Today is Bermuda Day, formerly Victoria Day, Empire Day, Commonwealth Day and Heritage Day (make up your mind Bermuda). Bermuda Day is a public holiday in the islands of Bermuda. It is celebrated on May 24, or the weekday nearest May 24 if that date falls on the weekend. It is traditionally the first day to go into the water or put a boat in the water, and traditionally the first day that business people wear Bermuda shorts (called “shorts” in Bermuda, much as Japanese food is called “food” in Japan), although increasingly they are worn year round these days. There is a variety of events including a big parade, a road race, and dinghy races.
Bermuda was discovered in 1505 by Spaniard sea captain Juan de Bermúdez, after whom the islands are named. He claimed the apparently uninhabited islands for the Spanish Empire. Although he paid two visits to the archipelago, Bermúdez never landed on the islands because he did not want to risk trying to sail past the dangerous reef surrounding them. Subsequent Spanish or other visitors are believed to have released the feral pigs that were abundant on the island when European settlement began. In 1609, the Virginia Company, which had established Virginia and Jamestown on the North American continent two years earlier, established a settlement founded in the aftermath of a hurricane, when the crew of the sinking Sea Venture steered it on the reef so they could get ashore.
The islands became a British colony following the 1707 unification of the parliaments of Scotland and England, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain. After Newfoundland became part of Canada in 1949, Bermuda became the oldest remaining British Overseas Territory (last gasp of the empire). Its first capital, St. George’s, was established in 1612. It is the oldest continuously-inhabited, English-speaking town in the New World.
The culture of Bermuda reflects the heritage of its people, who are chiefly of African and European descent. A small percentage of Asians also live on the island. Although Bermuda is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, it also has strong historical links with the United States. On one hand, Bermudians seem British in their customs – for example, playing cricket, driving on the left, and having Queen Elizabeth II on their banknotes. At the same time, a strong North American cultural influence is obvious: the currency is the dollar (on par with the US Dollar); Bermudians frequently watch television from the US; and Bermudian English shares many similarities with American English. Dress in Bermuda, however, is distinct from either American or British styles. While in the U.S. or Britain, shorts are considered casual dress, Bermuda shorts are considered to be formal attire in Bermuda, and are worn with a jacket and tie. Formal dress for work with pink shorts is not uncommon for men.
Of course the so-called Bermuda Triangle (aka The Devil’s Triangle) gets its name from the fact that the apex of the triangle is Bermuda. Legends abound, and for the most part are complete nonsense. For example, one author claims that when the tanker SS V.A. Fogg exploded and sank in 1972 all the crew had vanished except for the captain who was sitting dead at his desk clutching a coffee cup. In actual fact the Coast Guard photographed the wreck and recovered several bodies, not including a dead coffee swilling captain. Furthermore, SS V. A. Fogg sank off the coast of Texas, nowhere near the commonly accepted boundaries of the Triangle. The clincher for me, though, is that insurance companies do not raise their rates when ships enter the Triangle. Those guys know how to hold on to their money, as anyone who has dealt with insurance companies knows.
Bermuda’s cuisine has a rich and diverse history, blending English and Portuguese styles, given its own twist because of Bermuda’s seafood species, particularly wahoo and rockfish. For example, a dish of fish and potatoes can be served in one of two ways – British style with the addition of hard boiled eggs and egg sauce, or Portuguese style in which the added ingredients are tomato-onion sauce, peas and rice. Fish chowder is the quintessential dish of Bermuda, with as many variants as there are cooks. This one is modified from a recipe from a local cook. Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers Sauce is readily available on the island, but I give a substitute recipe in case sailing or flying to Bermuda is not on your weekend agenda. It should be! (It’s about a 2 ½ hour flight from New York).
Bermuda Fish Chowder
4 quarts water
1lb of fish heads and fish bones (preferably wahoo or rockfish)
1 ½ lbs firm white fish fillets (also wahoo or rockfish if available)
salt, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, ground cloves to taste
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp oil
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and diced
3 large onions, chopped
8 celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 green peppers, chopped
6 carrots, diced
½ cup parsley, chopped
1 can (28 oz, 794 g) peeled tomatoes
1 cup ketchup
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp lemon juice
2 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
4 tbsp Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers Sauce
Ground pepper to taste
Place the fish heads, bones and water into a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour.
Strain the fish stock through a fine sieve or a colander lined with two layers of cheesecloth. Be sure there are no bone fragments in the stock. Discard the heads and bones and return the stock to the pot.
Put the fish fillets, salt, and spices into the pot with the stock. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 30-45 minutes.
In a frying pan melt the butter and oil and sauté onions, celery, garlic, and green peppers. Add the tomatoes and and 2 cups of the fish stock and simmer for 30 minutes.
Transfer this mixture to the fish stock and add remaining ingredients. Simmer partially covered for 2 hours. Adjust seasoning to your liking.
Serve piping hot and pass around Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers Sauce and, Gosling’s Black Seal Rum for extra seasoning.
40 fresh pequin chiles (or little hot peppers of your choice)
2 cups dry sherry
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chiles and let sit in the boiling water for 2 minutes to soften them.
Drain well, and put the peppers into sterilized bottles.
Fill the bottles with sherry and seal. The longer it sits, the hotter it will be.