By Gabby Peyton
In Newfoundland and Labrador, you can tell Jiggs Dinner is being cooked before you walk inside. Steamed up windows are a sure sign there’s a big pot of supper on the boil. Jiggs Dinner — a veritable melting pot of salted beef, root vegetables and yellow split peas — is one of the most recognizable and beloved meals in the province, and it’s the one that makes people feel at home when they’re a million miles away.
In addition to soaking the salt beef and yellow split peas overnight, making Jiggs Dinner requires hours of chopping, boiling and serving before it lands on the table. And across the province, everyone has their own rendition. Some cook it up or add big, over-plump dumplings to the pot, some people even sip on big mugs of the pot liquor (the cooking liquid) while the dish is finishing, and many will also roast a turkey or chicken accompanied by huge jugs of gravy to have with their Jiggs. It’s called Sunday dinner, sometimes cooked dinner, and could be called boiled dinner, but it’s the trifecta of meat-veg-pease pudding that makes it the Jiggs Dinner.
Semantics aside, the beloved dishes are a taste of Newfoundland and Labrador, and while elsewhere it could be recognized as Corned Beef and Cabbage, Jiggs is iconically Newfoundland and Labrador — even though the name isn’t.
The history of a name is long and delicious
According to urban legend, there are more than a few origin stories for the name Jiggs Dinner. One legend recalls the Newfoundlanders’ adoration of a kitchen party and that they all love to dance and do a jig in the kitchen supposedly while the pot is on the boil.
Another recalls that the salt beef, the most necessary item in the pot, was imported from New York by a company called Jiggs. One more suggests the way you would extract those boiled vegetables and bag of pease pudding out of the pot is reminiscent of jigging a codfish.
While the name Jiggs Dinner didn’t come around until the turn of the 20th century, its components have long been part of the Newfoundland and Labrador culinary cannon.
Jiggs Dinner’s everlasting flavours
Corned beef was an Irish export brought to North America in the 17th century to feed British and French settlers, and root vegetables, like those found in Jiggs Dinner, were the most easily grown. All the components would also store well in a root cellar over the long, harsh winters endured by the first settlers in Canada and across New England.
It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that the term Jiggs Dinner became common supper vernacular — and it comes from a comic strip. Jiggs was a character created by George McManus in his popular American comic called “Bringing Up Father” that ran for almost 100 years, from 1913 to 2000. Jiggs was an Irish immigrant, who won the lottery and became a millionaire. He was “new money” but still reverted to his working-class ways, like eating corned beef and cabbage.
The name became synonymous across North America for corned beef and cabbage, but particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador where it has remained the prominent nomenclature. Jiggs Dinner is like the New England boiled dinner (they use roast pork though), with the major difference being that in Newfoundland they use salted beef instead or corned — but cabbage is still used as the Irish do. New England boiled dinner is also served with horseradish, whereas in Newfoundland you’ll always find two jars of condiments on the table: preserved beets and mustard pickles.
What’s in a name? A whole meal, a whole culture, a whole lot of pot liquor.
Jiggs Dinner with Pease Pudding Recipe
This meal has been the Sunday dinner of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians for the better part of a century. This recipe is flexible when it comes to the amount and variety of root veg included because it’s all in one big pot. Do you like potatoes more than carrots? Add more potatoes. Like parsnip? Chuck them in! It’s always served with canned beets and/or mustard pickles.
For special occasions, Jiggs is accompanied by roast turkey or chicken and lots of delicious gravy.
Jiggs Dinner with Pease Pudding
- The night before, break salt beef into big chunks and soak in water overnight, at least 8-10 hours. Put split peas into a bowl and cover with water to soak overnight.
- Drain the salt beef and place it into a large stockpot. Cover with fresh water, at least 6-7 litres. Place the split peas into a pease pudding canvas bag or triple layer of cheesecloth and tie, making sure to leave room for peas to expand inside the bag.
- Put the bag inside the pot, tying the strings to the outside handle so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot with the salt beef. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours.
- Remove the peas pudding bag and empty contents into a bowl, mixing with butter and pepper for taste. Set aside.
- Add your cabbage to the pot and boil for 20 more minutes. Then add turnip, carrots and potatoes then boil for 20 more, or until vegetables are tender.
- Remove salt beef and vegetables from the pot and put them on a platter.
- Use the cooking liquid in two ways; as a pot liquor which some people like to drink or reduce it to make a jus or gravy to pour over the meal.
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