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Curing fish for the shipment to England

Quoted from "English Enterprise in Newfoundland 1577 - 1660"
By Gillian T. Cell



Once in Newfoundland and the chosen harbor, the ship would be unrigged for the season and her crew would go ashore to cut timber and to build stages, flakes, cookrooms and shacks. The stages were begun on shore and extended into the sea, so that the cod could be thrown up from the small boats in which the fishing was done. These fishing boats, usually of three to five tons, could hold between 1000 and 1200 fish and were handled by as many as five men. The skilled work of cleaning and preparing the fish was done on the stage, the waste being thrown into the sea and the livers saved to make train oil. An expert "splitter" could bone some 480 fish in thirty minutes. It passed next to the salter who applied salt with a brush; this too was skilled work for too much salt "burned" the fish, causing it to become wet and break, while too little made it turn red when dry. The elaborate drying process now began. The cod was first stacked in piles three feet high where it stayed for three to ten days depending on the weather. Next it was washed and laid in a second pile, skin side up, "on a platt of stones, which they called a horse." A day or so later the men placed it on flakes, erections of branches laid over a frame, where it dried in the air and sun. By night or in good weather, the fish was made up into "faggots," four or five fish with the skin side up and a broad fish on top. When it was well dried it was put into a "press pile," where the salt was sweated out leaving the fish looking white. After one more day of drying on the ground, it was finally stacked into a "dry pile" and there it remained until the ship was ready to sail, when the cod was weighed and carried on board. The hold of the ship had to be completely waterproof and once the fish was put down, the hatches were sealed and could not be opened again until the vessel reached its destination.

This arduous and lengthy drying process--it could take as long as three months-- was imposed upon the English fishermen because of their shortage of salt. Virtually all the salt used at Newfoundland had to be purchased in Europe or bought at the island from the Portuguese and French. Cod dried mainly in the air required much less salt to preserve it than did wet or green fish, which was made by the easier and quicker process of fishing directly from the ship and then simply putting the cleaned fish in the hold and covering it with thick layers of salt. This was the usual technique of many European fishermen who had access to large supplies of cheap salt, the English on the other hand, made wet fish only towards the end of the season when they had no time for the drying process.



Page contributed by: Don Tate, April 7, 2000
Page revised: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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