Like anyone who’s had the fortune to visit Fogo Island, off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, writer Valerie Howes has been charmed by the place — one that was dealt a serious blow after the federal government-imposed a cod fishery moratorium in 1992. But islanders have persevered and, with the arrival of the awardwinning Fogo Island Inn in 2013, have a renewed sense of purpose. Howes is currently working on a book about Fogo’s culinary traditions, to be published in late 2016. Here, she shares her thoughts on the island and its food.
Fine dining on Fogo “I came to Fogo Island over five years ago, when the inn was about to be built, because I was intrigued by this place I’d seen in black-and-white NFB films [Howes used to work for the National Film Board of Canada] and by the plans [native islander and Fogo Island Inn founder] Zita Cobb had to make it a geotourism and arts destination. I was fascinated by the way food was evolving — traditional dishes that were hearty and simple, designed to feed large families and hardworking fishers and sealers, were being reinvented in the fine-dining context. When I first came, there was just one fine-dining restaurant on the island, Nicole’s. The people there were doing great stuff. But those at the inn were already laying the groundwork, asking gardeners to grow for them and to get interesting poultry, so they could have things like fresh, local duck and quail eggs.”
Nature as nightlife “Nature is the main source of entertainment, whether gardening, fishing or berry picking. There’s no mall or cinema or nightclub on the island. There’s no real pub culture. People drink in their sheds with friends and neighbours, and they sing together. They might harvest growlers — little pieces of iceberg — to cool their drinks.”
Eyes (and bellies) looking forward “Younger people are not always as interested in things like making jam and eating salt beef. Many leave for school and work in bigger cities, and their tastes change. They bring [back] fresh ideas, too. Thirty years ago, a family might eat the same dish on a rotation through the week, all year. Now it’s more spontaneous and diversified. And there are international artists here and doctors at the hospital who put a new spin on local ingredients. I studied a hospital fundraiser cookbook and found an Indian doctor sharing recipes like moose curry.”
Fogo kitchen staples “People here are more likely to have a freezer full of fish, crab and moose that they caught or hunted themselves. Molasses and Caribbean spices are popular in baked goods — that dates back to historical trading links, salt cod from Fogo Island for these sweet goods from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries. Dried fruits, such as dates and raisins, were traditionally used, because they were easy to ship and store. And, oh my God, the berries! Many people I spoke with over the age of 40 come home after work and unwind by berry picking for an hour or two. The tarts here are incredible. Sweet-tart partridgeberries are the most popular, and my favourite.”