“Alive with food stories”: Lori McCarthy and Marsha Tulk on the tastes and traditions of Newfoundland

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In their new book – Food, Culture, Place – Newfoundland authors connect recipes and stories across the island

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Our cookbook of the week is Food, Culture, Place: Stories, Traditions and Recipes of Newfoundland by Lori McCarthy and Marsha Tulk. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Lori’s great-grandmother’s gingerbread; ptarmigan with wild greens and sautéed cranberries; and drunken mussels.

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Living in Newfoundland, “you never know what you’ll find on your doorknob from one day to the next,” says Marsha Tulk, photographer and co-author of Food, Culture, Place (Boulder Books, 2021).

Lori McCarthy, co-author of Tulk and founder of culinary tour company Cod Sounds, tells the story of her friend Larry Hann, who taught her how to pick turrs (aka murres) and hung many seabirds thick-billed at his doorknob after hunting.

“It got to the point where I left a cooler on my front porch so Larry could just put stuff in it,” McCarthy explains. “I know people will find it hard to believe it, I guess. But it comes down to all the people you put in your life; the people you surround yourself with.

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This story of generosity is not unique, adds McCarthy, but is part of the island’s culinary culture. In Newfoundland, you don’t have to hunt or fish to keep your freezer full of fish and game.

“(It’s) the distribution of food in Newfoundland,” Tulk laughs. Whether she’s sharing a packet of fish, a few moose sausages, cold-smoked herring, or a loaf of bread, she can give anything she’s made, “but everyone benefits and it makes me happy.”

Food, Culture, Place: Newfoundland Stories, Traditions and Recipes by Lori McCarthy and Marsha Tulk
In Food, Culture, Place, Lori McCarthy and Marsha Tulk take readers on a year-long journey to collect, cook and eat in Newfoundland. Photo from Boulder Books

On the day we spoke, McCarthy and Tulk had already driven eight hours through Newfoundland, from St. John’s in the east to the Qalipu First Nation in the west, where they spent three days leading a program in the woods, telling stories with members of the Mi’kmaq First Nation.

“It’s bigger than people think,” McCarthy says of the island. Tulk grew up in Pasadena on the west coast of Newfoundland, McCarthy in the east, in Bauline – very distant geographically and culturally. “Here on the west coast of Newfoundland you could be in the Rocky Mountains. The landscape is very different, which then creates a very different food culture. So ( Food, Culture, Place ) has grown into a collection of East Coast and West Coast culinary stories.

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As there were differences, there were similarities, Tulk adds. Wild cumin, which is found in recipes for rye bread, sauerkraut, gravlax, and pickled carrots, was one such commonality. While McCarthy’s mother and grandmother picked cumin on the east coast, Tulk’s grandparents, aunts and uncles and her husband’s parents did the same in the west.

“This sort of thing absolutely sets me on fire,” McCarthy says. “Because you are able to connect a place so widely separated by the landmass. And it’s interesting to be able to relate these stories across the island. “

Rather than relying on a calendar, Tulk writes in the book, she enjoys knowing the time of year through the foods she works with. This mindset served as a premise for the book, with chapters devoted to After the Long Haul, Jiggs ‘n’ Reels, On the Hunt, and Pantry to Plate. The recipes and stories reflect a year of hunting, fishing, foraging, bottling and canning.

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“Food dictates the season instead of the other way around for us,” says McCarthy.

Tulk adds, “Your menu is dictated by what’s in Newfoundland.

It wasn’t until McCarthy returned to restaurants after a stint in adventure tourism in the 2000s that she began to think about what made the island’s food culture so unique. The New Nordic movement was in full swing in Scandinavia, which prompted her to reconsider local ingredients. And the offshore oil industry had brought “big expense accounts” to Newfoundland, prompting new restaurants to open.

“To me it became, ‘Well, everything’s great, but how come we’re not serving any Newfoundland? How come we don’t use all the food here? … We have all of these amazing products and people come from all over the world, and they come to our restaurants to eat, but we serve them food that is where they come from, ”McCarthy says with a laugh.

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Inspired to dive deeper, she started a personal chef business, which she quit when she had children. She then went back to the foods she grew up with, such as wild game; this immersion led to Cod Sounds and ultimately laid the groundwork for Food, Culture, Place .

  1. Lori's great-grandmother's gingerbread from Food, Culture, Place.

    Cook this: Lori’s great-grandmother’s gingerbread from Food, Culture, Place

  2. Ptarmigan with wild greens and sautéed cranberries from Food, Culture, Place.

    Cook this: Ptarmigan with wild greens and sautéed cranberries from Food, Culture, Place

  3. Drunken mussels of Food, Culture, Place.

    Cook this: Drunken Mussels from Food, Culture, Place

About a decade ago, McCarthy began collecting stories about traditional eating practices as she traveled across the island. By word of mouth, other Newfoundlanders directed her to people drying fish or cutting meat “as it has always been done.”

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At first, she had no other plan for this oral history than to deepen her own knowledge and perhaps to donate it to the archives. But it has become important for her to preserve these stories for the next generation so that they continue to live on.

“I remember thinking how much I wanted to tell stories about here. My grandfather’s stories were so rich, and mom’s stories are so rich. And I was like, I’m only 30 years old. What kind of stories do I have to tell? McCarthy said. “We know how important storytelling is in keeping cultures alive. So I really felt that we had to keep telling them and collecting them so that we could pass them on. “

Tulk was motivated to do the same with her collection of over 32,000 photographs – some of which appear in the book – each with a story behind them.

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“Food creates a lot of images, a lot of memories, a lot of stories for people. And this place is so alive with stories of food, ”says Tulk. “It was just a beautiful thing to be able to get people to look at a picture and get a story out of it. And no one knew this story until they looked at the photo and started talking.

People elsewhere may not be able to access products such as crab or ptarmigan to prepare some of the recipes in the book, but the authors hope this will bring an appreciation of the place and an understanding of why to eat the way they do. font is so important to them.

For McCarthy, memories of the dishes and the fact that they can still live close to the land set Newfoundland’s culinary culture apart. “It brings you back to a slower way of living and eating,” she says, “and more intentional practices around eating. “

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Berry picking, moose hunting and salmon fishing are as much about family time and “keeping people close” as it is about food. These practices also promote community connections, adds Tulk: “You may not be able to hunt something in particular, but you know someone who does. “

McCarthy remembers a moose she recently hunted with her father and brother. The meat will feed six families, but the joy it derives from it goes beyond the result. “Every time that is put on the table, there is a story that goes with it,” she says. “It can’t help change how you feel about the food in front of you. It’s hard to describe and I don’t really like words when it comes to this stuff, but it’s the act of doing. It’s like (when) people talk about happiness. For me, you can’t find happiness. You have to bring happiness.

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