Rosehips from Red Head Cove

Every year I make a New Year‘s resolution to experience something new. One year, I decided to challenge myself to experimenting with cooked puddings. Every month, a new recipe would be tested out. I thought I‘d tried them all, but just this October I was introduced to my all-time favourite pudding. Just goes to show you can always learn something new.

My farmer is a great forager. She can see potential food in nearly anything growing on the Newfoundland landscape. One of the things we foraged together is rosehips. A rosehip (or rose hip) is the fruit of the rose plant. It‘s typically red or bright orange, but also sometimes dark purple or even black. Rosehips form after flowers are pollinated in the spring and they ripen in late summer and autumn.

Rosehips are used in lots of foods—jams and jellies, syrups, soups, pies and breads, teas and even wine. You can eat them raw, like a berry, if you can avoid the hairs and hard seeds inside the fruit. Rosehips are one of the richest plant sources available for vitamin C, so every good forager should be greedily protecting their rose bushes at this time of year. My farmer has friends who travel out of province for the winter. Their rose bushes would be the envy of any alert forager.

The friends live in Red Head, another of those breathtakingly beautiful coves along the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland.

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Their back yard looks out over a long pasture which ends at a wooded area, through which the lovely East Coast Trail meanders beside the Atlantic Ocean.

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And in this back yard grow those wondrous rose bushes.

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There were at least a dozen enormous plants growing here, the hips bright and luscious, the thorny branches sagging with an unexpected harvest. We picked quietly for an hour, the farmer, my friend Thomas and I. Some of the fruit was overripe and therefore mushy and dark. Some of it was underripe and refused to come off the branches at all. Of those hips that were ripe, the berries with their serrated-edged leaves on the bottom (causing some concern to the uninitiated) came off relatively easily, oft-times leaving an opening at the top, from which one or more earwigs would sometimes apologetically emerge and scurry away. Thomas and I were doubtful of this bounty that the farmer was clearly relishing, her thoughts racing ahead to a miraculous pudding.

Back at the farm, the farmer took Thomas and me to the side garden, where we picked a small bowl of crab apples to add to the pudding. These too looked dubious just off the tree with their bruises and ridiculous tininess. Who actually eats crab apples, I wondered.

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Our first duty in the kitchen was to clean the fruit. All leaves and stems were removed, all insects were escorted out the door. Then, pots of crab apples and rosehips were set to boil in a bit of water on the stove. Once cooked through, both fruits were very soft and the various elements—skin, flesh and seeds—separated easily.

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That was the moment our farmer presented us with the most magical kitchen tool ever, a chinois.

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A chinois is a funnel, in this case metal, and the holes are big enough to let fruit flesh through to a waiting pan while holding the seeds and skin back. After only a little pressing, the result inside the chinois is an unbelievable mess of seeds, pasted together with a little cooked rosehip (or later, crab apple) skin.

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You use a large wooden pestle to press the fruit against the sides, forcing the flesh, or mash, out.

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And the result outside the chinois, spatula-ed off the sides into the waiting pan, the result of all our doubting labours, is the pudding. The rosehips pudding is a lovely orange hue,

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the crab apple pudding comes out a much deeper, reddish hue.

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and combined, crab apples and rosehips, with just a touch of sweetener, make the best pudding known to man.

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And I should know: I tried them all one year, as a New Year’s Resolution. Every kind of pudding I tried, except rosehip-crab apple pudding, now my favourite.

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Heat the pudding and serve with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Heaven ensues.

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The Ravens of Shoe Cove

“Would you take the dog for a walk, please?” my farmer asked, hoping to encourage me out of myself for a couple of hours. Not having slept well for two nights, I wasn’t really in the mood to face the overcast day or the chilling winds, but I had no excuse.

“Come on, Nina,” I said. “Let’s hike to Shoe Cove.”

The dog needed no further urging. She was already at the door, her tail signalling enthusiasm for the proposed outing.

The entrance to the Shoe Cove trail, at the Pouch Cove end, faces the ocean. Today, waves crash against the rocky shoreline. A few scattered snowflakes are frozen on the muddy trail. Nina and I enter the trail slightly intimidated by the weather, which has a sinister feel to it this time. On our left, a sheer descent is at times only a metre from where we tread, and because we’ve had rain in recent days, there are many streams racing across the trail and down the cliff side, making our footing treacherous.

Nina runs ahead once we get into the overgrowth, fragrant with cedar, larch and balsam, and bright with a lush mossy carpet everywhere. I too relax, remove my gloves and hat, and unzip my jacket. The wind is blocked behind the scrub brush and the sound of the waves is muted.

My steps slow down now that the dog is off leash, and my mind wanders back to the previous evening. After dinner, my farmer had asked me something startling.

“Would you like me to read your runes?”

