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Bonavista Social Club


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#1 Daily Gullet Staff

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 10:45 AM

hspace="8" align="left">by Peter Gamble

The mind of a grade seven History student is a very strange place.

Mine was in 1977. Once a day for 45 minutes Mr. Elliot would relate another aspect of Canadian history to a roomful of confused and curious tweens. He told us how the Indians in scant skins walked here all the way from Asia. The badass Vikings came from the other direction in crude boats from Greenland but, despite notorious fortitude, couldn’t make a go of it. And then there was a dandy parade of Europeans: Cabot, Cartier and Champlain, each one dressed in an absurd combination of shiny metal and weird textiles.

Samuel de Champlain was the standout character for me because he was the undisputed father of New France, a renaissance man and a pioneer bon vivant.

The more I learned, the more I admired him. The foppish looks belied a man capable of great adventure and leadership. That ridiculous facial hair and those crazy boots -- I wanted to be right there with him on a cartographic odyssey. Hell, I wanted to be him. Was this a man crush?

I can say with certainty that Champlain created something worthy when he founded “L’Ordre de Bon Temps” in the winter of 1606. The Order of Good Cheer was the first gourmet food club in North America. This summer, only 402 years later, I officially became a member.

At the start of the 17th century there were no established European settlements north of Florida. An earlier attempt at winter camping went horribly wrong for the French under the command of Pierre Dugua de Mons who had been granted a Royal Commission for a Christian crusade in New France. On a tiny island in the St. Croix River that separates Maine from New Brunswick, Champlain was lucky to survive when half the colonists died of scurvy. He couldn’t have known what caused all that death but surely better food would’ve helped. They decided to try a new spot across the Bay of Fundy at Nova Scotia’s Port Royal, birthplace of Acadia.

Moving agreed with them. The Annapolis Valley offered everything a fledgling community in wild North America could need. They grew herbs and vegetables for potage, and they had access to a whole whack of fish and fresh game. They brought flour and wine from France. Things went well in the summer of 1605. Winter was better than before, but it was still very long and another dozen settlers died from scurvy.

The next year Champlain came up with an idea “to keep our table joyous and well provided."
We spent this winter very pleasantly, and had good fare by means of the Order of Good Cheer which I established, and which everybody found beneficial to his health, and more profitable than all sorts of medicine we might have used. This Order consisted of a chain which we used to place with certain little ceremonies about the neck of one of our people, commissioning him for that day to go hunting. The next day it was conferred upon another, and so on in order. All vied with each other to see who could do the best, and bring back the finest game. We did not come off badly, nor did the Indians who were with us.

-- Samuel de Champlain, The Voyages, 1613
Brilliant! Stave off boredom and enrich the diet with a friendly cooking competition. Each man would get a shot as Chef du Jour and a chance to earn bragging rights. It’s not known exactly what made it to the banquet table but there’ve been many scholarly guesses.

L'éclade, or mussels cooked under pine needles? This was not uncommon back in Champlain’s old world neighborhood.

Faisan en casserole? A braised pheasant isn’t a stretch.

Pâté de chevreuil, or venison pie? You bet.

Confitures aux canneberges, potage à la citrouille, or anguille à létuvée? That’s cranberry marmalade, pumpkin soup and steamed eel, candidates all.

There would’ve been moose, caribou, beaver, otter, bear, rabbit, porcupine and raccoon. Plenty of ducks, geese and partridge in addition to an abundance of seafood meant a ton of possibilities. And hey, these guys were French.

If you go there today you’ll find the Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada, simply known as The Habitation. It’s a best guess replica of what once stood four centuries ago. The original compound was looted and burnt in 1613 by the Virginian Samuel Argall, the same guy who kidnapped Pocahontas -- now there’s another piece of work.

I told the girl at the entrance kiosk that this summer’s visit to The Habitation was thirty years in the making. I’d built a damn popsicle stick diorama of the place back in the seventies long before she was born. It was time to see how the experts made out with the full scale monty.

