When I told people that I wanted to write and start a blog, the first question is “What are you going to write about?” Blogs are funny things. They can be a bit narcissistic, but revelationary. You have to be a bit vulnerable in letting people into your world as well as outgoing enough to want to tell people about things that you consider interesting.
That’s why I wanted to blog about two things that I consider a big part of my identity. Firstly, I was born in Gander, Newfoundland and spent most of my childhood on the island. There was a couple of years living in Labrador, but overall the majority of my upbringing has been on the Rock. Talk to most Newfies and they will say that they consider themselves a Newfoundlander first and foremost. Canadian yes, but Newfoundlander definitely. We have a staunch pride in our province, our lives, and our unique outlook. We have a particular sense of humour, sometimes bordering on the macabre. The late Newfoundland writer, Ray Guy, commented that Newfoundlanders will talk about how Aunt Martha got eaten alive by lobsters without batting an eye as they are having their Sunday dinner.
“Some sin, ain’t it? She went quickly d’ough. Give us some of those pototoes, my ducky.”
That quirky sense of homour has launched the career of many islanders. Look up Codco on Youtube, or more recently This Hour has 22 Minutes, and you’ll see the loving and self-effacing comedy that we’re known for. Many say it comes from our Irish roots who have the same way of looking at life.
Secondly, I love baking. Ever since I was a youngster I would create things in the kitchen. Sparked by watching my grandmother make bread, I have always liked to create things in the kitchen. I received my baking certificate a while back now, but the love of bread and baking hasn’t diminished.
Bread is essential to most people’s existence. For the largest part of the last couple millennia, bread kept people alive. Bread is still part of Newfoundland’s identity. Pick up any Newfoundland cookbook and you’ll still find recipes for white bread. It’s such a simple thing, but it was a mainstay of my, and many others’, upbringing.
Bread is simple, inexpensive, hearty, and comforting. For the latter part of the last century it has been almost compulsory to know how to make bread. Alan Doyle, in his book Where I Belong, remembers his mother making bread once a week, eight to ten loaves at a time. By his admission, he grew up fairly poor. And while we weren’t considered poor, my mother was the eldest of twelve children, so any way to save a bit of money was appreciated. Why buy bread for 50 cents a loaf, when you could make it for less than half that? Nowadays, it’s a matter of convenience for most, but I still make my own bread instead of buying it from the store.
I’ve found that I like working with bread and dough. I love the slightly acidic smell of a sourdough. The crackling bread makes when I first comes of out a hot oven and starts to cool. Even the soft, buttery texture from a good fresh loaf of white bread. That’s what I grew up with. Fresh white bread made into three buns and placed in a loaf pan. When it came out of the oven, you would quickly brushed some butter on the top so it would get soaked into the loaf when it cooled.
While bread is common in most people’s lives. It’s ingrained, so to speak, in Newfoundland. Diane Tye of Memorial University comments that bread “touched all aspects of life” and is eaten at practically every meal. Sometimes if vegetables were scare, bread and tea may be the meal. Even now, when you visit, you’re offered tea with bread of some kind. Maybe a slice of homemade white or a buttered bun. Bread is community.
That’s part of our history I want to share with you. Come with me, grab a cup of tea, and we’ll journey together.