By Leslie Bidgood, as told to Valerie Howes
Leslie Bidgood runs Bidgood’s in Goulds, N.L., alongside her father, Rick. Her grandfather, Roger, founded the business with her grandmother, Jenny. The couple began their work together—which would evolve into the Bidgood’s company of today— 68 years ago in Petty Harbour. Back then, it was a small general store, passed down by Leslie’s great-grandfather. Today, it has expanded into a supermarket, restaurant, bakery and wholesale operation with its own food line. Bidgood’s specializes in traditional Newfoundland cuisine, made with home-harvested ingredients. Here, Leslie talks about a customer favourite: fish and brewis.
Bidgood’s is much the same today as I remember it from my childhood. It has always had that family feeling. My sisters and I would come up and play hide-and-seek out back in the boxes in the warehouse after school, and I started working here myself when I was about eight, washing dishes and things like that. Two of our aunts and one uncle were involved then. And most of our staff lived locally, so there was always an upbeat, friendly kind of environment. We actually have some of the same staff now as we did when I was out back jumping on boxes and driving everyone nuts.
Fish and brewis (pronounced “brews”) is one of the main items we sell in the store. It has been a staple Newfoundland dish for so many years. I ate it once or twice a week as a child—I grew up eating everything we make and sell here. And at my grandparents’, we were always exposed to traditional food. Nowadays, I only eat it now and again as a treat. The family recipe we use in the store hasn’t really changed over the years. If it’s working and we’re getting positive feedback from the customers, we don’t mess with any recipe!
To make fish and brewis, the girls soak hard bread overnight, then the next morning they boil it for about an hour to soften it. Then, they put this soaked bread in the strainer to drain excess water. Next, they put it into a huge mixing bowl and add fried scrunchions—diced pork fat cooked up fresh while the bread was boiling. Next, they add salted cod that has been soaked overnight—sometimes twice—to take away some of the saltiness and boiled for about 20 minutes. They stir it all together, allow it to cool and package it.
Hard bread is a traditional bread here in Newfoundland. It has to be soaked in liquid to soften it up. It’s very shelf stable, so many years ago, when people had no means to preserve foods, it was a staple in homes and at sea. As kids, when we’d go to my grandmother’s place and come out of the pool starving, she’d give us hard bread as a snack.
The difference between salted cod and fresh cod is like day and night. Obviously, salted cod is much saltier, while the fresh cod melts in your mouth. Salted cod is also harder, though it softens up once it’s soaked, drained and cooked. It’s not as tender as fresh fish, but it’s not quite as chewy as steak, either.
Fish and brewis is such a simple, quick and easy meal. And it’s tasty. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or supper. Some customers come in and order it for breakfast, and they pour molasses over it. A lot of people who live out of the province then return home, that’s the kind of food they’re looking for. It brings back memories.
See more photos of Lynn Crawford’s visit to Bidgood’s market here.