Burt Wolf's Table: Island of Bermuda - #223

BURT WOLF:  Bermuda, only 600 miles off the coast of Carolina; it's an ideal spot for an easy vacation.  The British have been here since the early 1600's and have packed the place with interesting architecture and traditional English culture.  Bermudians are also interesting cooks with a 400 year old history of local specialties.  So join me on the Island of Bermuda at Burt Wolf's Table.

The islands of Bermuda were well-known to the Spanish explorers who followed Columbus to the New World.  Their ships, filled with valuable cargo, started home by sailing north along the coast of Florida.  The islands of Bermuda were a navigational marker.  They told them it was time to make a right and head home.

The first written description of Bermuda appears to be the work of a Spanish sea captain who's ship ran aground here in the early 1500's.  Hey, hey, cut that out, come on, back up here.  In Bermuda, Bermuda shorts are the preferred form of dress for men.  As a matter of fact, they are actually considered conservative.  And I could go to the most serious business meeting in my Bermuda shorts and be told that I was properly dressed.

As I was saying, the first written account of Bermuda was made by a Spanish sea captain in the 1500's.  And the document really interests me because it’s the country's first shopping list with recipes.  I quote: "The birds came to us and perched on our heads, we brought more than five hundred to the ship.  We cooked them with hot water and they were so fat and good, that every night the men went hunting for them.  We dried and salted more than one thousand for the voyage home.  We also caught great numbers of fish.  Groupers, parrot fish and especially red snappers which were so plentiful, we were able to catch them with our hands.” So from the very beginning Bermuda was a great spot for a good meal.

The story of England's involvement with Bermuda begins with Sir George Summers.  He was the Admiral of a small fleet that had set sail from England with colonists who intended to settle in Virginia.  On July 28, 1609, a huge storm drove the Admiral's ship onto the rocks that surrounded Bermuda.  On board the ship was Sir Thomas Gates, who was going to Virginia to become the Governor of the colony.  Summers, the professional seaman and Gates, the professional politician, had different views on building a ship to continue the voyage to Virginia.  And so each built to their own design.  A full sized replica of Gates' ship, named Deliverance, now stands on a small island in front of the town of St. George. 

Summers' ship was named Patience, and both Patience and Deliverance showed up in the Virginia colony of Jamestown in 1610.  Jamestown was in terrible shape and Summers had no real interest in hanging around, but he had to have an excuse to leave, so he told everybody he was going back to Bermuda to get them more food.  Whether he really intended to do that, or just push on to England, we'll never know because when Summers got to Bermuda he died.  His heart was removed and buried here and the rest of him shipped back to England.  Which I guess makes Summers the first tourist to leave his heart in Bermuda. 

The description of Bermuda given by Sir George's nephew, Matthew, was so positive that it convinced the king to grant a new charter for the development of Bermuda.  In 1612, the first intentional settlers arrived on these islands. 

The islands that make up Bermuda are some six hundred miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, in an area long famous for exceptional fishing.  The result is a four hundred year old history of outstanding fish cookery.

A private home that is over a century old has been restored and transformed into one of Bermuda's finest restaurants.  It's called Once Upon A Table and its run by Lou Harvey.  The interior has been decorated in the Victorian style of the 1800's and the food is basically French with a Bermudian influence.  If you're in Bermuda and you give Lou thirty-six hours notice, he will  produce a traditional Bermudian meal. 

LOU HARVEY:  Today, Burt, we're going to start with traditional Bermuda fish cakes.  A fish cake of course you can present it with ... as I present it here today with a honey mustard sauce and topped with banana.  Also, you can make fish pies out of the codfish, you can do a whole host of different things.

BURT WOLF:  Codfish is really an old standby here isn't it?

LOU HARVEY:  Codfish is a basic yes, a very traditional Sunday morning breakfast that we have here in Bermuda.  And after that we're going to follow along with a ... with a Bermuda fish chowder which is very traditional.  And it's made from fish stock and other herbs and spices.  And that ... has been laced with black rum and sherry peppers.