I saw a silver gray wooden palisade wall wrapped around several steep Norman roofs with a grassy cloister hidden in the center. The whole thing is a square maybe a hundred feet per side. There isn’t any signage, just a few students in period costume who’ll answer your questions in French or English. I had lots of questions.

We saw stretched pelts and black bits of iron everywhere. There were hewn logs overhead and roughly cut planks of knotty pine underfoot. The walls were loaded with rustic filigree. Sitting at the large imposter table I reached out and held a young pewter spoon and thought about all those tough bastards trying to make the best of things. It was like making a long overdue connection with a very old soul. This was a sacred spot.

After the tour we drove a half hour south to Digby in order to have ourselves sworn in and receive the official Order of Good Cheer certificate. Anyone can do this, there’s no fee and no meetings. The only requirement is to visit the province for at least three days and promise to come back, according to the Tourism Bureau.

I now regard Champlain as a great man but, like all of us, not without flaw. In his early 40’s he married Hélène Bouellé -- a twelve year old girl from France. That’s the age gap between me today and me in grade seven. He was also a big part of the Jesuit agenda hell-bent on converting the savages. What could be more offensive than a Black Robe buttinski telling me my faith tradition is all wrong? Four centuries is indeed a long time.

Those mornings before grade seven History we had music class complete with ukuleles, recorders and sing-a-longs with Mrs. White. I can’t remember her voice, only her challenging appearance. She was sturdy, pale, had lots of hair, and always wore her famous leather vest. I thought about last week’s drive-in movie featuring Charleton Heston as an astronaut, and I wondered if my music teacher was really Doctor Zaius in drag.

Mrs. White showed us the ABC’s of music, and Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. She also taught us a different version of the Woody Guthrie classic, the one sung north of the 49th parallel, throughout Upper and Lower Canada, and here in the Maritimes:

This land is your land, This land is my land,
From Bonavista, to Vancouver Island
From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters,
This land was made for you and me.

* * *

Peter Gamble is an eater, a husband and a father to 3-year old twins. His origins are in Toronto but he now runs a building design company from his home in Shad Bay, Nova Scotia.

Illustration by the author.


#2 racheld

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 01:20 PM

AHHHH, Peter! And Bonavista to you, as well.
Fairy tea has its own magic, for it never does run out;
And the flavour you imagine will come streaming from the spout.
Fairy Tea

My Blog--Thanksgiving and Goodwill

LAWN TEA

#3 racheld

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 06:24 PM

I've been wondering what that chain looked like, and if it were big enough and strong enough to have been used as more than encouragement to a friendly rivalry. Perhaps if it were strong enough to be thrown across a cross-beam, as a deterrent to the next-in-line's coming home empty-handed. . .

And I would imagine that the day's haul would have arrived way too late for the night's repast, but perhaps the group stayed several meals ahead of the bounty.
Salt would have been near to hand, so preserving would have been an option, especially since nearly every man save the Indians would have come by ship, captive to hardtack and salt beef on a long voyage, and they would have been accustomed to the put-by fare.

I read of those days of meat and game-for-the-taking, and I marvel that they all did not fall prey to scurvy and pellagra, since notes of the meals of the times ran to meat for all three courses, if there were any. A roast, a joint, a hare, a planked fish---all those I remember from journals of the early travelers of the trails.

If the hunter-of-the-day had come back dragging a limb full of beehive, or a coatful of apples, would he have been welcomed sans venison?
Fairy tea has its own magic, for it never does run out;
And the flavour you imagine will come streaming from the spout.
Fairy Tea

My Blog--Thanksgiving and Goodwill

LAWN TEA

#4 Peter the eater

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 07:19 PM

A pleasant view to you, Rachel.

I've been wondering what that chain looked like, and if it were big enough and strong enough to have been used as more than encouragement to a friendly rivalry.  Perhaps if it were strong enough to be thrown across a cross-beam, as a deterrent to the next-in-line's coming home empty-handed. . .

