For Maids who Brew & Bake

Drawing on manuscripts and historical accounts, the author Sheilah Roberts recounts the living conditions of early settler life, around the mid-1600’s in Newfoundland.  English immigrants settled up and down the eastern seaboard of the island while the French migrated to the southern tips.  This book takes you back to that time with snippets of written documentation (in olde English!) that explains the lives of wives and maids and translating original recipes into today’s standards.

The plea for people to join him, a request made by Captain Edward Wynne, Governor of Ferryland in a letter to England on August 17, 1622 stated, “It may likewise please your honour to give expresse order that such be sent thither…Strong maids that (besides other worke) can both brew and bake.” Now we know where the title of the book came from…but what inspired Sheilah to write the book?  She told me, Being in the right place at the right time. I had just completed the tour of the archeological site at the Colony of Avalon in Ferryland Newfoundland and the last stop on the tour was at the ’17th century kitchen’. The interpreters in the kitchen showed us a loaf of bread leavened with beer. After the tour, I went straight to the gift shop to look for the book with the explanation/recipe.  It wasn’t there and didn’t exist. The rest, as they say, is history!”

I had friends in college from Newfoundland and was introduced to fish and brewis, a staple of Newfoundland meals.  This book gives some background on the iconic meal dating it back to the 1300’s. Bread was made into hardtack by bakeries in England for ships to use during their travels.  This lessened spoilage while providing a meal staple.  Combine the hardtack with available fish and a traditional dish was born. 

The book covers the expected food groups of fish, poultry, game, bread making, fruits and vegetables.  It’ll soon be strawberry season and I thought you’d like to see how strawberry jam or conserve was made in the 1600’s.  Try it in our Recipe section – easy and with the freshest ingredients, tastes amazing.  And Sheilah’s favourite dishes in the book? “The syllabub is to die for! I also like the Pippen pie (pg. 99) with the apples stuffed with cloves, dates and orange rind. Really delicious! Perhaps the most practical one, one that I use a lot is the one for carrots. Sometimes the carrots you buy in the supermarkets are not the freshest and this recipe with wine vinegar and onions sweetens even old carrots.  But there are so many others… the salmon, pg. 31, and ‘to season a chicken pie’, page 44, ‘to stew venison’ page 71…” You’ll have to get a copy of the book to make all these delicious dishes!

The interesting part of this book looks at the diseases and cures in the settlers’ lives. Medical belief during this era revolved around the Greek’s four Humours: blood, phlegm, yellow bile/choler and black bile/melancholy. The thinking was that what you ate would determine your health, specifically earth (cold), air (dry), fire (hot), water (wet).

Unique remedies included turnip syrup (colds), rosemary flowers & white wine (bad breath), a hound’s turd (staunch bleeding), take lice out of your head and put it in your eye (floaters)…thank goodness for modern medicine.  “When we know better, we do better.” Maya Angelou.

You’ll want your own copy of this very interesting look back into settler life in the new world.  Get it at and look for Sheilah’s other great books on the history of alcohol in Newfoundland along with her children’s series. Win a copy of Maids Who Brew & Bake in our Giveaway section. So what’s Sheilah working on these days?  “Right now, I’m finishing up some children’s books and have plans for a longer children’s novel and a historical children’s novel. After I finish the incredibly hard work of a non-fiction book, I always swear… never again. But the idea of a sequel to maids (i.e. women and cuisine in the 18th and 19th century) is still lurking at the back of my brain, so who knows. Maybe someday. Who knows! LOL.” If there’s a Maids sequel, I’ll be first in line for it!

Contents and images used with permission by Flanker Press.