“My runes?” I said, unsure whether I’d heard this normally unsentimental woman correctly.

Runes are the letters that pre-date the Latin alphabet for Germanic languages. They’ve been retained for specialized purposes in various cultures, including divination. It felt too hocus-pocus for me, but I could hardly tell her ‘No’.

Putting a dark, cloth bag on the table, she directed me to pull three stones from it. I was careful to place them in order of selection, on the table. I had selected Laguz, Ing and Isa.

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My first rune, Laguz, literally means water or lake. The Atlantic Ocean, I thought. What I’ve been staring at out my bedroom window for a month. That’s interesting!

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“Laguz means intuitive knowledge,” my farmer explained. “No matter what troubles beset you, you will be more than capable of dealing with them.”

Ing or the God Ingwaz means something almost always positive.

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My farmer was delighted with these first two runes. “Ing indicates that the force is available to you at this time to complete any projects,” she said. “You can expect a successful conclusion.”

My final rune, Isa, represents ice.

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When I pulled this rune from the bag, my farmer sighed. “I don’t like this one at all,” she told me. “It means a freeze, or a cessation. Put all plans on hold for the moment. Expect delays and frustrations. Be patient.”

Back on the trail, Nina was by my side, patiently hoping for a biscuit. Optimistically, she sat in front of me, her eyes watching my hand.

Because we had stopped, I took a moment to look around us, more aware of our surroundings suddenly. Nina broke her biscuit apart and stooped to collect the first half. On the path beside her biscuit was a black feather. Picking it up, I realized this was no crow’s feather. It was a larger bird, like a seagull maybe, but black. A raven.

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Two weeks ago, I was experiencing some uncertainty about my role in Pouch Cove. Our neighbour Dan had sensed my concerns and invited me to his deck for a coffee. He suggested I lean back and close my eyes, and then walked me through a visualization exercise.

“Imagine everything you want in your future, to as fine a detail as you can,” he suggested.

I’m terribly pragmatic by nature. Still, I like Dan and wanted to please him, so I did as I was told. I imagined living in a neat little wooden structure by the sea, with a cat and some chickens, a totem pole in the yard, some good friends and even a long-term companion. It was a pretty picture. Not very likely, but pretty nonetheless. I opened my eyes feeling some satisfaction just as a bird called above us. A large, black bird, circling and calling assurances.

We get ravens here in Pouch Cove. It hardly seems possible, but I’ve seen them, and so have the neighbours. Our neighbour two doors down stopped me one day to tell me that he’d watched a raven make off with one of our baby chicks in its beak. I wasn’t sure whether I could become fond of such barbaric creatures. My farmer was more circumspect.

“We have too many chickens anyway,” she sighed. “Let’s hope it was a rooster.”

Nina and I continue our hike as I ponder all these moments from my time in Pouch Cove. Only a month here, yet it seems so much longer. I’ve learned to tend chickens, but also goats.

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I’ve painted an entire barn, and then mucked it out. I’ve assisted with the Bed and Breakfast, and done lots of entertaining. I’ve harvested three kinds of potatoes, including the lovely blue heritage variety.

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And I’ve foraged for mushrooms and rosehips and more types of berries than you can shake a stick at, as they say.

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St. John’s has become dear to my heart already

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and I can’t imagine a week without a hike along the East Coast Trail.

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It’s been a busy, productive month, but not without its worries.

We come to the path that leads down into Shoe Cove, a sheltered area where the wind is blowing the waves madly against the walls, foam spraying up far above our heads. Nina scoots down the embankment ahead of me and disappears into the woods on the other side. We’ve reached our destination, so to celebrate this small victory, I sit on a large rock to watch the waves come in and to ponder again my future plans. What should I do? Should I stay and try to contribute to the community?

“uuuuUUCCGGG,” something screams above me. I look up. Two ravens are circling above the cove.

“uuuuUUCCGGG,” the other bird screams in response.

I’ve never seen a raven before: I wonder why there are so many raven portents in Newfoundland.

Standing up, I realize time is passing; the farmer has asked me to be back by 4 p.m. to assist with Hallowe’en. Tonight is a time set apart for spiritual journeys. Perhaps also for spirit guides, like ravens who’ve witnessed many of my Pouch Cove doings.

“uuuuUUCCGGG,” says the raven again, a final salutation before they disappear out of the cove.

Before I left Toronto, my friend Josh had warned me that I might at first feel overwhelmed at the amount of solitude I’d face on the farm, that living in such an isolated community would have its challenges. He held me close. “You’ll get through the first month somehow, and then everything will come together. It’ll be amazing.”

I’ve come through the first month affected deeply by the magic of the landscape and the ocean view, moved by the warmth and honesty of the people and embraced into a community that wants to include me in some excellent projects.