There's an official chain that's used today by the Province. It looks like something a Mayor would wear to work, or like a successful Olympian displays on the podium but with a dozen more medals making up the strap.

You're quite right to identify the duality it must have embodied for the men -- accolade or noose?

Salt would have been near to hand, so preserving would have been an option, especially since nearly every man save the Indians would have come by ship, captive to hardtack and salt beef on a long voyage, and they would have been accustomed to the put-by fare.

It really was a matter of surviving the winter -- the other six to eight months were spent exploring the Gulf of Maine, Cape Cod and beyond. Several ships from France would arrive during the summer but from November through to April it was damn bleak. The native Mi'kmaq were allies and quite literally saved their bacon. Chief Membertou was the leader who shared the local medicine with the French, and he was the first Indian to be baptized in New France.


If the hunter-of-the-day had come back dragging a limb full of beehive, or a coatful of apples, would he have been welcomed sans venison?

I would've welcomed him!
Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

#5 maggiethecat

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 08:31 PM

Are all Canadian 7th graders history-mad? I was enchanted with the Vikings in Newfoundland, and still hope to see L'Anse Meadow before I turn toes up. In Trois-Rivieres I grew up knowing that it was the kick-off place for the Northwest Company --Radisson, Marquette and Joliet and their crew.

The Order of Good Cheer was a flat-out brilliant idea. Cooks (and hunters and foragers and fishermen) are competitive. What a great concept to reward the next purveyor of the feast.

I remember hearing the "American" words to "This Land" for the first time and my ten-year-old self was outraged. How dare Americans change the words? Live and learn.

Here's a link to Bonavista for non-Canadians. 1497, you gringos!

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."
Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com


#6 estufarian

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Posted 04 September 2008 - 06:45 AM

<img src="http://forums.egulle...195_12828.jpg"


#7 Peter the eater

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Posted 04 September 2008 - 09:26 AM

Does anyone find it strange that in all our 'celebrations' of culture we nevertheles ban the eating today of many of these foodstuffs? I'm not advocating the wide slaughter of these 'protected (?)' animals but we don't allow most of these to be sold anywhere; yet others are permitted. Why are ducks permitted to be sold, but moose, beaver etc., outright banned (and caribou is allowed but only if supplied by a "First Nations" merchant)? And venison can be sold only if 'farmed'.
Aren't they all equally valid (theoretically) as part of our 'culture'?

That's a good point. These things tend to be overly complicated, at least in my experience.

Living in Vancouver years ago I learned of two issues: people in the East End didn't have enough food while the people in the West End were complaining of a Canada Goose infestation. I unwisely phoned in the obvious solution to a talk radio show and was totally shot down.

There have been clashes between Native and Non-Native hunters and fishermen here in Eastern Canada. It's a tough one -- there will always be problems when people aren't all treated the same.

I think the market for gull eggs needs to be developed.
Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

#8 Peter the eater

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Posted 04 September 2008 - 05:48 PM

. . . . I remember hearing the "American" words to "This Land" for the first time and my ten-year-old self was outraged. How dare Americans change the words? Live and learn

It's one of those truly international songs like "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" or "Happy Birthday". Dozens of countries have adopted "This Land" to suit their own language and geography.

Personally, I'd like to hear a version for Cuba performed by Ry Cooder, Juan de Marcos González, and the rest of the Buena Vista gang.
Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

#9 Peter the eater

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 03:05 PM

As if there already weren't enough reasons to visit Canada's Ocean Playground, here's what the official certificate looks like:

Posted Image

Note the four dandy dudes drinking and smiling. They're actors from the 1970's recreating the very first Order of Good Cheer which included a play called "Le Théâtre de Neptune en la Nouvelle-France" -- believed to be the first theatrical event in North America, written by Marc Lescarbot and performed by his fellow settlers at the Habitation in 1606.
Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

#10 Magictofu

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 07:20 AM

Thanks for this very nice piece mixing history, personal experience and food. Growing up in Quebec City, I always saw Champlain as the founder of my home town but forgot about his other travels and adventures. I always thought that food at the time was far from interesting (gruel with biscuit anyone?), thanks for convincing me otherwise... I think Champlain and his crew probably gained a lot through their contact with the natives (wild meat and plants at least).

