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Joan Sullivan: A feast of Newfoundland recipes and stories

Joan Sullivan reviews two books: a collection of healthy Newfoundland recipes and a collection of stories and photographs.
Joan Sullivan reviews two books: a collection of healthy Newfoundland recipes and a collection of stories and photographs. - Contributed

Some Good: Nutritious Newfoundland Dishes
by Jessica Mitton
Breakwater Books
$19.95  144 pages

Once up on a time a cookbook was a basic assemblage of recipes, page-torn and -spattered, filled with annotations (perhaps intelligible only to the cook); any design artistry was in the casual handwritten details of these reservoirs of domestic care and attention.

I’m not sure when cookbooks started to dovetail with coffee table books, (perhaps when people didn’t have to cook as a regular daily chore?), but cookbooks now are categorized by any manner of cuisine and full of high-end, sumptuous visuals to tempt and delight even the most non-culinary browser. (Such as myself, to whom “cooking” is fairly synonymous with “picking up something already cooked at Dominion.”)

Then again, cookbooks have always embodied know-how, flair, and even philosophy. Fannie Farmer was often a fledgling household’s salvation, and consider how Julia Child upended America’s dining habits with her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Those who enjoy cooking as a recurrent pleasurable ritual all have their go-to tomes, while retaining a craving for something new.

 “Some Good” is Jessica Mitton rejigging of customary Newfoundland dishes. Our environment offers lovely fish, meat, root vegetables and berries, but also necessitated not-so-great methods of production (i.e. frying, salting). In our cultural defence, this was of course to ensure we had the nutrition made it through the winter. Mitton, who grew up in Gros Morne, loved these foods but not what they were doing to her health. And this cookbook promises a “health-conscious fusion of real food and local tradition.” No gluten, no dairy, and no refined sugars. (Digressive fun fact: you can now chose to receive a gluten-free host at mass.)

The volume itself has a slim heft, is nicely tactile, and contains lots of colour. Each recipe is introduced with a personal note, Mitton letting us know what the food meant to her family — with “Healthy Hermits,” for example, she writes, “My mother would bake these cake-like cookies every time my father was going in the woods to hunt or fish ... The variety of ingredients creates a really interesting taste experience, and the texture is very satisfying.” There’s a full page shot of the cookies to one side, and the recipe cogently outlined on the other.

The contents are laid out, first, in a series of short, conversational chapters: “Codfish and salt meat: Raised on a Newfoundland diet”; “My journey to nutrition’; “Newfoundland roots: A brief history of food on The Rock”: “Newfoundland’s bounty: Nourishing foods from our seas and shores”; and “Living without diary, gluten, and refined sugar.” “The Recipes” follow, arranged into “Condiments,” “Breakfasts,” “Appetizers,” “Mains,” “Sides,” “Desserts,” and “Breads.” Within each, Mitton includes the substitutes she has explored and explained, like almond milk, garbanzo bean flour, and blackstrap molasses. These are set into a time-honoured menu like Pea Super Soup, Moose Stew, Baked Beans, Snowballs, and Toutons. Endnotes include measurement tables, references, and a recipe index.

 “Some Good” may be designed for a very specific niche, but there’s definitely an appetite for it. Or maybe not so niche — lots of people are concerned with food security alongside their own wellness and “Some Good” addresses both matters.

Come on We goes: Series 1
Around the What?/The Great Foggy Day
written by Karen Silver
Illustrated by Dyane Harrigan and Shan Pomeroy
Freisen Press
hardcover $17.49, softcover $9.99, ebook $3.99
64 pages (available at The Heritage Shop, The Craft Council of NL, Johnny Ruth)

This duet of stories debuts a series intended, according to author and publisher Karen Silver, to be “set in Newfoundland, and revolve around Newfoundland geography, culture, language, weather, and history.” In a nice touch, each has its own illustrator and the contrasting styles enrich the pages.

In “Around the What?” Daniel tries to decipher what his grandmother meant when she told him she was going to walk around the block. “Daniel had just learned that some words have more than one meaning,” or are homonyms. (Although Silver also uses the example “Like the words shoe and shoo,” which are actually homophones.) Harrigan’s artwork is engagingly Crayon-y and scrawl-y. The text is cleanly readable, with specific words highlighted in oversize blue.

In “The Great Foggy Day” Ellen anxiously hopes that spring arrives in time for her sixth birthday in late April. “Another day it rained and a lot of snow melted! But another day still it got very cold, everything froze and it snowed again.”

Well, who can’t relate? And Pomeroy’s pictures are really striking, with their distinct patterns and alluring palette.

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.

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