For my entire life I have grown up sampling the bounty of land and sea of Newfoundland. Blueberries, partridgeberries and bakeapples. Moose, caribou, partridge, and hare. Cod, lobster, capelin, mussels, turrs (Murres) and crab. These are the foods that my parents ate, and their parents, and their parents parents. None of these, however, holds the negative connotation that seal meat carries. Brigitte Bardot never kissed a codfish, and Farley Mowat never compared moose hunting season with the Holocaust.
When my great-grandfathers were young, they made their living harvesting the bounty of the sea. They would trade codfish for "truck", that is, goods that they needed. Twine for nets, lamp oil, flour, molasses. Salt what was left to preserve it. Vegetables were grown in the rocky soil. Carrots, cabbage, turnip, potato, and parsnip. The only seasonings were salt, pepper, savoury and salt pork. Men would go on the seal hunt because it was the only harvest for which they would receive cash. At that time, the seals were harvested for their oil, not their pelts. The oil was used in Europe for lamps. It was not until the 20th century that the demand for seal fur exceeded that for the oil.
There is still a seal hunt today. The quota for the Atlantic provinces is set by the Fisheries minister in Ottawa. Last year the quota wasn't even met by half because of the drop in the price of seal pelts. You can still go to the waterfront and buy seal flippers for food.
Flipper pie is not an everyday meal...but it does make a nice Sunday dinner, or a special occasion meal. The meat is dark, oily and gamey. The flavour is similar to that of hare, but it is much richer and denser in texture. The following recipe is from my mother, so I apoligize that the amounts are not very specific. That's how she cooks it. A pinch of this and a dab of that.
Newfoundland Flipper Pie
- 2 seal flippers
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 small cooking onions
- 2 slices of salt pork
- 1 cup water
- diced carrot, turnip (rutabaga), parsnip and potato
- Ready made biscuit mix.(Any instant biscuit mix will do)
Put the flippers in a bowl and cover with water. Add the baking soda and soak for 30 minutes. The fat will turn white. Remove the fat with fingers or small sharp knife. Put the flippers in a roaster and add the cup of water. Cook for a about 2 hours at 350F. Add the vegetables, and more water to just about cover if necessary. Cook for another 30 minutes. Thicken with cornstarch and water. Make the biscuit mix as for dumplings, enough to cover the contents of the roaster. Cover everything with the pastry dough maybe leaving a couple of small holes. Cook for a half an hour at 400F or until the pastry is browning on top and cooked through. Serves 4 with leftovers.
Author's note: For those who have seen The Shipping News and wondered if Flipper Pie is real, it is. Squidburgers, on the other hand, are a figment of E. Annie. Proulx' imagination.
- http://www.codoh.com/newsdesk/9712223.HTML (Reactions to Mowat's comparison of the seal fishery with the Holocaust)
- http://www.canadasealhunt.ca/homepage/index.stm (A site by the International Fund for Animals Welfare calling for the end of the seal fishery)
- http://www.canoe.ca/AllAboutCanoesNewsJun00/19_seal.html (News article related to the low catch numbers despite a high quota in 1999)
- http://www.ncr.dfo.ca/communic/seals/understa/under_e.htm (Pro seal fishery information from Fisheries and Oceans Canada)