By Carol Goodman Kaufman / Traveling With Jewish Taste
While reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Shipping News, I fell in love with author Annie Proulx's descriptions of Newfoundland, with its rough coastline and unforgiving climate. The Maritime Provinces beckoned me. Well, we didn't have time to include Newfoundland, but we have just returned from a most amazing road trip to the rest of Atlantic Canada. Herein, just a few highlights.
We entered New Brunswick by way of Maine and drove up and down a roller coaster of hills, through miles and miles — and more miles — of pine forests, through the Fundy National Park and its forests, then past fields that stretched to the horizon. Houses sat vast distances from one another, making for what must be a lonely life during the winter months — and quite the trek to a neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar.
At the center of every little town along the way was a white clapboard church. I can see why that church would be so important for people living so far from their neighbors. After a week of strenuous labor tending to farming or fishing, church services on Sunday would not only be spiritually uplifting but socially necessary.
Oh, did I mention that we got caught in Hurricane Dorian while in Harvey, population 363? The wind raged around us, buffeting the house and felling trees and power lines. The power at the B&B went out and, since the place has a well, we also lost water, all of which only served to enhance the feeling of remoteness.
Jews, on the other hand, tended to settle in towns where fellow members of the tribe had congregated, establishing businesses, synagogues, and cemeteries. At one time there were large and thriving Jewish communities in the province. However, since the 1960s, large numbers of younger people have left home to pursue higher education or employment, so the communities have dwindled. Only Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton have any Jewish presence, and the three communities count fewer than 2,000 Jews in total.
The highlight of New Brunswick has to be Hopewell Cape, where the tide goes out so far that you can actually walk on the ocean floor. In fact, twice a day the bay fills and empties over 160 billion tons of water — that’s more than the flow of all the world’s rivers combined — and the tide rises almost 50 feet. We visited at high tide and saw rocks that simply looked like little islands in the water. Next morning, knowing that this would be the only chance we would have to see low tide before Dorian arrived in full force, we ventured out in the rain. We found that those islands were actually rocks that rose about 80 feet above the beach. The silver lining: although we got soaked, we had the beach almost to ourselves.
Once the hurricane had passed, the 17-mile long Confederation Bridge reopened and we drove over it to Prince Edward Island (PEI). For a girl who grew up landlocked in Pittsfield, it was quite a jolt to be completely surrounded by the sea everywhere we went. And even though Dorian had passed, the wind never abated and I gave up trying to wear a hat.
Like many young girls, I had read the Anne of Green Gables novels, but the fact that the story takes place on PEI escaped my ten-year-old eyes. After all, back then I hadn't been past Brooklyn. But, Anne is so beloved on the island that much of its economy is based on that redheaded girl of Avonlea. Aside from the actual historical sites, there is the AGG Chocolate Factory, the AGG golf course, the AGG B&B, Avonlea Village shopping center … well, you get the picture. But, the real deal is the Anne of Green Gables Heritage Place, part of Prince Edward Island National Park. There we learned about author Lucy Maud Montgomery who, it turns out, was a very prolific writer, having published 20 novels (most set on PEI), as well as 530 short stories, 500 poems, and 30 essays.
From PEI, we took the ferry to Nova Scotia and drove directly to Cape Breton Island, where we were struck by the people's strong attachment to both the Acadian and Celtic culture. Everybody we met was bilingual, and street signs, menus, and pamphlets were printed in both English and either Gaelic or French. The people of Nova Scotia are so intent on maintaining their culture that they have established the Gaelic College in order to bring back the almost-lost language to modern use in the provinces.
Caileigh (pronounced kay-lee) concerts of traditional Celtic music are a daily occurrence, and at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique we were treated to an authentic caileigh performance over lunch, complete with fiddle and keyboard. After our meal, we toured the museum's interactive exhibits chronicling the development of the genre in Canada, and even learned a bit of Irish step dancing.
And at Grand Pré, we learned about the Great Upheaval. In 1755 the British forcibly removed the Acadian population from the Maritime Provinces and northern Maine. Even though these proud people had been in the area for little more than half a century, they yearned to return to it. Given the Jews' 2000-year exile from the Land of Israel, during which we never stopped praying for a return, we certainly identified with their hopes. (If only we could embrace the Hebrew language with as much dedication.)
Fish and Potato Bake
With apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Water, water, everywhere/and lots and lots of fish. And, boy, did we eat a lot of it. The seafood industry forms a large part of the provincial economy, and this dish includes two quintessentially Atlantic Canadian foods: fish and potatoes. While the cod fishing industry collapsed in the last century, it has revived due to significant regulation and restructuring. And, Prince Edward Island, with its iron-rich soil and balanced sunshine and rainfall, is the perfect place to grow potatoes, and farmers on the island grow many varieties of spuds. In fact, potatoes are so much a part of the PEI community that the town of O'Leary is home to the Canadian Potato Museum.
1½ lb. Yukon Gold potatoes
3 Tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill, or 2 tsp. dried
½ tsp. salt
1½ lb. cod
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
Place potatoes in large saucepan; cover with cold water. Bring to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer and cook 20 to 25 min., or until just tender. Drain. Cool until comfortable enough to handle.
Slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425°F.
Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Cook garlic for about 1 minute, until softened. Sprinkle with flour.
Cook, stirring 2 minutes, then gradually whisk in milk until smooth.
Continuing to whisk, bring just to a boil. Reduce to a simmer 3 to 4 minutes, until sauce is thickened. Stir in dill and salt. Set aside.
Dust cod with cornstarch; place in 9x13-inch baking dish.
Arrange potato slices on top of fish. Pour sauce over top.
Bake 30 to 35 min. until the top is golden and the fish is cooked through.