Rural Newfoundland

Keepin’ Yer Feets and Hands Warm!

Yesterday I posted about the old loom, and it reminded me of another staple past-time/skill of the older generation of ladies; knitting.  I bet nearly all my generations Moms knit, and perhaps many younger still do.  We all had ugly cardigans and fisherman’s knit sweaters, and the ugliest of all the Christmas one with the deer and snowflakes (thank god I never had one of those!).  But the best thing of all, and something we often got at Christmas were our vamps and double mitts!

Darning Needle

I know from experience if you tell someone from outside Newfoundland that you’re wearing vamps they won’t have a clue what you are talking about.  But I still wear them to this day to keep my feet warm on the basement floor here. What are they?  Well they are over-sized socks, not like store bought wool socks which are a finer stitch, but more like a sweater for your feet.  Often well worn, and holes darned up with the old darning needle, making them a patchwork of multiple colors, but like comfort food, they are something that just makes you feel cozy.

Another staple we wore back in the day was what we called a double mitt.  Rather than the traditional mitt, with a thumb and larger section for your fingers, these had a thumb, index finger and then the larger space.  There’s probably a reason why, but darned if I know what it is.  These were almost always (except in my picture of course) had a different square pattern on the back of the hand from the rest of the mitt.  If anyone has a picture, I’d love a copy!

Besides keeping yoru hands warm, though these often had another use, and maybe that was the reason for the index finger.  If you think back on watching the older fisherman in their stage at the slitting table, you’ll likely recall at least some of them wearing a double mitt on one hand, to better get a grip on the slippery fish!

For whatever reason, likely nostalgia, these in my memory seemed to keep our hands warmer than anything store bought.  I can remember now, coming inside with balls of snow stuck to them from making forts and tunnels, throwing them in the warmer, or on the oven door of the old wood stove, and hauling on a dry pair of vamps after a day outside.

The Loom looms….

Yes it does, the loom looms over the whole room! There, that’s my attempt at poetry for today.

As a kid, I never gave much thought to it, but so many people back home had looms, and wove all kinds of things, (well I assume there were all kinds of things, the only real one that comes to mind now is place mats). Like everything in rural Newfoundland, I am sure it served a much greater purpose than just a craft for enjoyment, our fathers and mothers were more practical, not by choice but by need.

But now that I’m older, I sometimes wonder what that purpose was.  I know so little about the loom, just how big and complicated it looked, and watching Aunt Vick, amongst others, sliding the shuttles back and forth and pulling the weave tight.  But I wonder what did our forefathers use the woven material for? Clothing? Table cloths? Bags? Bed clothes?  I really have no idea!

I think all our foremothers knit as well, and I’ll write a piece about the old double mitts and vamps soon, but I’m curious now as to the use of the loom!

Oh that Dogberry Wine

In rural Newfoundland, store bought anything in earlier days was rare. People fended for themselves, and their neighbours, and as I’ve mentioned before, trades of things were common.

Store bought alcohol was as well rarer than now.  People made their own home brewed beer with their own recipes, not the kits like we used. I remember even hearing of potatoes and raisins in the mix.  Lemon Gin was popular, though it may or may not have had any lemons or juniper berries for that matter though they do grow back home.  Wine was also common, usually from blueberries which are plentiful.  I’ve heard some made some from apples and other berries as well. And I’ve even heard tell of people making dandelion wine, though I can’t say its something I’d ever want to experience.

But the granddaddy of them all had to be dogberry wine.  Dogberries are plentiful most falls back home, people would often use them as a portent of winter.  More berries meant a longer winter. Being so plentiful, people used them as another source for wine, and one year Eric and I decided we had to try it.

Finding a recipe for it from either mom, or a book, I forget, we followed it, and fermented the berries into wine and bottled it into, whatever bottles we had on hand.  And of course we tried some.