BURT WOLF:  Everybody puts in a little bit Gosling's rum and Outerbridges’ Sherry Pepper Sauce.

LOU HARVEY:  Most certainly, the fish chowder without Outerbridges’ Sherry Pepper and black rum, isn’t really fish chowder.  And after that we can go into a pan-fried yellowtail and the yellowtail is really from our local waters.  And what we're presenting it on today is crushed pink peppercorns and also a black rum butter sauce.  After the snapper we're going to have a little pork noisette.  And again with the pork which was ...  eaten quite a bit in Bermuda, due to the fact that we had a lot of hogs running wild here.

BURT WOLF:  I saw the original map of Bermuda drawn by Admiral Summers, and in the lower right hand corner, there were a group of hogs that they feel were left here by a Spanish galleon.  They were, I guess, the original inhabitants of the island.

LOU HARVEY:  Yeah, exactly, well ... Bermuda as you know is named after Juan DesBermudez, and ... this is where we had the rock named Spanish rock where he came in, down there by Smith’s Parish, and of course that hearing these wild hogs, he probably thought that it was devils.  That's why Bermuda is also named Devil's Island.  Yeah.  Mhmm.

BURT WOLF:  The fish cakes and the fish chowder are traditional Bermudian dishes, but because the ingredients are generally available and the technique is so simple, it's just the kind of recipes I like to learn.

Let's start with the fish cakes.  They're being prepared by the chef at Once Upon A Table, Gerhard Lipp. 

This recipe starts with a pound of dried codfish, which looks like this.  You soak it in water for about eight hours, changing the water twice during that time period.  If you don't like codfish or you can't get it, you can use any white firm-fleshed fish; you don't have to soak it, but you do have to cook it.  And then you'll need three or four potatoes that you've boiled and cut into pieces so you can mash that together. 

The fish and the potatoes go into a mixing bowl, followed by two tablespoons of chopped onion, two tablespoons of chopped parsley, a tablespoon of basil, a hit of Outerbridges’ Sherry Pepper sauce and some ground black pepper.  All that is mashed together.  The final ingredient is a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.  The mixture is formed into little cakes about three inches in diameter and given a light coating of flour.  Two tablespoons of vegetable oil and two tablespoons of butter are heated together in a frying pan and the fish cakes are sauteed until they develop a golden brown color.

CHEF:  You fry them very crispy on the outside so when you bite in it they're nice and crunchy.

BURT WOLF:  When they come out of the pan, they go onto some paper toweling to drain, and then onto a serving plate with a sauce made from mayonnaise, mustard and honey.

Wherever the sea meets the shore, cooks use seafood to make a soup. 

As soup gets thicker, it becomes a stew.  But when does a fish soup become a chowder?  Not an easy distinction to make.  The word chowder appears to point to a thick soup made along the east coast of Canada.  First time you see the word in print is in the mid 1700's and Herman Melville uses it in his novel, Moby Dick.  He talks about towns along the east coast where you've got seafood chowder for breakfast, seafood chowder for lunch and seafood chowder for dinner, until you got to a point when you start looking at your clothing to see if fishbones are sticking out.

In Boston itself, and going north, chowders almost always have a milk base.  Starting in Rhode Island and going south, chowders are usually based on tomatoes and their juices.

It was a highly charged emotional issue.  There were actually governments in New England that passed laws saying that it was illegal to make a chowder without using milk.  Here in Bermuda they make a chowder without milk.  Is that simply because cows were never really important in Bermuda?  Or is it a political statement, a reference to the fact that not everybody in Bermuda was loyal to the King of England during the  War of Independence.  I'll have to get back to you on that.

