Delicious taste of lobster and other delights

3 January 1997

Delicious taste of lobster and other delights

IF you like seafood, you will love Maritime Canada, I was told. I do and I did, and I cant wait to go back to the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, where the people are friendly and the folk-art is fascinating.

As for the food, the lobster is so good and so plentiful that it is a favourite souvenir and the distinctive take-home lobster-box is common hand luggage on outward bound flights from Halifax.

Top Nova Scotian chef Stephen Houston likes to use local produce and is never short of lobster. Lobsters are available all year but are fished for only six weeks in each specific area round the province to conserve stocks. We feasted on his roast lobster served with fennel on a barley rissoto.

Stephen, who works at the Citadel Hotel, Halifax, sources all his produce locally. "The farmers market here is the oldest in North America and I can even get locally-produced Dutch cheeses and feta – it doesnt make sense to go anywhere else," says Stephen who caters for around 200 people each evening.

The use of regional products in hotels and restaurants has been boosted by the Taste of Nova Scotia program, launched in 1989. Members of the scheme have to reach quality standards in both food and service. Its annual Dining Guide is a very popular reference for tourists.

On our trip the test of a good eaterie was the chowder. This fish soup, which we tested daily, comes in consistencies from thin and creamy to thick and hearty. Stephen makes his with lobster, mussels, white fish, potatoes, scallops, onions and spring onions, prawns and fennel cooked in cream, milk and stock. It is delicious enough to get you addicted.

Fishing has been a major industry in Canada but the depletion of fish stocks has taken its toll here as elsewhere.

Many fishermen have turned to aquaculture – mussels are farmed extensively – and tourism. Lunenberg is Nova Scotias premier fishing port and a place not to be missed. It has a wonderful fisheries museum in which you could spend days without boredom. Salmon par and Black Ocean Pout are among the fish that swim in its aquarium; old photos and tackle, salted fish, lobster pots and boats can be seen at close quarters and live old sea dogs will tell you their history.

In the harbour you can board redundant fishing boats like the schooner Therese E Connor, launched in 1938 and finally tied up in 1963. You can wander the decks and see the cramped sleeping quarters which look like so many shelves, and if you are lucky, chat to an old boy who once fished the offshore banks in her.

The fishing village of Chetticamp on Cape Breton is another "must" and here you will get modern day tales of seaside adventure aboard the Golden Hawk and the Loveboat, which take tourists out whale-watching. Pilot whales breed in the waters round Cape Breton and boat owner Laurie McKeowan, a French Acadian, has dozens of photographs of the whales his crews have "spotted". "We have had a 95% success rate of sightings this season," he says. "We keep in touch with fishermen and other boat owners and share information about where the whales have been spotted most recently so we can head to the most likely areas."

If you havent the sea legs for whale watching, then take a look at the wonderful tapestries in the Elizabeth LeFort Gallery at Cheticamp. Elizabeth is 82 and although she was supposed to have retired in 81 she still does this very demanding incredibly fine hooked work.

Drive further along the coastal road and you will come across folk art of a very different nature. Joes Scarecrows have to be seen to be believed. There are dozens of these life-size "people". ploughing, marrying, sitting in circles, waiting for company to take the spare seats, or raising a hand to passers by. A sweet coffee from the converted school bus diner the scarecrows surround will counteract the surprise of finding this gathering on a quiet road.

Back in the village Laurie also owns Lauries Motel and Dining Room, where his Mom and Dad, from whom he seems to have inherited his enthusiam and capacity for hard work, have cooked meals in the spotless kitchen daily since 1938. Mom, wearing an immaculate pink uniform, served us home-made blueberry pie, ice cream and coffee. It was irresistible even at llam.

Next time I visit I will try to stay at Lauries when he has one of his folk music nights and hopefully listen to a shanty or two, for the sea and its harvests in this lovely area of Canada are certainly something to sing about. Tessa Gates

Top Nova Scotian chef Stephen Houston is spoilt for choice when it comes to local seafood. His roast lobster served with fennel on a barley risotto (above) is a feast.

There are 17 moose to the square mile on Cape Breton and hunting is strictly limited with a draw for licences. Laurie McKeowan (left) bagged both these trophies, the one he holds is an average size, visitor Robert Gates shows off the record breaker Laurie shot last year.

Pretty painted houses and churches are found in villages throughout Nova Scotia and even inland you are never far from water.

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