Well lets just say the results were less than spectacular in the way paint thinner is a little unlike champagne. It has to be pretty bad when we couldn’t even manage to drink any of it.  Other than a taste here and there to remind ourselves how bad it was.

That said though, we did manage to get rid of it.  To this day I’ll never understand how he could drink it, but one day Eric, Junior and I (and likely more) planned to meet and head off ice fishing and atv/skidooing.  I remember we went to round pond and L pond, and on the path between them there was an old one room cabin.  We went in there and lit a fire, warmed ourselves for a while, and had a drink, and watched and laughed as Junior was somehow able to manage to drink a whole bottle of the stuff.  As for me, I’d rather have drunk a bottle of varsol!

Good times with good friends.  Those are the things we miss most.


For anyone foolhardy enough, here’s a recipe from Downhome Recipes:
Dogberry Wine (Beverages)
• 2 quarts dogberries
• 1 doz. apples
• 4 quarts water
• 8 cups sugar
• Yeast
Cook berries and apples in water. Strain. Add sugar in a large crock. When lukewarm, add 1 pkg.
yeast. Store in a warm place until all bubbles have gone. Strain again and bottle.

The Night of the Broom

Many years ago, a man who shall remain nameless used to drive around with several shovels, and a broom standing in a rack in the back of his pickup.  I really have no idea why, I can only assume it was a target for some mischievous young lads.  I really can’t think of any other reason.

Of course, lads being what they are, enterprising and all, accepted the target and made plans to do something about it. Not bad at heart though, they didn’t plan any destruction or damage.  They just realized that a mop was a much more suitable thing to have in the rack than a broom.

There being an old mop laying near the old, and at the time closed down, Cormack/Island Lounge on Elliott’s Cove Road, they considered that a suitable replacement.

One dark night, those lads, with perhaps some liquid persuasion, proceeded to carry out their plan, driving to a community some distance from their own, and staking out the scene.  Parking off at a distance, some of the lads proceeded to sneak through tall grass and approach the truck in question.  Replacement of the broom ensued, and much hilarity was had.

Of course all this is hearsay…. But I wonder whatever became of the broom?


Christmas Concerts of Old

I went to my nieces school Christmas Concert today, and was reminded of those of old.  Until the old one room school was torn down in Apsey Brook, it was still used as a center for events, or, as we knew them “times”.  Baked Bean suppers, Pot Lucks, Soup Suppers, all held to raise money for something or other and to be a social event as well.

One thing we always did as well was have a Christmas Concert, or Recital, or time. The parents, or church or someone, I forget who in lots of cases, would work with the kids to learn songs, and skits, and they’d all get up on that little stage and perform them.  A supper of some sort was cooked, and a crowd of people chatted and yarned and told stories, and the kids whooped and hollered.

The parents would all have a gift prepared and later on Santa would stomp his way in shaking snow off himself, or mud as the weather might be, and stomp over to the tree with a hearty HO HO HO! Even as kids, we all knew Santa was Ross, or at least I think we did, but it still didn’t make a difference in the thrill of him coming in with a big sack with a gift for every kid, prepared before hand by the parents.

Gifts in those days weren’t as big an affair as now, at least not at these events, and I remember seeing pencils, Hilroy exercise books, Hot Wheel’s cars, and other smaller items, but it was a huge deal of fun for all of us.

Later on, when I was a more adult kid (well that still applies now doesn’t it) I too took on the role of Santa, though I doubt I gave it the same performance as Ross always did.

Similar concerts were held at every community on the Island, and at different times, so we could attend them all.  We had relatives everywhere of course, and we often went to those in other towns as well, each with their own Santa, and little gift, and supper and Christmas Cake and holiday cheer.

Times aren’t like the used to be, and while we’ve gained lots, I’d love to be able to head off to the old school for a “time” too.

Playing with your food

For some reason a discussion of yogurt in food reminded me of this old staple, fussel’s cream!  While I loved fresh cream, I can’t say I cared for this back in the day, but maybe I would now. Only problem is I’m not even sure it exists anymore!