Two quarts of fish stock or chicken stock go into a large saucepan, followed by a cup of chopped onion, cup of chopped celery.  A cup of chopped carrots.  Then in goes a chopped tomato and its juices.  A half cup of parsley, three bay leaves.  Two tablespoons of basil, two tablespoons of oregano, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and finally a tablespoon of rosemary.   All that is brought to a boil and simmered for thirty minutes, at which point in go two pounds of boneless, skinless fish filets that have been cut up into bite- size pieces.  The best fish for a Bermuda fish chowder is porgy, rockfish or grouper, but any mild-flavored, firm-fleshed fish will do the trick.  Ten minutes more of cooking and the chowder is ready to go into serving bowls.  Just before it goes to the table, the chef adds a touch of Bermuda Black Seal Rum and a little of Outerbridges’ Sherry pepper sauce.

The success of the revolutionary forces during the American War of Independence against England, deprived the British Navy of its ports on the east coast of North America and placed the British fleet in a somewhat insecure position.  The young American Navy was quite aggressive, and England feared that their position as ruler of the seas might soon be challenged.  So in the late 1700's England devised a plan to construct a naval fortress on Bermuda.  And by 1807, the work was well underway.  The most interesting structure is the Clocktower building.  It was meant to be a very dull simple Navy warehouse.  Ah, but the wrong plans were sent from London.  Bermuda totally by mistake got the architectural renderings that were supposed to be the British Embassy in Khartoum.  And they used those in error to produce this magnificent building.  It does really make you wonder what the British Embassy looks like in Khartoum.

The Clocktower has four faces and everybody around here calls it the “four faced liar,” simply because no one face can keep time with the others.  It has some value though; if you're late for work you can select which face you want to refer to, and the same is true if you want to leave early.  The towers are a hundred and one feet high and they have become one of Bermuda's most recognizable landmarks. 

The U.S. Navy never really gave any trouble to the Royal Naval Dockyards, but the yards were an incredible source of aggravation to the U.S.  It was from these docks that a British invasion force crossed over and attacked Washington during the War of 1812.  They actually burned down part of the White House.  It was the only time that the United States was invaded, assuming of course you exclude British rock bands and Japanese investment bankers.

When the First World War started in 1914, the Bermuda dockyards became a key element in Great Britain's defense.  And that role was repeated for both the English and the U.S. forces during the Second World War.  This yard was a major port for ship repairs and anti-submarine patrols. 

But in 1950, the British Navy closed the dockyard and it fell into a state of neglect.  Fortunately, a group of local citizens realized that the dockyard was a valuable historic property and began bringing it back to life.

The keep-yard has become the setting for the Maritime Museum, where Bermuda's maritime history is on display.  The old Cooperage where storage barrels were once made, is now the Frog And Onion Pub.  The name was a somewhat rude reference to the fact that the establishment is owned by a Frenchman, the Frog, and a Bermudian, the onion.  That seems rather unfair: onions are on the menu, but no frogs. 

Next door is the Bermuda Art Center, with regular exhibitions by local artists.  When the Clocktower was first constructed, it was regularly visited by the captain in charge and his cashier,  and housed the Naval Store Offices.  Today it is a residence for all sorts of local stores, each with its own cashier and ready to accept your charge cards.  Proving once again that the more things change, the more they are the same.

The dockyard hosts the Island Pottery, where potters pot jugs, bowls, teapots and vases to your order.  The husband’s waiting chair is a somewhat sexist element, but clearly quite functional.  There's also a craft market which sells works made by Bermudian craftsmen and women.  As well as a complete selection of locally-produced foods and beverages for tourists to take home. 

The Fourways Inn is one of Bermuda's best restaurants, and enjoys a worldwide reputation for excellent food and service.  The building was originally constructed as a private home in 1727.  In 1975, the property was purchased by Walter Sommer.  Walter was trained at the famous hotel school in Lausanne, Switzerland and spent many years developing some of the most important hotels and restaurants in the Carribean and on Bermuda.

After he got the restaurant in top shape, he began to develop a series of Bermudian food products, including an instant souffle.

