If you have heard of Jeremy Charles you will probably also have heard of his restaurant, Raymonds, in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Though I’ve been to the Merchant Tavern, which Charles also owns, I’ve not yet had a meal at Raymonds. But, now we can all, vicariously, visit Raymonds and St. John’s through a new cookbook Wildness – An Ode to Newfoundland and Labrador by Jeremy Charles, with contributions from others who write about the food and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Jeremy Charles writes about the influence of his grandmother and his memories of her kitchen. About a time and place where food was grown and prepared at home. There was bread baking, and carrots and potatoes in the root cellar. Berries were picked and preserved. There was always tea on the woodstove – served with carnation milk from a can. It was the same on my grandparent’s farm in New Brunswick. Stores were a good long way away. The difference between a rural kitchen in New Brunswick, and one in Newfoundland is that in Newfoundland there is always the cod – “fish”. I was told, by a Newfoundland friend, that when Newfoundlanders talk about fish it always means Cod – anything else is called what it is.
Wildness features exquisite photographs of the food showcased in the book and at Raymonds, as well as the gorgeous photographs of the landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador. Wildness is a book designed to “give a sense of just how rich the province’s food culture is”.
My heart lifts when I fly into St. John’s, flying over the peninsula where we live, then driving back along the TCH west for three hours more to get there. The cod season is ending and it will soon be moose hunting season.
Over 30 years ago when I moved from Toronto to Parry Sound I was appalled to see the pick up trucks parade through town – guns across the back window, and a moose in behind. I understand now that hunting is not only part of a culture, it is also for many even now, a way of feeding a family through the winter. Our first fall in Newfoundland we had a knock on the door one evening, and a friendly fellow let us know that if we heard a moose call we should not be afraid. He was heading up the hill behind our house to call for a moose he’d heard was in the neighbourhood. I’m still not sure what we should have feared. Our first meal in our new home was moose stew prepared and shared with us at the kitchen table by the couple who sold us the house. We’ve since had moose chili at the home of a new friend – and very good it was too.
After chapters in Wildness with recipes for meals of Cod, Small Game, Shellfish, Seafood, Farm Animals, and Moose we come to dessert! It is hard for anyone who has not spent time in Newfoundland to imagine the abundance of wild food found here – especially the berries. The blueberries are luxuriant – beyond anything I have ever seen on Georgian Bay where I have picked a lot of blueberries. But, I had never experienced anything like the blueberries in Newfoundland, where I have picked blueberries in August, and September, October and sometimes November. By the time the blueberries are gone there will be partridgeberries – one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten.
Wildness will inspire foodies for sure, who will be taking this book into their kitchens – the rest of us can just enjoy the pictures and the essays. I expect Wildness will also encourage anyone who spends even a bit of time with this beautiful book to start planning a trip to Newfoundland and Labrador.