A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
Chapter 41, Dining

"The way in which food was served, among those who had plenty, encouraged overeating. There were usually only two courses at dinner, spread all over the table, the second including sweet dishes. ... [it was not unusual to see] a table layout of 25 dishes for the first course and 25 for the second. The first course consisted of various soups, then heavy meat joints, entire large fishes, pies and vegetables. The second course included venison, game poultry, hams, savory dishes, and various puddings, such as fishpond, moonshine, floating (and rocky) islands, sponge cakes, ornamental jellies, flummeries and syllabubs. A diner who regularly went skirmishing among these 50 dishes, like Dr. Paley, was bound to become obese. ...
In the 1820s a new method of serving dinner, à la russe ["service in the Russian style" as opposed to "service in the French style" (service à la française)], was just coming into vogue among the more fashionable people. This was the modern system of serving each dish consecutively. It was reckoned to be vastly more expensive, since it required more servants and involved more "made" dishes, which could be properly concocted only by professional cooks trained in French cuisine, as opposed to preparing joints; hence such dinners were often sent in from professional caterers, which made them very expensive indeed. Resistance to dinners la russe was very strong in England."1
This information on dining in the first half of the 19th century, which Paul Johnson supplies, has to be modified as we consider the situation in Nova Scotia, but not by much as far as the administrators at Halifax were concerned. The top positions in the military, clergy and government came over from England (and usually went back after their stint) and no doubt dined not much differently then in their manors back in England. As for what the regular people ate in Nova Scotia, we have a contemporary witness, Captain Moorsom:
"Tea is more extensively consumed throughout Nova Scotia than any other article of luxury, except spirits. It is used in the poorer cottages at every meal, particularly among those settlers who originally came from New England.
Rum, sugar, and molasses, are always to be found in abundance: the first is retailed at a lamentably low rate; the second, at nearly the same price as at home. Molasses are an article of much consumption among the American part of the population: many of the poorest class use it altogether, in place of sugar; and by others it is used as a drink, when diluted with water. The fruits, and finer produce of the West Indies, are a very fluctuating supply; sometimes pine apples are almost rolling about the streets of Halifax; at other times, a lemon cannot be procured at any price. ...
The crops cultivated by the farmer are wheat, oats, barley, and, less commonly, peas, buckwheat, and rye. Potatoes form the chief article of food throughout the province, and are cultivated accordingly; Indian corn is also raised in large quantities in this division. Crops of beans or cabbage are seldom seen here; the farmers have not acquired the habit of using them for stall-feeding, as is customary in England. Garden vegetables are likewise but little cultivated. ...
The grain [corn] is used for a variety of purposes: it is seen on the dinner-table, when young and tender, boiled as a vegetable, in the cob or head; the meal is mixed with fine flour to give a flavour to bread: for poultry, pigs, and horses at hard work, it forms a strong and nutritious diet. The green tops afford food for cattle, and the cobs or heads, when the corn is shelled out, provide the ingenious housewives of the country with good substitutes for corks for stopping their ketchup, or old women's recipes."2
So we see from Moorsom, circa 1830, "that potatoes form the chief article of food throughout the province." The potato disease which hit much of Europe, and Ireland particularly hard, also came to Nova Scotia, but after Moorsom's visit. The following is from a report filed in 1848:
"The failure of the potato and other crops, felt so severely in Europe, has also been experienced in Nova Scotia. In 1845 the potato rot made its appearance, and was in that year very destructive, sweeping away potatoes, it destroyed those which had been planted later in the season. In 1847 there was immense loss, partly from the rot, and in part from the potato not growing, in consequence of the unsoundness of the seed. In each of these years the Weevil or fly destroyed a very large proportion of the wheat. These failures were followed by effects similar to those produced, on a larger scale, in the mother country, within the same period."3
So what did food cost in 1862? G.R. Evans in his work set out this information on the men who came to mine for gold: "... lodging cost $2.50 a week and a man could live in his own shanty for $1.50 a week, with beef at Six Cents a pound, veal at Five Cents, eggs at Twelve Cents a dozen, lobsters at Four cents a dozen, and ten pounds of cod costing only Eight Cents."4 And, we should remind ourselves, these prices were for the goldmine workers at Wine Harbour where the wages "ranged from Seventy-eight Cents to One Dollar a day."

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Peter Landry