Cold Packing Time

When I was a boy, I heard of people canning fish and meat for winter, and I always wondered how they did it.  Always wondered how a person at home sealed a tin can.   For some reason I never associated our cold packing in bottles with canning.  I always thought that canning involved, well cans.

While I’m sure there is some method of doing just that, I since realized that canning is generally referred to bottling or putting up or preserves.  This being the hunting and harvesting season, is when we’d generally start to see cold packing happening.  Moose, rabbit, apples, damsons, and who knows what else would be prepared for canning.

Electricity came to Random Island the year I was born, or at least to my part of it, 1965.  Before that to keep food for winter, vegetables were kept in a root cellar, and fish was generally salted.  Fruit, berries, and meats though were usually cold packed, and that continues today, more so because we like them that way than because we need to.  Besides that we’d also make some pickles.  Not pickled cucumber, but more like what we see in stores now as chow chow.  There were many kinds, rhubarb (ew), and my favorite green tomato and apple.

But cold packing was a big thing.  Everyone had a huge boiler that they’d scald the bottles in to sterilize them.  Meats would be cut into small pieces, and added to the bottles with some fat back pork.  Berries and fruits were generally put in the bottles whole, tho sometimes cut smaller to aid cooking times.  The bottles would then be placed back in the boiler to cook the food, with a rubber sealed lid placed on lightly.  Once cooked, the bottles would be placed on a rack to cool, and the contraction/cooling process would create a vacuum with the lid, sealing the bottle.  A screw top ring would be added to keep it tight.

These bottles would then be used as meals throughout the winter, though in my time, they became more of a dessert or in the case of meats, something to augment the traditional Sunday evening cold plate.

Now I’m hungry, anyone got a bottle of moose to send me for supper?

Jiggs Dinner

I’ve been told that the term “dinner” is used to reference the main meal of the day.  Back home in Newfoundland, that was traditionally the midday meal especially for fisherman, who had been out in boat since 4am.  The evening meal was usually lighter and called supper.   This carried over for most everyone, and we all called the midday meal dinner in school and elsewhere, even though for commuters, the supper meal was the bigger meal.  On Sunday though, midday dinner was usually the feast meal of the week, and that feast was usually Jiggs Dinner.

Jiggs Dinner was made up of all the traditional Newfoundland vegetables  boiled up with salt beef.  Salt beef sounds disgusting to some I know, but og my god, its like ambrosia for the initiated!  Missing from our dinner on the left is peas pudding.  Yellow peas boiled up with the rest of the vegetables in a cloth bag.  I never liked the stuff, so perhaps there’s more of a secret to it than that :).

Accompanying Jiggs Dinner was some sort of “roast”.  Nowadays, chicken or beef from the store is more usual, but back home, it would likely have been

Rabbit and Chicken in the pot, lots of onions.

Rabbit and Chicken in the pot, lots of onions.

moose, caribou, a duck or, as seen here, rabbit.  Whatever the meat, traditional Newfoundland roast was smothered in onions.  And the coup d’etat was the gravy.  The secret to the gravy was to add some of the vegetable juice to the meat drippings, make a flour and water thickening, and of course, add the Cross and Blackwell gravy browning.

After dinner, dad would likely help with the dishes, and then head off for a nap as the post meal coma would kick in.  Later that evening, we’d have the left overs potato made into potato, mustard and beet salads along with pickles, beets and cold meats, and perhaps some Kam to make a cold plate for our Sunday supper.

Hunters and Gatherers

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Food for the pot (Picture by Eric Cooper)

Growing up back home, meat and vegetables often came from your own provisions, getting to a grocery store became more and more prominent as I grew up, but most peoples families still subsidized the pot by whatever we could get on our own.  Nearly everyone had a potato garden, and some grew a few more things, carrots, turnip, cabbage.  I remember a lot of people grew the Newfoundland Blue potato.  I’ve seen blue potatoes since, but those all seem to have blue flesh too, the ones we had just had blue veins running through the white flesh.

Of course Newfoundland was famous for its fish, and we all had salt fish put away, as well as dried and smoked caplin.  Will have to post another day about those topics.  But we also hunted.  Hunting wasn’t and isn’t a sport back home, at least not in the terms of the big hunting lodges.  People enjoy it yes, but we also hunt to eat.  With the salaries, or lack there of, or even lack of jobs or work back home, people hunted duck, geese, moose, caribou, turrs, seal, pretty much anything to help fill our bellies, including the lovely rabbit shown here (Technically there are no rabbits on Newfoundland Island, or weren’t at least, this is a Snowshoe Hare, but rabbit is what we called it and I always will).

People also weren’t into things for money either.  If you had plenty you shared, and got shared with in return.  I remember lots of trades of food over the years.  A quarter of moose for some vegetables from Bill Smith (Bill was the king gardener back home, probably still is, even if he is in his 80s!), some rabbits for a leg of mutton from Jim Phillips, and so on.

The meat and food was healthier too, wasn’t sitting in a cage being force fed to get fat, most of our meats were really lean, and our vegetables were fertilized with manure, seaweed and fish offal, not manufactured chemicals.

But really, we never thought about that, we just thought about fun in the outdoors, and getting food to keep us all through the long winter.  I’d give a lot to be sitting down to the smell of that rabbit smothered in onions wafting from the roaster now.