Bermuda Local Customs

The Bermuda lobster is one of the most cherished local dishes. It resembles a large crawfish and can be broiled or boiled, or served as lobster thermidor or Newburg. It is in season during all the "r" months except April, and all the better restaurants do it well.

Cassava pie is the pièce de résistance of Christmas dinner and beloved by Bermudians, who wouldn't think of Christmas without it. The ceremony of cassava pie at Christmas is a custom known nowhere else in the world, and each household has its own traditional recipe. Some are sweeter than others or dryer or lighter, and they are referred to by the name of the house occupied by a particular family, such as the "Stancombe Pie." The root of the cassava plant is grated to make a coarse flour. A thick and sweetish pie crust, not unlike moist mush, is made from the flour, and the pastry shell filled with cubes of cooked pork and chicken and covered with another thick crust. The two soft crusts meet in cooking so there is no clearly defined crust and filling. Cassava pie crust probably originated when Bermudians of some past age were unable to get white flour. Turkey and ham are part of the Christmas fare, too, but their role is decidedly secondary.

Sweet potato pudding is the Bermuda dish for Guy Fawkes Day. This marks the anniversary of November 5, 1605, when Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators tried to blow up the Parliament Building in London. Young Bermudians dress in costumes and celebrate with fireworks (in Bermuda the Fourth of July is just a quiet summer day). The pudding is unlike the United States sweet potato pie, and Historian W. E. S. Zuill compares it with parkin, an oatmeal and treacle cake that is traditional to North English countrymen on Guy Fawkes Day.
Salt cod and bananas is a traditional Sunday breakfast dish. As a rule, the enthusiasm of visitors who try it for the first time is scanty, but for generations it has been the mark of a wellordered Bermuda household.

Wedding cakes in the Colony are probably unique. At a Bermuda wedding there are two cakes, one for the ride and one for the groom. The groom's cake is "iced" with gold leaf symbolizing prosperity, and it must always be a plain pound cake. The bride's cake is iced with silver leaf and must always be a fruit cake with a tiny cedar tree at the top which is ceremoniously transplanted from the cake to the awn before she leaves her father's house.

Gombeys is the Negro patois name given to groups of gaily costumed colored people who dance in the roads at Christmas and Easter. Their dances, costumes and drums are believed to be carry-overs from African tribal dances, perhaps via the West Indies. They carefully plan their gaudy dress and particularly their peacock-feather headdresses. Harmony Hall has capitalized on this custom with their Gombey Room where the Gombeys entertain several nights a week.
Good Friday kite flying seems to have no particular historical or religious origin, but for years on Good Fridays, the local skies have been filled with kites. Most of them are homemade and every child and a rising number of adults vie to fly the biggest, the smallest or the prettiest. You can see them throughout the Colony, but the Pembroke Marsh near the Tennis Stadium is a favorite "flying field."

A shark oil barometer is the time-tested weather indicator of Bermudians, who will frequently proclaim its superiority over somewhat more scientific devices. Shark livers are hung in the sun and the oil is collected as it drips (far superior to trying it out in a pan, say local authorities). The oil is then put in a bottle and sealed. By noting the degree of clearness or cloudiness in the normally pale yellow oil a Bermudian insists he can predict the next day's weather.

Shark is not generally eaten except in Bermuda, where those of thirty inches or less are particularly relished on St. David's Island. In Life on Old St. David's, E. A. McCallan gives the generally recognized recipe: "First parboiled, the flesh is minced with herbs, chiefly parsley, mustard greens and red peppers, and fat pork."

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