Fish n Brewis

Purity Hard and Sweet Bread

I guess every culture/region has some of its own “weird” foods, and Newfoundland is no exception.  I guess being reliant so much on fish as a locale (and by fish I mean cod, to Newfoundlanders any other fish has a name), we came up with or borrowed many unique methods of preparation.  One of these is Fish n Brewis. The link provided is wrong in my opinion though.  It says that fish n brewis uses salt cod and fisherman’s brewis uses fresh.  I’ve always known it to be the opposite; we always use fresh, and I personally don’t care for the salt fish variety.

Even in the fresh there are different methods of serving, but first… what is it?  Well its basically hard tack (hard bread) soaked in water to soften, and boiled fish.  Sound appetizing right?  Well it is delicious! Even better when served with rendered pork fat and scruncheons drizzled over it!  Some people prefer to keep the bread and fish separate, I’ve actually never tried it that way, I prefer it mashed together, drizzled with pork, and blackened with pepper, mmmmm.

Some people serve it with drawn or drawing butter, another thing I’ve never been fond of, though all it is is butter, onion and flour thickened as a sauce.

I’m not really sure the origin of fish and brewis, but I like to think its probably from the offshore fishery or navy, where non-perishable foods like hard tack were prominent, and cooks needed to improvise meals as best they can.

In any event, today’s supper was a memory of home.  Hope you get to enjoy some soon!

When fish were big and boys were small

One of the staple things we had growing up was fresh, frozen and salted cod.  Here in Nova Scotia haddock reigns supreme, but nothing to me beats the taste of a fresh out of the water cod.  Generally the casual fisher back home used a hand line with a traditional or Norwegian jigger. We’d lower the line overboard till it hit bottom and then pull up a fathom or two and start jigging back and forth till we hit a fish, then we’d pull it up and into the boat to be immediately cleaned.

I can still remember the feeling when you hit a big one, or as dad called them, a growler. You’d be jigging the line back and forth and then suddenly you’d bring up solid.  Sometimes they were so hard to pull in.  And if you happened to hook a mackerel  well, then your line was on times tight and then loose as they’d swim madly like a fly fish.

And of course in the days before nylon line, we’d have the older cord, everyone had notches in the gunnels of their boats where the line wore into the wood.

This one year, for whatever reason, dad decided to try a trawl.  Essentially it was a line with 50 smaller lines attached, with baited hooks on each.  We set it out near our marks somewhere and came back a day or two later.  Well we were pulling it in and caught a few fish, and then… it appeared.  As you can see on the left, the fish was bigger than me!  This was probably about 1974 or 75 I think, I’m pretty sure it was before my sister was born, making me 9 or 10 in this picture.  The cod weighed in at 65 pounds!

We cleaned it and tried to salt it, unfortunately it was so thick it didn’t take well, or we didn’t leave it long enough, and some spoiled, but we still got quite a few meals!

Out on the Sound

Random Island is separated from the Bonivsta peninsula on the island’s north side by Smith Sound.  This is about 1-3 miles across in most places if memory serves.  Sometimes in my memory we’ve had the sound freeze completely over, and can remember people ski-dooing, skating to Harcourt, hauling wood on horse and slide, and of course, fishing.

In Newfoundland you go fishing for one kind of fish only, that’s cod.  Any other type of fishing has its own name (trouting, etc).  Nowadays with the moratorium on, even if the sound did freeze over, you’d not be allowed to go fishing, but years ago you could.

One of my most vivid memories of my Uncle Hay was one day him and I went out on our old ski-doo (I think it was that far back anyway).  This was an old Alouette, we bought off Ross Smith and it weighed about 17 tons I think, and had about a 400 cubic inch motor in it ( I may have exaggerated slightly). I remember the ski-doo just because it was so ancient and yet so powerful.  In any event, Uncle Hay and I drove out to some of our fishing marks and put some holes down through.  I think we used my old ice auger, but it may have even pre-dated me having one of those, maybe Uncle Hay had one. You’d probably think that ice on such a large body of water wouldn’t be thick, but I remember there being about 2-3 feet of ice to drill through.

Salt water ice, or at least on a body that large, doesn’t respond like fresh water ice.  Its “softer”, flexible, and you can feel the lop under the ice moving it up and down, and can hear the huge cracks like thunder when a crack opens up.

It was a beautiful winter day, sunny, sun felt warm, and was awesome to be out on the ice, doing what we both loved.  I really don’t remember if we got any fish, but that really didn’t matter to me that day.  I’m not sure where Dad was to be honest, possibly it was a work day, most likely was, but after Uncle Hay had retired.  Some days just belong to certain people or groups.  This was ours, or for me anyway.  Much love to Uncle Hay, and Dad as well.  We’ll fish again together someday.