mum, such as “Cold enough to skin ya.” A smaller section in the back of the book titled “Wild-crafted Pantry” outlines edibles from the wild that Lori and Marsha forage to use in cooking. Many are common throughout Atlantic Canada including sweet gale (Myrica gale), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), dulse (Palmaria palmata) and rose petals (Rosa sp.)

A couple are surprising. For example, you can roast male catkins—part of the lowly alder (Alnus sp.)—in a frying pan or bake at 200°F until brittle but not darkened. Grind the catkins and use in lieu of pepper. Chickweed (Stellaria media), cursed by many gardeners and farmers, is great in salads, including the flowers.

It’s evident why Food Culture Place won the prestigious 2022 Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the category of Food Heritage Books. Authors from more than 200 countries submit books for consideration every year.

Throughout the book, a warm, respectful, collaborative approach between the authors is evident. “We were well matched,” Lori says. “Marsha was originally from the West coast of the island, so it was a bit of an East coast meets West coast blend.” And the seasonal structure of the book is key. Lori adds, “But it’s less about the weather or a date. For example, spring is less about the crocuses being up and more about the seal flipper truck in on the wharf with 100 people lined up. We wanted people to get a sense of why we eat like we do, and why this place and its foods are so steeped into who we are, like a good cuppa tea.”

The journey continues.

The word is out about Lori’s cultural residencies. Guests go through an intensive interview process to determine their interests. Lori then plans a three-to six-day experience that can include foraging, hunting, fishing, and cooking a full Jigg’s Dinner in her studio or having a boil-up at the shore. Friends and professional colleagues with a variety of skills lead some of the sessions, plus nannies who share their stories and recipes.

Although Lori and Marsha don’t plan to write another book, they are gearing up for the second season of the East Coast Forager TV show, which started a year ago with Bell., “We’ll be hitting the road, going across Newfoundland into communities in search of the food, culture and people that make this place what it is,” Lori says. “It is such a joy to be able to share with the world this beautiful province and all its natural and wondrous bounties.”  


 

Lori’s Great-Grandmother’s Gingerbread

Makes 1 cake

½          cup white sugar
½          cup shortening
1 ½       tsp baking soda
1           tsp cinnamon
1 ½       tsp ginger
1           egg
1           cup molasses
2 ½       cups all-purpose flour
½          tsp cloves
½          tsp salt
1           cup hot water

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Mix the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Melt the shortening and put it in a large mixing bowl. Stir the brown sugar into the melted shortening and then add the molasses and egg. Beat well. Add the dry ingredients and hot water alternately. Pour into a well-greased and floured tube pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Test with a long skewer to make sure that the middle is cooked.

Don’t forget the love.

Recipe by Alfreda Baker.  


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