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A Traditional Christmas Soup Supper in Old Newfoundland

08 Dec

The story below is from the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from the small fishing village of Burin Bay in Newfoundland, in the days prior to confederation. Their parents, John and Mary Taylor, grandfather Job, and younger brothers remained in the homestead beside the rocky shoreline of Burin Bay. This story tells of the first Christmas that the family in Newfoundland did not celebrate the holidays together.

The passage below tells about members of the Taylor family participating in a “soup supper,” held as a fund raiser at the church they attended in the small community of Burin Bay.

A Traditional Christmas Soup Supper in Old Newfoundland 

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Another greatly anticipated event of the Christmas season of 1921 was the annual “soup supper,” which usually included a “pie auction.” This was a major fundraiser in aid of the church and its school. Mary Taylor’s sons, Onslow and Bill, attended The Salvation Army school in Burin Bay, and as a result, she was a great supporter of the affair and always worked diligently toward its success.

Early in the morning, pots of water were set to boil in every kitchen, and various vegetables and meats simmered throughout the day. Breads, pies, and tarts were baked. In the early afternoon, the men went to the church to position the long, wooden tabletops on the sawhorses. When this task had been completed, the women decorated the tables and hung bunting and ribbons around the room.

Shortly after sunset, families trudged along the snowy paths to deliver the soups to the church. They suspended the handles of the pots from sturdy poles to facilitate their delivery, one person grasping either end of each pole. Bill and Les performed the task for their mother. They walked along the road carrying Mary’s contribution, being careful not to spill the precious contents.

When they arrived, there were too many soups for them all to be placed atop the stove inside, so the men had built a fire outside, and several pots were already hanging above the flames on an iron rod. The men gathered around the fire to socialize, while the women remained inside to fuss over last-minute preparations for the meal. Bill and Les joined the men, but much to the chagrin of the young girls who had arrived, they were hustled inside.

The variety of soups was impressive. The chicken soup contained an assortment of vegetables. There was also cabbage soup, beef broth with barley, and mutton soup with onions. To the fish stock had been added carrots and turnips. The ever-popular pea soup had been flavoured with salt pork. Peas and bread puddings in cloth bags suspended on strings had been immersed in some of the soups, which allowed them to cook inside the pots.

Everyone in Burin Bay recognized Mary Taylor’s soup, as she always placed thin strips of cabbage on the surface of the steaming broth. This personal touch made her soup attractive and easily identifiable. Because the diners knew which soup was hers, they rarely failed to offer compliments. It pleased her when people requested extra helpings.

Any man who could not consume at least one bowl of each soup and devour a large share of the bread was considered sickly. Even the children were encouraged to eat beyond their normal capacity, and they did not disappoint their prompters. Every year, the people declared that the soups were the finest ever made, and, judging by the amount that had disappeared, it might well have been true.

When it was time to auction the pies, Herb became tense. Herb was the oldest of Mary’s sons that remained at home in Burin, and she was aware that he was sweet on a girl from Epworth named Jenny. If he were successful in outbidding his rivals and succeeded in purchasing her pie, he would win the right to escort her home at the end of the evening. If people knew that a lad favoured a girl who had a pie up for auction, they would offer competing bids to drive up the price, as the money would go to a worthy cause.

Unfortunately for Herb, people knew of his interest in Jenny—they had seen him chatting with her at the Christmas concert. Each time he shouted a bid, someone topped it. The audience knowingly smiled, and a few chuckled aloud. As a result, Herb’s pocket was empty by the time he won the right to walk Jenny across the ice to her home in Epworth.

The distance from The Salvation Army Hall to Epworth was approximately one mile, but it required crossing ice that, in the middle of the harbour, was not always safe. For Herb and Jenny, because of their intimate conversation, a desire to extend the moment, and the care needed to walk over the uncertain ice, the journey to Epworth took considerably longer than usual. On reaching the far shore, they lingered and talked, Herb using any excuse that entered his mind to delay the inevitable parting. It was almost eleven o’clock by the time they reached Jenny’s house.

The front door opened just as Herb was about to kiss Jenny on the cheek. Standing in the doorway was Jenny’s irate father. “Herb Taylor!” he thundered. “What’s the meanin’ of ye bringing me daughter home at dis late hour? Where’s me shotgun? I’ll teach ye a lesson ye’ll ne’er forget!”

Herb did not require any encouragement to leap away like a jackrabbit and hop down the hill to the edge of the ice. The cannon-like blast of the shotgun echoed in the night air as he scampered over the ice. In his haste, he gave scant thought to the unsafe conditions confronting him. He had decided that there was little rhyme or reason in worrying about breaking through brittle ice when there was the more immediate danger of a shotgun blast puncturing holes in his backside.

When Herb arrived back at the Taylor house that night, he was exhausted, but was a wiser young man, having learned first-hand one of the basic rules of courting: always be wary of a girl’s father.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,” https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/there-never-was-a-better-time/

The author’s Home Page ; https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Toronto

 

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