Now that Halloween is over and Christmas is quickly coming, every night we go to bed wondering if we’ll wake up to a blanket of white stuff on the ground or glitter all over the trees. The weather is getting colder and we’re all looking for ways to stay warm. Over the next couple of months Twig entries will deal with Newfoundland English words having to do with folk remedies and ways to beat the cold. This entry is all about one of the best ways to beat the cold…drinking tea. This month’s featured photo (right) is courtesy of Matt C. Reynolds. Check out his blog coffeefolk and see more great pictures here.
It’s worth noting that a simple search for either ‘tea’ or ‘kettle’ in the DNE will return more than 80 results for entries mentioning one or both of these words, solidifying the popular notion of the importance of tea in Newfoundland and Labrador culture. Hilda Murray notes that, for Newfoundlanders, there were four meals in the winter “…breakfast, dinner, tea, and a ‘mug-up’ or ‘lunch’ before bedtime [that] were standard in most homes” (The Traditional Role of Women in a Newfoundland Fishing Community, 1972, p. 215), giving tea a special meal status. This usage of tea in reference to a meal is powerfully associated with residents of the U. K. According to the Evening Telegram, “it is the traditional right of Newfoundlanders to stop along the roadside, to boil the kettle” (1982, Jan 26, p. 6); tea seems to have become entrenched in our cultural identity. Taking a peek inside Reminiscences by James P. Howley, who claims tea to be a “regular essential” (p. 683), one will find 159 occurrences of the word ‘tea’. Many of these usages are in reflection on sitting down to tea with new acquaintances but several passages, like the one below, illustrate how much better your day can be with the simple addition of a good cup of tea.
At length we came to where they had cut a portage. We landed here and went ahead on foot. I would have given a good deal now for a cup of tea and having given expression to that desire, Mister Joe took a small kettle of his out of the canoe, filled it and having lit a fire put it on to boil. “What is that for, Joe,” I asked, “what are you going to put in it?” He produced a dirty cotton handkerchief from his pocket with something tied up in one corner. Then with a peculiarly knowing grin, he said, “I got a pinch of tay here,” sure enough he had. It immediately became quite apparent to me that all this time while we were without that fragrant beverage Mr. Joe had appropriated a stock for his own use before our supply became exhausted. I felt pretty mad at this, nevertheless when in a few minutes he put it on the kettle & helped me to a cup I forgave him. It proved indeed very refreshing. (Howley, 2009, p. 958)
Tea is on the front lines against whatever ails you, whether it’s the weather or illness getting you down, or even if you’re just feeling a bit leary.
Enjoying a well-established reputation world-wide, tea has a stronghold in Chinese, Japanese, British and American histories among others. The 1937 Royal Commission Report lists tea at 40c. per pound, a far cry from prices paid today for a good brew. Having been around for thousands of years, tea is involved in maintaining class boundaries in some cases and starting wars in others but, more innocently, that nice cup of black, green, oolong or herbal tea can help take the edge off a biting wind or help us to relax after a long day. So, let’s look at some of the interesting Newfoundland English words related to tea.
Now, before getting to that blissful first sip or even the steeping routine, the water will need to be boiled and for that you’ll need a kettle. There are several words in the DNE denoting a kettle. You might not expect slut to serve this function but it refers to a kettle which is also known as a bib(by), hurry-up, piper or smut, particularly for making tea over the open fire in the woods. There are also the hot arse, boiler, pompey, Wesleyan kettle and the quick.
Once the water is boiled and you’re ready to steep, you’ll need to choose a cup or a mug. Some prefer their tea in a big clay mug similar to the dolly vardens used by fishermen.
If you have a bit of a sweet-tooth, your favorite tea may be sugar tea, simply meaning tea that is sweetened with sugar rather than old-fashioned molasses. Some folks take tinned milk like Carnation, others take milk or cream but some like it stark-naked.
All of these options result in a perfectly acceptable cup of tea; even molasses tea could be good, as long as it’s not breachy or fousty, either of which it might be if you use salty water or don’t clean your piper well enough.
Most people would probably not be fussy about hay-water or most of the variations listed in the DNE for switchel. While they may do in a pinch, somewhere in the middle might be best especially if you’re serving the tea to company!
Of course, there are lots of foods that go well with tea. The first things that might come to mind are tea buns or cakes like a bottomer or a duncher. Maybe you would call a combination of tea and biscuits a levener or a fourer. Whatever time of day you choose to have a boil-up, you sure can’t go wrong with a bit of chaw and glutch. For a simpler variation, perhaps you would enjoy bare-legged tea once in a while, especially if it’s just to warm up.
Some people have a tendency to put on some tea and go off, busying themselves with some other chore and forget that the tea is steeping. When the memory of that lonesome cup or tea-pot sitting on the counter finally resurfaces, the tea is often too strong. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry, all you need to do is vamp it down.
Once you have prepared your perfect cup of tea, you may find it pleasing to inhale the vapors and if you’re stuffed up at all, this will help to make you feel better. Then, of course, you drink it and appreciate its warmth and overall goodness. After you’ve finished, most teas (both bagged and loose) can be composted where, in the past, they may have been tossed in the dung sink.
If some day you are lucky and you get close enough to an ice berg to chip off a part of it, you can treat you and yours to a spot of pinnacle tea which is tea brewed at sea from ice taken from an iceberg. Wherever you go, though, if you’re a tea-drinker, just make sure you’ve got all the riggings for the kettle.
While this last variation may not be a Newfoundland tradition, it’s worth noting that regular orange pekoe steeped with a small amount of sage produces a fragrant and spicy cup of tea. It is enchantingly aromatic, especially when sweetened with honey. Maybe this was the motivation behind the addition of buds to tea in the past. Next time you’re feeling creative, try adding herbs and spices that you may not think would go with tea and chances are that you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
So the next time you have a visitor coming over for a tea and a chat, tell them that you’ve got to storm the kettle to make a bit of slut tea and see if they have different vocabulary for talking about tea. While you’re here reading this entry, what’s your favorite cup of tea. Do you have any special tea-terms to add? Do you use any of the words above? It would be delightful to hear from you.