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Even better, I feel completely accepted by a very agreeable band of madcap animals who take turns lying on my bed uninvited, chirping and purring in my ear, baaing for handouts and growling for walks. My chores are punctuated by head noogies and bum rubs, raspberries into cat bellies and clucking noises into a one-legged chicken’s feathers. Suddenly, my mind is made up.

“Nina, come!” I shout. “Time to get home. We’re wanted at the farm!”

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Foraging Like a Graffiti Artist

In my travels, I see a lot of graffiti. One of the things I’ve noticed about graffiti is that the artists sometimes choose to leave their work in challenging locations, called heaven spots. Wikipedia describes it like this:

Heaven spots are pieces that are painted in hard-to-reach places such as rooftops and freeway signs, thus making them hard to remove. Such pieces, by the nature of the spot, often pose dangerous challenges to execute, but may increase an artist’s notoriety. This term also encompasses a double-meaning as the locations are often very dangerous to paint there and it may lead to death, thus, going to heaven (also known as “hitting up the heavens”).

As Thomas and I followed Elke along the coastline this afternoon, and listened to her description of the foraging activity she had planned for us, I was reminded of these graffiti artists. I wondered momentarily whether Elke had tired of our services. You see, we were collecting Newfoundland cranberries today, and cranberries only grow in remote, hard-to-reach locations.

“They only grow along the cliffs where it’s wet,” she explained as she descended a narrow, muddy trail that led down the side of the coastline.

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Just the descent was treacherous. There are no trees or shrubs to cling to, so you’re left with grasping any nearby grasses and praying they’re well anchored. As with all the foraging exploits we’ve been on so far, I began this one full of doubt but reliant on Elke, whose experience in all things foraging surpasses my craziest notions.

“They grow underneath, so you have to uncover them,” Elke told us.

Halfway down the trail, Elke pointed.

“Here,” she directed me. “Here are some berries. You see them?” And with that, she wandered off to another part of the coastline, leaving me to my own devices. I leaned tentatively to where she pointed. Seeing the berries, I suddenly realized I had tufts of long grass clasped firmly in one hand and a large plastic container tucked under my other arm. Picking cranberries with both hands occupied and my body clinging precariously to a nearly vertical descent was the next mystery I had to untangle. However, I knew that cranberries are one of my very favourite fruits, and I’m a pretty determined gal.

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How others manage this feat, I don’t know. Thomas got the hang of it before I did, but for  me it meant setting the plastic tub down in a rocky nook nearby, planting both feet against solid rock and keeping my centre of gravity low.

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The first five minutes were apprehensive, but I overcame that quickly when I realized how plentiful, how tart, and just how magical these cranberries were. They looked exactly like the cranberries I’ve been buying in plastic bags at the supermarket all these years!

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“We look like typical Newfoundlanders,” Elke commented on the way home. “Almost everyone around here goes out with a container on the weekend and collects berries,” she mused. With that comment my foraging heart felt terribly at home, even though the adventure involved a little of the old “risking life and limb” to accomplish our ends. We’d walked two minutes from the farm house, descended the magnificent but incredibly unforgiving cliff face, and foraged a most welcome Thanksgiving treat.

ah, Cranberry and Orange Loaf!
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
chopped walnuts
1 egg
grated orange rind
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup oil
1 cup cranberries
Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients separately, then add to dry ingredients.
Bake 45 – 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

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Whatever is Needful

The taxi driver—a middle-aged woman with a friendly smile and a strong handshake—met me at the St. John’s airport yesterday with the comment, “Are you the Come From Away, headed to Points East?”

“Yes. Yes, I am!” I responded enthusiastically. A Come From Away is a person not born on the rock. I may not have been born here, but I feel already as though I belong.

When I left Toronto yesterday morning, my prayer to the universe was simple: just surround me with things, people and tasks that are needful, things I require and that give me a sense of contributing to a greater good. Needful things. The universe, I felt, could take care of what that meant.

On my arrival to my farm (Points East), a neighbour took me to the Anglican church hall, where the town of Pouch Cove was holding their second annual Heritage Festival. Outside the hall, I met Elke Dettmer with her three goats, two of her chickens (along with three of their chicks), and three young WWOOFers. The WWOOFers were Keelan from Montreal, Sabine from Germany and Thomas also from Germany.

The livestock and I got on like a house on fire. There’s Jenny the alpha goat. She’s the largest, and the darker brown shade. There’s Alice, a more placid goat who likes head scratches. And there’s Alice’s baby, Jill. Alice had two kids, named Jack and Jill. Jack has been sold off. “The male goats are trouble,” Elke explained.
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Then, there’s an unnamed mother hen and her chicks, which are still quite small and therefore live in a cage temporarily so they don’t get trampled by goats or teased by Nina the dog.