For the 400th anniversary of the funding of Quebec City, the food that people decided to remember was that of the early settlers not the marriage of native and French food. On the Plains of Abraham, they even recreated an old vegetable garden using ancient plant varieties.

I personally think that what makes Canadian food interesting is this mix of various food traditions: Native, French, British and the numerous more recent ones originating from recent waves of immigration. Combine this with the wealth of wild food available to us and the various regional cuisines and the potential for rediscovering interesting traditions updating them when needed is great.

Also, I now have another thing to do next time I visit Nova Scotia! This certificate will look very nice on my kitchen wall.

#11 Peter the eater

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 08:16 PM

Thanks for this very nice piece mixing history, personal experience and food. Growing up in Quebec City, I always saw Champlain as the founder of my home town but forgot about his other travels and adventures. I always thought that food at the time was far from interesting (gruel with biscuit anyone?), thanks for convincing me otherwise... I think Champlain and his crew probably gained a lot through their contact with the natives (wild meat and plants at least).

For the 400th anniversary of the funding of Quebec City, the food that people decided to remember was that of the early settlers not the marriage of native and French food. On the Plains of Abraham, they even recreated an old vegetable garden using ancient plant varieties.

I personally think that what makes Canadian food interesting is this mix of various food traditions: Native, French, British and the numerous more recent ones originating from recent waves of immigration. Combine this with the wealth of wild food available to us and the various regional cuisines and the potential for rediscovering interesting traditions updating them when needed is great.

Also, I now have another thing to do next time I visit Nova Scotia! This certificate will look very nice on my kitchen wall.

View Post

No matter where you grow up in this world, there are people to tell you what’s what, and how it was back in the day. It’s always good to revisit the stories after a few decades of life experience, whether you grew up in the St. Lawrence Valley, near Chesapeake Bay, the Fertile Crescent or The Forbidden City. When people travel and mix, interesting things happen in the kitchen.
Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

#12 maggiethecat

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Posted 02 November 2008 - 10:37 PM

An outta this world rave book about Sam from today's http://www.nytimes.c...?ref=todayspape] New York Times I've ordered it for my dad for Christmas.Geez, what a guy.

Edited by maggiethecat, 02 November 2008 - 10:39 PM.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."
Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com


#13 Peter the eater

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Posted 04 November 2008 - 10:30 AM

An outta this world rave book about Sam from today's http://www.nytimes.c...?ref=todayspape] New York Times I've ordered it for my dad for Christmas.Geez, what a guy.

View Post

That looks promising, thanks.

Bill Gaston's The Order of Good Cheer is worth a look: click.
Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

#14 Peter the eater

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Posted 04 November 2008 - 10:38 AM

A few images from this summer's visit to The Habitation:

Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

#15 Peter the eater

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Posted 07 November 2008 - 08:21 PM

A few images from this summer's visit to The Habitation:

Posted Image

About that picture – on top are the arms of Henri IV, King of France when the Habitation was built in 1605. Below that are the two governors crests, Sieur de Mons and Sieur de Poutrincourt. All three are overhead as you walk in through the front door.
Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

#16 Peter the eater

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 07:22 AM

An earlier attempt at winter camping went horribly wrong . . . . on a tiny island in the St. Croix River that separates Maine from New Brunswick, Champlain was lucky to survive when half the colonists died of scurvy.


Last week I finally made it to the Saint Croix Island International Historic Site. It's a lovely place in early September, unlike the winter, which was extra harsh that infamous year. They rightly observed the latitude to be the same as the South of France -- nobody knew about The Gulf Stream back then. Everything froze and thirty-five out of seventy-nine died of land-sickness, or Mal de terre. Next winter Champlain came up with the idea of competitive cooking for morale and survival.

On the US side of the river there's a series of interpretive statues, below is Champlain:

Attached Files


Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack