In Newfoundland and Labrador the month of March has traditionally been referred to as “the long and hungry month of March.” The expression finds its origins in our ‘food’ history.
“The long” is taken from the fact that March follows – the shortest month in the year – February. “The hungry month” can be explained by looking at the availability of food especially root vegetables and how supplies were preserved throughout the winter months.
The preservation of food for our ancestors (before the weekly and for some daily visit to the grocery or convenience store) typically involved freezing, salting or pickling.
With no electricity one of the essential structures to be built on the family property was the “root cellar.” Root cellars served to keep food supplies from freezing during the winter months and cool during the summer months.
Typically, families would put a variety of root vegetables in the cellar in the fall of the year; the main vegetables being potatoes, turnip, and carrot. Other food supplies placed in the root cellar over the winter months included beets, preserves, jams, berries, and pickled cabbage. Fish and wild game also found a place in the cellars including turres, moose, caribou, salt meat, and salt fish. In addition to what was stored in the cellar some families had access to domestic animals such as cows, goats, and sheep.
As the winter wore on the supplies that had been gathered and stored in September and October – especially the vegetables – would gradually diminish, by late March, supplies would be very low.
The coming of March marked a time of optimism and hope. March was the time for sealing or “swilin’ time.” Seal meat would give some reprieve to `the long and hungry month of March’ by which time the family food store was very low. At this time of the year, in many parts of the province, sealing provided the only opportunity to obtain fresh meat and the pelts brought long awaited cash.
It would be springtime before the hope of the first new vegetable of the year would show, the spring green, know locally as dandelion leaves, the first vegetable after a long winter.
It is the long and hungry month of March.
March is Nutrition Month in Canada.
Recommened Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives there is a small collection of photographs under the heading agriculture, gardens, crops, and hay.
Recommended Web Site: Elliston, Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador is the Root Cellar Capital of the World. http://www.rootcellars.com/
Lost Words: “Lazy Beds”: a type of potato bed – a farming method where the sod was not removed but turned over with the shovel between the beds, thus simultaneously forming the trenches and raising the beds.Newfoundland andLabrador is one of the few places in the world where this type of potato bed can still be found.