WALTER SOMMER:  We discovered we'd be the first company to develop such a product.  Now the product is in a powder form.  You can have four different souffles.  That will mean that a lady or gentleman that can do the souffle without having a dirty kitchen, and a guaranteed product in twelve minutes.

WOLF:  The Bermuda Hotel and Catering College opened in 1965; today it’s part of the Bermuda College.  The school actually built its own hotel so the students could have a real working environment.  It's called the Stonington Beach Hotel, and the food and the restaurant's services are top-notch. 

Fred Ming is one of the leading instructors at the school and today he's giving me a private class.  The subject of which is his recipe for roast loin of pork with papaya stuffing.  The stuffing is made from chopped onion, garlic, sausage, bread crumbs and papaya.  A rack of pork is sliced almost in half, stuffed with a stuffing and roasted in a 375 degree oven until a meat thermometer indicates an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

FRED MING:  So that when you do sink your teeth into it, it's not going to sort of pull out any of your teeth to any extent.  It's going to be still be nice and ... nice and soft, nice and soft.

BURT WOLF:  The sauce is made from vinegar, sugar and crushed pineapple.  A little cinnamon and some brown sugar go onto two rounds of pineapple, which are then seared in a grill pan.  The pork comes out, some red cabbage goes onto a serving plate and the sauce, a slice of the stuffed pork, the pineapple rings, some carrots, a little broccoli and its ready to serve.

In 1964, Argosy Magazine ran an article that described the unexplained disappearance of an extraordinary number of ships and planes in a triangular area between Bermuda, the coast of Florida and the island of Puerto Rico.  The article told the story of a British ship named the Ellen Austin.  In 1881, the Austin came upon an abandoned vessel in the triangle; the craft was in perfect working order.  There was no crew on board.  The captain of the Austin put some of his own men onto the empty ship and instructed them to head for Nova Scotia on the coast of Canada.  A few days later, the two ships met up, and once again, the crew on the mystery ship had vanished.

The legend of the Bermuda Triangle also includes the story of the flight of five U.S. Air Force fighter planes that took off on a routine patrol from Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1945.  At one point the flight leader of the group radioed ground control that he was lost.  The rescue plane was sent out to help.  All six planes disappeared without a trace.

Since the original publication of the story about the Bermuda Triangle, there have been dozens of additional newspaper and magazine articles, a couple of television specials and even a movie.  Eventually somebody decided to take a real close look at this material.  It happened to be a man who was the head of the library at the University of Arizona.  And he used his research skills to scientifically evaluate all of the material.  He got hold of this stuff from the 1800's.  He was able to put his hands on a copy of the military transcript of the conversation between the five fighter pilots and the ground controllers.  And he tracked down all of the stories about the triangle.  When this material is subjected to scientific analysis, the conclusion is obvious:  none of it is true.  There is nothing going on in the Bermuda Triangle that doesn't go on every place else. 

There is however, one mysterious element that remains.

Bermuda Chef Norbert Stange at the Wyndham’s Elbow Beach Resort, baked something called The Bermuda Triangle Cookie.  And there are continuing reports of their disappearance in extremely large numbers.  I felt I should investigate the situation in some detail. 

The recipe starts with four cups of heavy cream being heated in a sauce pan.  And in go four ounces of butter, four cups of sugar, and a cup of honey.  All that cooks for about five minutes.  And add in four cups of sliced almonds.  Another five minutes of cooking and the mixture is ready to be poured onto a sheet of pre-baked pastry dough that has been used to line a jelly roll pan.  Twenty minutes in a 350 degree oven, and the sheet is cut into triangles. 

And it is at this very point that the disappearances occur.

The people who came to vacation in Bermuda during the past two centuries represented hundreds of different occupations.  Businessmen and women, doctors, lawyers, factory workers, even television reporters have come here for their holidays.  And they have all shared at least one objective, and that was to leave their work at home.

