In many places, it typically consists of salt beef (or riblets), boiled potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnip, turnip greens (in season), bread pudding, dressing, pease pudding, and cooked turkey, chicken or beef roast. Condiments include mustard pickles (preferably homemade), bottled beets, cranberry sauce and butter.
That, to me, is a cooked Sunday dinner.
My Jiggs dinner is made up of salt beef, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnip, parsnip, brussel sprouts and pease pudding. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Though a diabetic, I “mang” together this occasional ambrosial delight.
Which recently brought Mart to my mind.
He married Belinda from Western Canada. Sherry and I got to know them well while we were stationed in western Newfoundland.
Mart was a prime example of the adage, “You can take the boy out of the bay, but you can’t take the bay out of the boy.”
An accomplished cook, Belinda regularly regaled Mart’s tastebuds with a variety of dishes. As tasty as her cooking was, though, he missed certain dishes he had been raised on, especially Jiggs dinner.
“What would you like me to cook?” Belinda asked Mart repeatedly.
The answer was always the same: “Fish ’n brewis and Jiggs dinner.”
“But I don’t know how to make either,” Belinda said. “Do you have a preference?”
“Yes. Jiggs dinner! Man, I can taste it now! Easy as 1-2-3, too! Just boil the salt meat till it’s tender, drop in the vegetables, and cook it.”
So Belinda made covert plans to surprise Mart.
She gathered the ingredients for Jiggs dinner. For starters, she bought a tub of salt meat. At home, she dropped the meat into a large pot of water and boiled it for several hours. When the meat was tender, she added peeled vegetables. She boiled the mixture till everything was cooked.
She set the kitchen table with her china and best cutlery, then brought out candles, in readiness for the special feast.
Mart arrived home from work, dirty, tired and famished. Even before he opened their apartment door, he smelled the unmistakable odour of Jiggs dinner. Naw, can’t be, he thought. I must be daydreaming. Belinda couldn’t. But she could.
Flinging open the door, Mart was met by Belinda, a broad smile on her face. The lights had been extinguished, replaced by glowing candles on the table.
“Guess what?” Belinda said.
Playing along, Mart said, “What?”
“I cooked your favourite meal!”
“You did? Which one?”
“God love you, my darling!” He planted a kiss on her lips.
After a shower, Mart returned to the kitchen.
“Sit down,” Belinda instructed.
She removed the pot lid. Now, the smell was overpowering.
Mart watched as Belinda dug into the pot and lifted out their meal. His helping was generous; hers was modest.
Mart, having flashbacks to his childhood, grabbed his fork and stabbed a chunk of salt meat. Forgetting his table manners, he jammed the morsel into his mouth.
Suddenly, he stopped, looked at Belinda, and gasped, “A glass of cold water! Quick!”
“Too hot, is it?” she inquired.
“No, too salty!”
The significance of his response eluded her. “It is salt meat, after all,” she said. “Isn’t it supposed to be salty?”
“Yes, but this is really salt. Did you soak the meat?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Belinda, you knows you gotta soak salt meat to get rid of some of the salt!”
“Oh.” Her smile had narrowed considerably.
Then Mart tasted a carrot. “Holy smokes!” he exclaimed. “Is that ever salt.”
Belinda’s smile disappeared. “You said you loved Jiggs dinner,” she said. “You gave me the recipe, which I followed in slavish detail.”
“I know, honey.”
“Mart, I actually went to the store and bought a tub of salt meat. I cooked it all afternoon.”
“Whaddaya mean…you cooked it all afternoon?”
There was an icy silence before Belinda answered.
“That’s exactly what I mean. I cooked the meat all afternoon till it was tender.”
“Out of curiosity, Belinda, exactly how much meat did you cook?”
“Whatever was in the tub.”
“All of it? You’re only supposed to cook a piece or two, after it’s soaked.”
“But you didn’t tell me.” With that, her voice broke. “I did this just for you, Mart, and I blew it. I’m sorry.”
“Honey,” he said, “I appreciate your effort. I should’ve explained the recipe better. I guess I’m so used to Jiggs dinner back home, I thought everybody knew how to cook it. Anyway, it’s the thought that counts.”
Realizing that her husband wasn’t upset but could see the humour in the situation, Belinda’s tears slowly turned to smiles, then gales of laugher.
“I can now see why the instructions you gave me were a recipe for disaster!” she said.