‘Even a cook­book can stir up scrump­tious mem­o­ries’

The Compass - - CLASSIFIED - For Maids Who Brew and Bake, boyling sal­let oyl — strayne Good Luck Bake, For Maids Who Brew and Brew and Bake. For Maids Who Brew and Bake For Maids Who Harold Wal­ters is an avid reader liv­ing in Dunville, Pla­cen­tia Bay.

In one of his songs my hero, Bob Dy­lan, asks a po­ten­tial help­mate if she can cook and sew and make flow­ers grow. His concern isn’t much dif­fer­ent from the concern of Cap­tain Ed­ward Wynne, Gov­er­nor of Fer­ry­land, 1622, in his re­quest — to the king, I s’pose — that young women be sent to New­found­land as po­ten­tial spouses for the colony’s bach­e­lors. In his letter Wynne asks that those sent thither be, “Strong maids that [be­sides other work] can both brew and bake.” pub­lished by Flanker Press is no or­di­nary cook­book. P’raps I shouldn’t call it a cook­book at all for fear of hav­ing rocks hove at me. While it does con­tain “rare and ex­cel­lent recipes from 17th cen­tury New­found­land,” it also con­tains draw­ings, anec­dotes and snip­pets of his­tory, even lists of com­mend­able 17th cen­tury ta­ble man­ners that would do Granny proud.

For in­stance: “Don’t scratch your limb, af­ter the fash­ion of a mole as you sit down.”

It isn’t made clear ex­actly which limb it is that shouldn’t be scratched. P’raps “ limb” is used fig­u­ra­tively — eu­phemisti­cally? — to rep­re­sent any un­seemly body part that ought not be scratched in the vicin­ity of the ta­ble.

Au­thor Sheilah Roberts in­ter­sperses the afore­men­tioned anec­dotes, snip­pets of his­tory and in­struc­tive groan­ing-board be­hav­ior, with ex­cerpts from let­ters and jour­nals of some of the 17th cen­tury colonists, al­low­ing — I’m happy to see — their “English” to stand as penned.

I’m happy about that un­touched lan­guage be­cause as a scrib­bler I have a prob­lem that has blunted my pen­cil since the win­ter we lived in the woods and Mammy home-schooled me my Grade 3 spell­ing. I’m spell­ing chal­lenged. Con­se­quently, I’m de­lighted to see some of the flex­i­ble spell­ing used by those ol’ b’ys of yore.

Just look: — as in, “I’m boyling the ket­tle to make a cup of tea;” as in, “Mr. Kraft makes tasty sal­let oyl;” — as in, “Strayne off some pot liquor for mak­ing gravy.”

Back in 1600 — and when­ever, as you might imag­ine — there was a dearth of com­mer­cial food colour­ing in New­found­land. In­ven­tive dairy­maids — as in, “maids who bake and brew,” com­monly used flower petals to brighten up pale and pasty pantry proven­der. Plain ol’ but­ter was some­times coloured with mashed marigold petals.

Which re­minds me ... shortly af­ter the launch of Sput­nik I, Mammy broke up house-keep­ing on Ran­dom Is­land, packed her bread pans — Mammy could bake and brew, sew and make flow­ers grow — and dragged her off­spring to join Pappy in the wilds of north­ern Que­bec, in Sch­ef­ferville, an iron ore min­ing town.

Un­like back on The Rock where mar­garine, golden yel­low mar­garine, ar­rived in the kitchen in pack­ages, in Sch­ef­ferville mar­garine was sold in squeez­able pouches shaped some­thing like those in which navy beans are sold.

But in each pouch was a blis­ter­pack bub­ble of food colour­ing. If you wanted yel­low mar­garine — and ex­pa­tri­ate New­found­lan­ders surely did — you burst the bub­ble and squeezed the pouch un­til the food colour­ing was thor­oughly mixed with the oleo­mar­garine.

For­sooth, even a cook­book can stir up scrump­tious mem­o­ries.

When I be­gan read­ing this book, Mis­sus was pre­par­ing to bake an ex­per­i­men­tal bread — Ezekiel Bread. The recipe, like some of the bread recipes in

re­quired as­sorted types of flour — wheat, rye, bar­ley, mil­let. Mis­sus’ fin­ished loaves, al­though skill­fully baked, looked not un­like those loaves in an Our Her­itage dio­rama.

It looked coarse. It was coarse. And heavy as a Stephen King novel. But it was good for you. To en­sure that there will be baked bread in my fu­ture I have to re­late an anec­dote of my own, al­beit in­spired by the con­tents of

Not un­like Bob Dy­lan and Gov­er­nor Wynne, there was a time in my life when I ex­hib­ited a sim­i­lar spousal concern. I was un­cer­tain about the kitchen ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the maid I wooed and hoped to wed. When the per­fect, ro­man­tic mo­ment pre­sented it­self I stooped be­fore my sweet­heart on bended knee, prof­fered up the req­ui­site trin­ket box and spake.

“My maid,” said I in suc­cinctly lov­ing terms, “are you able to make home­made bread? If so, will you marry me?” I speak the truth. Thank you for read­ing. And, any­one whose bread­bas­ket hungers, pur­chase a copy of

for your honey.

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