Monday, February 21, 2011

Travelling to Eat: Welcome to Lunenburg, The Home of Solomon Gundy

No good fish goes anywhere without a porpoise. – Lewis Carroll

Old Town Lunenburg
If you're ever in Nova Scotia, almost certainly one stop on your travels will be to Old Town Lunenburg. It has a rich cultural past, so much so that it has been recognized twice for its historical significance.

Photo: jennyrotten (Flickr ccl)
In 1992, the Government of Canada designated the "Old Town" as a National Historic District. UNESCO recognized Lunenburg's cultural and natural heritage by adding it to their World Heritage List in 1995.

Lunenburg was established in 1753 as the first British Colonial settlement in Nova Scotia outside of Halifax. Early settlers were from various parts of Germany, Switzerland, and eastern France. They followed in the footsteps of earlier Mikmaq and Acadian settlers, many of whom were displaced by the influx. 

For over 200 years, a vibrant economy was built on farming, fishing, ship building and seafaring, most notably trade from the West Indies. Sailing ships from Lunenburg (and the rest of Nova Scotia) were common traders worldwide. Today, the town has businesses still based on life on the sea, as well as a vibrant artistic community.

The town offers visitors an architectural wonderland. Houses, businesses, churches and public buildings from the late 1700s and early 1800s are still prevalent. Many homes sport the "Lunenburg Bump", which is a distinctive dormer jutting out over the front door to create a porch underneath. Many houses are ornately decorated, being the product of wealthy fishing Captains, and the labour of shipbuilders in the off-season.

The Lunenburg Bump. Photo: tlbcml (Flickr ccl)
The town's heritage has been maintained and promoted as an important tourist destination. One site in particular is the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, where the proud history of brave souls who put to sea is lovingly recognized and remembered. 

Lunenburg is part of the family of National Historic Sites, one of more than 800 places across Canada which help define the important aspects of Canada's diverse heritage and identity. For more information, visit http://www.novascotia.com.

Due to its strong Maritime culture, Lunenburg, like the rest of Nova Scotia, has retained close ties with fellow Maritimers in the New England states, such as Gloucester, Massachusetts. In fact, the most famous races of the schooner Bluenose (currently undergoing "refit" in Lunenburg) were against Gloucester fishing schooners. 

Bluenose II. Canada's floating ambassador.
Photo: One Tree Hill (Flickr CCL)
Lunenburg's rich German heritage has also made it a popular destination for European visitors. Lunenburg has retained much of its German character and surnames from the 18th and 19th centuries are still prevalent today.

The German heritage of Lunenburg is also expressed in food. Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) still is produced on Tancook Island and is a favourite of many, as is Solomon Gundy. Solomon Gundy (probably an Anglicization of the German word "Salmagundi") is an interesting dish, one of those love it or hate it kind of things. It is made from pickled herring and onions.

I for one love it. When prepared well all the flavours of the pickling spices come to the fore. Pickling spice is a varying combination of allspice, bay leaves, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mustard seeds, and peppercorns. Solomon Gundy is sweet yet tart, and absolutely delicious!

Most recipes for Solomon Gundy that you find are old family recipes from Lunenburg. I am including one you should try. It's from food.com, posted by Barefoot Beachcomber from BC, obviously a wandering Nova Scotian…

Solomon Gundy
Prep: 30 mins  |  Total: 35 mins (does not include initial soaking)

Solomon Gundy. Photo: openg (Flickr ccl)
3 whole salt herring fillets (1 1/2 fish)
1 tablespoon whole mixed pickling spice
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup white sugar
4 medium onions, sliced

Remove heads and tails from herring. Soak in plenty of cold water for 12 hours or overnight, changing water at least once.

Thoroughly clean and skin the herring, taking care to remove all bones. Cut into 1" pieces.

In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar and sugar. Add the spices and boil for 5 minutes. Let cool.

In a large glass container, alternately layer the herring and onion slices. Pour the cooled marinade over the herring.

Keep refrigerated.

(The original recipe calls for the spices to be in a bag, but I prefer to have them in the jar with the fish. Much nicer, and tastier when you bite into a peppercorn or mustard seed. - Docaitta)


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