Downhome Magazine

The Little Black Kettle

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My father called it a boat's kettle, others named it a camping kettle and excuse my language, but in some areas of this province, it is referred to as a "slut." Check it out on page 497 in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. If you are about to quit reading about such a simple subject as a kettle, please be assured that this humble little tin pot holds a special place in the recollections of my childhood in Branch. Maybe my father purchased his kettle from the Placentia Trading Company a.k.a. Bert Miller's. I assume it wasn't black when it was brand new but the smoke from a wood fire quickly transformed it into its familiar ebony colour.

From the beginning of the fishing season to the end, the fishermen brewed their tea in that little kettle. The convenience of tea bags in a cup had not reached our part of the world when my father plied his trade. The whole process was actually quite simple. Bring the water to a boil, throw in a handful of loose black tea and let her steep. After a hard morning of hauling nets or jigging or setting lines off Cape St. Mary's, I would assume that the strong brew spouting from that kettle was a welcome elixir. For sure, it made the molasses bread or the hard tack go down easier.

In winter I loved accompanying Daddy into the woods when he went to haul a load of firewood. The recurring image of that black kettle hanging over an open fire makes me glad that I grew up where wood was our only source of fuel. It didn't hurt of course that I had a father who never thought it too much trouble to let a few children tag along for the ride. When that kettle started to bubble and boil, my sisters and I knew that the Purity Jam Jams or the Lemon Creams were not far away. I can safely say that I have never had a mug of tea that tasted as good as the tea that poured out of my father's boat's kettle.

Thoughts of that little kettle remind me of two of Daddy's favourite pastimes, sleeping and smoking his homemade Target cigarettes. When we tramped in over the barrens in search of the delicious partridgeberry, Daddy always packed his handy implement in his game bag. Alongside some babbling little gully, he would get the fire going. "Watch the kettle now while I'm having a smoke and call me when it boils." True to habit, the cigarette smoke had barely dissipated into the autumn air when he would be napping. But he loved his mug up too and we never had to wait long for him to produce a feed of salt fish roasted in the fire. It didn't matter that leaves or flies or specks of dirt had found their way into the kettle. Every drop of tea and every crumb of bread would disappear. Our family always used Red Rose Orange Pekoe tea, but it was that little boat's kettle that put the real flavour into the beverage.

Perhaps my mind is being selective when I recall those pleasant outings of long ago. I am sure those excursions couldn't be classified as elegant picnics or educational field trips. I do however remember them as very enjoyable times. And the small black kettle just serves to remind me that I had a good childhood and one of the best fathers a child could ever know.

Placentia, Newfoundland
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