But Sunday evening’s supper wasn’t complete for Dad without something sweet, with some cream on top.

Going off on a tangent here, another thing I only recently noticed or paid attention to, after so many years away, is that we Newfoundlanders are the only ones I’ve encountered that call “canned” products “tinned”.  I mentioned at work one day that I had a tin of Pepsi, and they looked at me like I was nuts (well they do that anyway, but this time it was for the tin).

Back on topic, and in relation to the title, there was one aspect of this cream that I did like, that was playing with it to thicken the cream.  I guess over time the cream started to separate, and my “job” was to shake it to help thicken it.  Of course my ideas of shaking may have been rolling it on the floor, using it as a puck in a game of knee floor hockey, and I may even have shaken it occasionally!

Anyway, another memory I thought I’d share, now to go find some partridge berry tart and cream!

But it’s not Monday!

Sunday mornings I usually get up and do my laundry, and of course today being Sunday, I did so today.  It was a little easier than using the old wringer washer though.  I just put it in, and turned it on, and then later threw it in the dryer.

But I can remember Mom using one very similar to this, putting the powdered detergent in, not  the fancy schmancy liquid stuff like today.  Also adding bleach, and using clothes blue in those little blue cubes.  Who remembers that?!

Back then the old folks for some reason had certain days to do things, and if you didn’t follow the routine, it was a source of something to talk about.  I guess gossip helped pass the time then as much as it still does now!  I remember Monday’s were laundry days, and if you did some on another day, why, that was big news!  I can recall even now my Aunt Mary saying to me when I went down for a visit “My garr, your mothers got clothes on the line again today, how much does she wash at all!”

I guess for the older folks, in some cases routine was necessary, and useful for planning, and the more modern times of the late 60’s and 70’s were a bit much to handle :). We all know that the level of cleanliness has continually improved over the years, as we understand more about our health and disease.  Back in earlier days a bath once a week was a lot, let alone the daily or more showers of today, so likely clothes were changed less too!

But laundry then was also a big production, wheeling out the machine, hooking the hose to the sink, filling it with water.  Prescrubbing the really dirty items with the old scrubbing board in the tin wash tub, then putting it in the machine and letting it agitate for however long, then taking the clothes out and running it through the wringer, being careful not to lose an arm in there! Those things were dangerous! Once all that was done, you still had to take it out and put it on the clothesline.

We had the advanced technology of having the clothesline on a pully, so we’d just go to one spot, and pin it and wheel it out, but lots and lots did, and maybe still do (because lets face it, clothes off the line is STILL so much fresher than from the dryer), just had one strung across the garden, propped up by a board with a notch to keep it from dragging.  For those had the extra work of mucking the basket across the garden with them as the pinned it out.

And then of course after all was said and done, everything, or pretty much everything had to be ironed.  Sheets, shirts, pants, towels, face cloths, even underwear! It was all ironed, I think the only thing Mom didn’t iron was socks!

The technology for washing has changed a lot over the years, and I’m sure more than I do it on other days than Monday, wonder if anyone has their line filled today?

Waking up the camp

After a late night at the bonfire at Rickman’s Harbour Pond, with many a beverage in hand, Eric and I are usually the first to stir.  Always a morning person, no matter how late the night, I am usually awake with the dawn.  Its May 2-4 weekend, Victoria Day, probably the biggest party weekend of the year back home, and for quite a number of years, we always made our way to Elvis’ cabin for it.  We get the naphtha in the old Coleman stove and start pumping it up, while someone else heads to the pond for a kettle full of water.  Firing up the stove we get the kettle on and the frying pan too, and soon the scent of bacon is wafting around the place, causing the rest of the crew to stir.

