Thursday, November 7, 2013

Screech keg and bottles

For those of you new to Yumology I'd like to introduce your to our monthly Trailmix series, where we find writers more interesting and more talented than us to take you on a culinary journey around the world. This month Yumology invited So Long Freedom Author, Ryan Gates, to tell his tale of Canadian adventures with Screech Rum and Newfoundland cod. Here is his story.

Meet Ryan
I’ve spent the better half of my life puddle-jumping on planes, sofa-surfing on couches, and living out of a suitcase.  “Digital Nomads.”  That’s what people in our industry started calling my wife and me when we bought a 22 foot travel camper named “Debbie” for our office and took our Mom and Pop viral marketing business on the road.  The closest we ever had to a physical address was “Behind the barn at Horicon Heights in Bolton Landing, NY.”  Then one day I sold the camper and traded in the life of a freelance consultant for a corporate desk job.  We moved from The Adirondacks to Wichita, KS.  We bought a house, had two kids, and all of a sudden…I had real responsibility.  So long sleeping in.  So long tennis shoes.  So Long Freedom.  This is a story from my journey into corporate America, my 30’s, parenthood, and responsibility.

Looking out my hotel window at one of the many ponds of Newfoundland in the fog.

While traveling for business I found myself at the eastern most point of North America, Canada’s Newfoundland.  My cell phone spent most of its time there in my pocket waiting to be used as a calculator or perhaps a paper weight.  Fog shrouded the entire island with an eerie silence and a sense of claustrophobia…we were surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence while Air Canada went on strike.  For the most part I just worked from my hotel as the non-stop cloud of white filled the unknown void outside my window.  Headlights were used in the middle of the day as I drove down cobblestone streets and attempted to navigate by GPS.  Newfies (as they call themselves) are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.  They speak in a Gaelic tone constantly making me feel like I was back in Ireland and reminding me that I had stepped into another time…literally.  The island goes by Newfoundland Standard Time (NST) which is 1 ½ hours later than Eastern Standard Time.

Where ya to?  A local asked me as I looked at a map on the sidewalk.  I told him the place I was looking for and he shook his head and repeated, “Aye, but where ya to?  After a little Who’s On First I figured out that “Where ya to” meant “Where are you parked.”  There’s a lot of that over there.  They have different ways of saying things through a thick Newfie brogue.  Eight days later I found myself speaking in this brogue before a crowd of people as I stood in a bucket of water, kissed a 100 year old fish, and drank the local moonshine:  Screech.
Photo credit

When the fog lifted on my last day in St. John’s, I saw the island was covered in deep woods, stone castles, and thick moss.  Ice burgs and whales passed by in the Atlantic as puffins waddled on the shores.  I’d eaten my fill of cod that week as it is the main ingredient of every recipe and Newfoundland’s primary export till the collapse of the fisheries in the 1990’s.  Cod fishing has been the economic core of the island as far back as the Beothuk Vikings that settled the area.  For over 250 years Newfoundland has been trading salt cod for Jamaican rum.  So…oddly enough, the favorite drink of this Gaelic island is Jamaican rum…well, technically its Newfoundland rum… It’s Screech.

Chefs’s famous “Cod Bite Special” with dressing on top and a Pineapple Crush (A Local Favorite)

The Government took over the liquor business in the 20th century and continued to offer the rum in unmarked bottles with over 40% alcohol by volume, which is to say…it’s stronger than tequila, vodka, whiskey and so on.  It tastes like moonshine.  Supposedly it earned its name during WWII when an American sergeant referred to it as “Ungodly Screech.”  However it earned its name, it has become the drink of Newfoundland and the backbone of a ceremony where one gets “Screeched-In,” a rite of passage for teenage Newfies and visiting tourists…I was the latter.

So there I was…standing in a bucket of water in a pub down some cobblestone road about to be Screeched-In.  I had been instructed as to my part in this ritual but I still wasn’t sure of why I had to do it.  All I knew was I had made new friends and after this I was going to be an honorary Newfie.  Why not?  The owner of the bar had jumped up on the banister and shouted into the bar if anyone wanted to become a Newfoundlander.  My new friends pushed me forward as I shouted back the appropriate response, “Yes b’y!”  After some ridiculing of my terrible American accent and being ceremoniously denounced from my ties to Wichita (“Whycheetah” the bar owner called it) I rolled up my pant legs and stepped into the cold water.  “Is ye from Newfoundland?”  The bar owner asked?  I replied with the appropriate response, “Deed I is, me ol' cock!  And long may yer big jib draw!”  Which roughly translated means, “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.”  Then, I did a shot of Screech and the room waited for me to react in horror.  It tasted more like whiskey than rum and the back of my throat burned…but not in a disgusting way…in an Irish way.  This felt like home.  This tasted like shots of whiskey with pints, old chums, and peat fires.  The crowd roared with delight and that’s when I met Sheamus, a 100-year-old frozen cod I was instructed to kiss on the mouth.  Being a discrete gentleman I went in tongue first.  I was given some Newfie Steak (baloney) and chased it down with the remainder of the shot of Screech my Toronto friend had not been able to stomach.  I had been officially Screeched-In.

New Newfies being Screeched-In and kissed by Sheamus

Touristy though it may be, the bar gave me a certificate instructing me that I was an honorary Newfoundlander and by which I needed to behave in a way befitting of the providence.  Should I be caught intoxicated in the street, jailed, or acting like a buffoon - my certificate could be revoked by any citizen of Newfoundland and I would be asked to leave the island.

Screech Hurricane at Jungle Jim's in St. John, Newfoundland

With the Air Canada strike over and my work completed, I boarded a plane for Halifax with a bottle of Screech in my luggage.  The commercial bottle I have today is nothing close to the rubbing alcohol I shot that day in St. John’s while standing in a bucket of water before an audience of people I could barely understand, though they spoke English.  However, inside the bottle is the memory of an amazing trip to an amazing place and a culture that has managed to pay respect to their past while embracing the future.  I Screeched-In my dad when I got home on his birthday though it didn’t have quite the same effect when he sipped the rum while standing in his pool and kissed a fried fish stick.  You can buy Screech throughout Canada and there are many cocktail recipes such as Muffled Screech:

Place ice cubes in a tall glass and gently pour in ¼ oz. Grand Marnier.  Allow to settle then gently pour in 2 oz. cream.  Allow to settle and finish off with a gentle pour of 1 oz. Screech.  The result will be a triple layered desert drink that can be garnished with a cherry.

However, I feel the best recipe for Screech is standing in a bucket of water while drinking a shot, kissing a cod, eating baloney, and occasionally…kissing a rubber puffin on the arse as the real puffins wave from ice burgs floating next to migrating whales swimming past the castle-guarded ports of Newfoundland.

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