Tag Archives: rhubarb

“The long and hungry month of March”


March 1

Photo Credit: At the Rooms Provincial Archives: VA -15-A -28-10 Twillingate Garden Cellar

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.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms there is a small collection of photographs under the search terms:  agriculture, gardens, crops, and hay.

Did you know that Newfoundland and Labrador imports 90 per cent of its produce?  The Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (RANL) has been representing the interests of the Food Service Industry in our province for close to fifty years. RANL works with various groups and agencies to increase the use of local product to showcase our unique terroir in our restaurants.  Read More: http://ranl.ca/about/

March is Nutrition Month: https://www.dietitians.ca/your-health/nutrition-month/nutrition-month.aspx

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.





Rhubarb Pie in Ice and Snow?


February 23, 1889

rhubarbSubscribers to the St. John’s newspaper, The Daily Colonist  on February 23, 1889 read that a “Newfoundland Rhubarb pie” had been served at the Atlantic Hotel.

Why did a rhubarb pie make the news?

There was much conversation in the town about the pie, it appears that it may have been the first rhubarb grown and served in Newfoundland during the winter season. The reporter wrote:

“The vegetable was grown by Mr. J.T. Neville, at Rae Island farm and tastes as succulent and nutritious as if pulled in June. The stalks are quite large and can be seen under their glass covers by visitors to Mr. Neville’s place on the Waterford – Bridge road.”

Mr. & Mrs. Neville leased a fifty acre piece of property that encompassed the Waterford and Kilbride Rivers that they named Rae Island Farm. It was at the farm where they experimented with growing vegetables in a hot house. Rae Island Farm is known today as Bowring Park.

The Atlantic Hotel, located  at 102 Water Street was the most prestigious hotel in the city at the time. It was opened in 1875 by J.W. Foran.

The newspaper article concluded:

“Fresh rhubarb in Newfoundland in January! What will our friends across the water say to this? Those friends who have always looked upon Newfoundland as being covered in ice and snow three fourths of the year will certainly be surprised.”

Recommended Reading: Sean Cadigan, “The Staple Model Reconsidered: The Case of Agricultural Policyn Northeast Newfoundland, 1785-1855”, Acadiensis, XXI, 2 (Spring 1992), pp. 48- 71.