Big heads require a beer to start the morning, a hair of the dog, to help cure the hangovers, that and a nice greasy plate of bacon, toast and coffee get us started for the day.  The sun is shining, unusual for May 2-4 to be honest, but its about 2 degrees Celsius outside, and we got about an inch of snow over night.  Doesn’t matter, the few of us who actually want to trout pack up or rods, tackle and baskets and make our way to catch lunch before the partying starts again.

We laugh about Junior and the beer box on his head, him swearing the whole time it was me.  We make fun of Kendall and Jamie singing the wrong lyrics to Lightning Crashes at the top of their lungs the night before.  We laugh at me lighting the barrel on fire with white gas and singing my eyebrows when I thought it was barbecue starter.  Its a ritual, a rite of passage, and all good natured.  We drive that back road, stopping at ponds we can reach easily, and catch a few trout.  Of course Eric catches more than anyone else as usual.

Back for lunch, pork fat in the pan, trout coated in flour we make our lunch, while the barbecue goes outside stacked full of hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, and everything you can imagine. Lunch over, beer in hand, we start visiting everyone else’s camp sites.  Its like Christmas visits, and part of the event. Moonshine and drinks are shared.  Everyone has a slight glow for the day.

Its friendships, events, memories created that last a lifetime. Its the 24th of May and we likes to get away.

Cocks and Hens

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to go cod fishing.  Its funny, but we never called it that, a trip to the fishing grounds was usually just called going out in boat.  I guess the two just naturally went together, I mean why else go out in boat?

Usually cod fishing was done by the old standard hit and miss method of using a cod jigger.  You’d lower the jigger to bottom, and then pull it up a fathom or so and stroke the line back and forth, hoping to hook into a cod.

But other times we’d use a feathered hook, or a baited hook with some orange cloth on it.  Well I’m not sure the orange mattered as much as something to attract the fishes curiosity.  For bait we’d use squid, caplin, herring, or often, cocks and hens.

They are properly a soft shelled clam, but we always knew them by the name cocks and hens, I really have no idea why, maybe someone can enlighten me.  These clam live in the soft muddy tidal flats around the shore line.  For us. we’d usually go to Southwest Brook, near Snook’s Harbour at low tide and walk out on the mud.

The clams themselves live 6-8 inches deep in the mud, you could see where by the little round tube they left in the mud to let water and food in and waste out.  Finding these, we’d dig down with a shovel, generally a little ways away from the hole so as not to smash them.  The shells on these are very soft and easily broken.  Generally we’d dig up a 5 gallon bucket full of them along with some sand and ocean water to keep them moist, and leave them in the cool fishing stage.

On our next trip out in boat, we’d take the bucket, and open a cocks and hen, and put it on our hook as bait to try and catch a nice growler (Dad’s term for a big one that would make the old corded jigging line growl)!

Nothing I loved more than an early morning trip out in boat, spending a few hours on the water.

Bud Fights!

Spring is here finally (knocks on wood to not jinx it) and greenery is springing up everywhere.  I really can”t recall what time of year wild Irises grew or bloomed, but am reminded of them now as the weather gets warmer.  I kind of think it was closer to the end of the school year, but I may be wrong.

A couple spots on the old school garden in Apsey Brook, and more around Mac Bailey’s and Randall’s garden in Snook’s Harbour had some huge wild Iris plants.  Back then, the somewhat impressive blue flowers really didn’t faze us much.  What was neat was taking the flat blades and holding them between your thumbs just so, and blowing through, making it a reed in our own human wind instrument.

What was maybe less neat, and somewhat painful, but hours of fun were the thick green (well till they dried out) seed pods (buds) that formed underneath the flowers.  We’d gather up tons of these in our hands, pockets, what ever containers we could find, and chase each other throwing them at each other as hard as we could.  Those things stung like mad, but we’d throw them at each other till we either ran out, or were too exhausted to keep it up any longer.

Always curious, we’d also peel them open, and spread the seeds everywhere, throw them in the harbour, carve them out into little boats.  A somewhat wistful memory of the hours of amusement something so simple can give you.