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Elke is probably protective of these chicks because of Tai Chi, the three-month-old, one-legged chicken.

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Tai Chi got her name because she had an accident the day of the town’s tai chi event. Tai Chi was accidentally trampled by a goat. This is one social chicken. She let me hold her, pet her, tell her my travel tales. Tai Chi then reciprocated by sharing some of her own stories. Here was my first needful thing. Alternate life forms and I have always had an understanding.

Once home last night, I noticed herbs drying from the rafters, and racks of bottles and tins with spices and herbs and teas. The yard includes several garden beds with greens and roots and squash growing all over the yard. Currants, gooseberries, blueberries, strawberries, chestnuts. At once, I tucked in to the berries and the leaves.

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Across the way is a field of stinging nettle, dandelion, yarrow, mallow, wild aster, all ready for harvest. As I walked, I tucked in again. With this ready feast, I realized this was my second needful thing: to be able to feed myself spontaneously on something green and healthy.

As well as Nina the dog, there are also three barn cats, all very social with anyone who wants to share the sunshine. The cats protect the chickens, from weasels and the like.

At bedtime, one of the young WWOOFers showed me to my room, a large space with a bed and a couch, a dresser and a chair. The view overlooks the cove, and out into the Atlantic Ocean. This morning I awoke (from the most amazing sleep I’ve had in two years) to a spectacular sunrise. You can’t just laze in bed when you’re faced with a needful view.

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“Don’t go too close to the shoreline,” Elke warned, when she saw the look on my face. “We’ve lost moose on the coastline: it’s unforgiving.”

“Yes mom,” I told her. “I promise not to fall off the side of the country.”

There’s a small building out back of the main house, what Elke calls the Sauna. On the oceanside, there’s a deck. There, I got on my knees and laughed in pure happiness at being near goats and chickens, cats and dogs, people cooking hearty and sensible food, being able to harvest off the land, to share community naturally and kindly. I laughed that I felt at home.

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After breakfast, one of our WWOOFing duties involved the compost pile. Elke had started a pile last fall and wanted to move it over a few feet. There’s a lot of stinging nettle (which I assure you does sting, having trampled through it too much last night) on the property and her thought was to cover some of it with cardboard and then shovel some of the compost over top. Half an hour into the task, the day was beautifully hot. I rolled up my pants and tore off my shirt, leaving only my small light top. Keelan followed suit. Thomas and I loosened the compost with pitchforks while Keelan and Sabina shovelled the rich soil across to the other pile. Elke threw lime on, between layers. When Keelan commented on how drawn he always is to the life-giving properties of a compost pile, I joked that he and I were probably going to live to the ripe age of 115 just by standing in the soil with our shirts off.

When our task was complete to everyone’s satisfaction, we headed to the goats, now tied to picnic tables in the yard. We’d found some wild wheat near the compost, which both the goats and the chickens eat as a delicacy. Alice and Jill both welcomed it; Jenny was less excited.

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Beside the goats, Elke was hanging out the laundry. While in Mississauga, one of the small pleasures I’d wished for more than once was a clothesline. I had two clothes racks, but the wind doesn’t go through those the same way, and they’re prone to collapsing and falling over. Here was yet another needful thing. I’ve come to realize that, while both the universe and I agree that I need these things to feel myself, we don’t always agree on the timing. A clothesline for the fall is a welcome addition.

Today we returned to the Heritage Festival celebrations because there was to be live music, including a traditional band called Foggy Dew. We arrived to a packed house of locals listening to this band, which consisted of a guitar, a banjo, a bass guitar, a fiddle and an accordion, as well as vocals. With the first few notes, I realized this was the music I’d cut my teeth on as an adult. My guitar, mandolin and fiddle teachers, Greg and Ginny, had been married in Newfoundland, very likely in St. John’s. I knew some of these catchy tunes and was picking up the lyrics to others.

An hour later, the recently elected mayor was invited to sing. He did several unaccompanied songs, including I Had But Fifty Cents.

http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/29/fifty.htm

At the end of the event, Foggy Dew returned to the stage. Patrick Moran, the fiddler, stood up to the mic and sang I Had a Hat.

http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/18/hat.htm

With a little luck, I’ll meet some locals who are willing to occasionally accept a hack into their jam sessions, and I’ll be back to playing The Red-Haired Boy and Smash the Window, among others.

And tonight, with no prompting to the universe at all, I’m sitting in bed with the window open, listening to waves from the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the shoreline on a peacefully calm evening. I know that tomorrow I will be greeted by roosters, chickens clucking to protect their peeping chicks, friendly goats, a dog begging for a hike along the shoreline, farmers eager to work the soil and share a life-giving harvest with an uninitiated by entirely enthusiastic Come From Away. I can’t wait.

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