Nobody paid any real attention to the occupations of the tourists, except for a small group of people who were inspired by the vision of Tom Butterfield.  Mr. Butterfield realized that not all of the tourists left their work at home.  Some of them continued their craft when they were here and actually did some of their best work on Bermuda.  Those people were artists...  as a matter of fact, some of the world's most famous artists.  Only problem was when they finished their vacation, they brought those paintings and drawings back home.  To solve that problem, the Masterworks Foundation Gallery was formed, with the objective of bringing those works back to Bermuda.

It's organized as a charitable trust and run completely by unpaid volunteers.  Some of the works in the collection have been purchased, others are here on loan.  Each of them gives you a unique look at Bermuda through the eyes of an outstanding artist. 

TOM BUTTERFIELD:  This is a work by E. Ambrose Webster; it's a large oil of a family, painted in 1922, and this is the first portrait that we've ever been able to find of any Bermudian, black or white, painted on a non-commissioned purpose.  And we were very excited to find it.  This is a work by Jack Bush.  What's exciting about it is that Jack Bush to many Canadians is known as an abstract painter, and it is, it's a work that is just so charged with energy and light and life and vitality, that we love having it.  And just one ... a little anecdote, I had to run the London Marathon to raise the money to get it, but it was worth every mile.  This is a work by Ogden Pleisner; when we originally found it, it was titled The Mango Tree; however it is more correctly the PauPau tree, and just in interest, we use paupau here on this island to thicken our fish chowders.  Pleisner has no other peers in the watercolor medium, except for obviously the likes of Winslow Homer, so having six in our collection means a lot to us.  And he is nothing less than genius.

BURT WOLF:  The great American master Winslow Homer visited Bermuda and produced some twenty works.  This picture, called Bermuda Settlers, illustrated Homer's vision of the wild hogs that were found on Bermuda by the early English settlers.  The hogs we think had been left here by the Spanish explorers who had to stop back later and use their increased numbers to resupply their ships.  Good food has always inspired good art.

Bermuda's first settlers built cedar-framed all- timbered houses that were thatched with palmetto leaves.  During the early 1700's, the desire to conserve cedar for the profitable construction of ships led to the increased use of limestone.  Whatever material was used, the design had to meet the very unique environmental demands of these islands.

First of all, as the original settlers knew only too well, having arrived here as a result of a horrendous ocean storm, this island can from time to time be in the path of some difficult weather.  Second of all, there is no source of fresh water, save that which descends from the heaven in the form of rain.  And finally there are fabulous ocean breezes that come off the sea and you wouldn't want to miss them during the warm summer months.

The result of these elemental forces is an architectural style that is truly unique to Bermuda, that is valid today as it was almost three hundred years ago when it was originally developed.  Logs were used to build a basic frame, slices of limestone called slates were layered down like dominoes.  The bottom slate went on first, the bottom limestone layers went on in a way that formed a set of steps.  The final form was sealed with a wash of lime.  Downpipes pulled the raindrops together and directed them to a holding tank dug into the rock next to the building.  That was the basic plan for the original structures and even today, Bermuda's buildings are topped with a roof that acts as a giant rain pipe.  Even the chimneys are topped with forms that are designed to save rainwater.  The only major difference appears to be that these days the storage tanks are under the buildings rather than next to them.  The walls of the buildings are thick and sturdy and well suited to withstand the occasional passing storm.  They're also ideal for capturing the cool and gentle breezes that come off the ocean.  Around each window are a set of shutters that help contain the cool air.  Many buildings have open porches that give the building more roof area for the water works and a shaded area for outdoor living.  Bermuda's limestone met the most important needs of the island's early home builders, but it’s not a material that lends itself to architectural detail.  There are few decorative elements in the buildings of Bermuda.  On the other hand, they have a certain sculptural quality with clean crisp lines that reflect the ever-changing light patterns.

In many ways, the architecture of Bermuda is extremely natural and therefore very pleasing.  It’s done a good job of withstanding both the physical and critical tests of time.  Well, that's our report from Bermuda.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and the reasons why people eat them.  I'm Burt Wolf.