Canada’s easternmost province of Newfoundland and Labrador has a wild natural beauty and a never ending coastline. The region is as far east as you can go in Canada but you won’t have to travel far to experience Newfoundland food once you get to the capital, St John’s.
From foraging for wild foods to keeping traditional crafts alive, experience cool and authentic Newfoundland food and traditions right there in and around the capital.
One of the provinces of Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland is one of the world’s largest islands and is known as The Rock.
One of the top experiences in Newfoundland is to see the icebergs floating past along Iceberg Alley.
With a sweep of her arm that expansively takes in the meadows above Blackhead, Newfoundland, chef, cultural foods ambassador, and wild-plant forager Lori McCarthy said:
This is what’s going to get lost. I’m afraid of that. So, I’m continuing the tradition.
Newfoundland food culture
The Newfoundland food tradition she’s talking about is what she learned from her mother: gathering local plants and other foods from the wild, then preparing fresh meals or otherwise preserving what’s harvested.
It could be codfish moose, or wild berries such as partridge, crow or blueberries.
Lori McCarthy is a cultural ambassador, focused upon keeping the “old ways” not only alive but flourishing.
So on one chilly day an hour-and-a-half drive northeast of St. John’s, I found myself with her and a small group of curious guests.
All were eager to start foraging and to assist Lori in preparing a typical Newfoundland “boil up”.
Traditionally, these meals happen on the beach but if it’s pouring with rain or cold outdoors (as it was this day), cooking our meal inside a cosy kitchen worked rather splendidly.
Newfoundland food traditions
Lori’s passion for preserving traditional foods inspired her to create Cod Sounds, her business which focuses on recognizing, using and promoting locally sourced foods and cuisine.
No wonder, then, that she’s a proud member of the Livyers Cultural Alliance, which she describes as
A group of people who gather to cook and eat together to embrace our cultural food, our traditions and our way of life.
What exactly is a livyer? Lori’s website explains:
Livyers are permanent settlers of coastal Newfoundland or Labrador with a history of living off the land through fishing, trapping and trading.
Foraging For Blueberries and Partridgeberries
After the short drive, I found myself in a meadow overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where the scarlet, gold, and yellow palette of autumn-coloured vegetation.
Plump, dusky blueberries adorned their scarlet-leafed bushes.
Gleaming crimson partridgeberries snuggled into the silvery-gray caribou moss.
This feast for the eyes would soon be in our tummies, I reflected with considerable delight.
Lori brought containers and soon everyone was bent over, bottoms skyward, gathering the deliciousness.
And I admit to sampling, too.
Soon containers were full and we drove to the cottage of one of her colleagues, to prepare a “boil-up”.
Demonstrating each step of the way, Lori showed us how to transform what we’d picked, as well as how to cook other traditional foods.
After a rinse, the partridgeberries went into a pot, where a tempting sauce soon bubbled away.
Traditional Newfoundland Food
Lori also showed us how to transform salted cod – that traditional seafarer’s meal – into a hearty lunch.
She explained the fish must repeatedly be soaked in fresh cold water, which would be tossed out, to extract the salt used to preserve it.
We helped her flake the cleaned meat, then stirred it into mashed potatoes before shaping and lightly flouring the fishcakes.
After being fried in a cast iron pan, they were ready to eat.
Partridgeberries went into a pot, where the delicious sauce accompanied the cod cakes.
Everyone sat down to the tasty luncheon we’d helped to gather and collect, complete with toutons, that easy-to-make but delicious, basic fried bread.
Afterwards, we walked to a neighbour’s home to be royally entertained at a shed party with traditional Newfoundland music.
Here we tapped our feet to tunes played by fiddler Wanda Crocker, while storyteller Stephen Lush regaled us with tales of Newfoundland.
Returning to St. John’s, I reflected upon and felt grateful for Lori’s insider’s introduction to foraging and also, for having the chance to experience such an authentic taste of Newfoundland food.
From gathering to cooking, hearing jigs and listening to stories, I felt a huge admiration for these extraordinary people who are dedicated to continuing their province’s traditions.
Things to do in St John’s
My cultural adventures were by no means over.
Being a visual artist, I was eager to see some of the local arts and crafts as I was to sample more regional foods.
Here’s a mini-roundup of some other exceptional Keepers of the Rock, all in St. John’s.
1- Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador
A surprise awaited me at Devon House Craft Centre.
I discovered woollen scarves knitted with pink, white and green, recalling the “Tricolour” flag which symbolizes nationalism and patriotism to some residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Apparently just as in Quebec, there are some who wish for independence from Canada.
But also, here I found what I’d been searching for: Innu Tea Dolls.
They’re highly collectible and beyond my price range, but lovely to see.
These are a traditional “toy dolls” which served a distinct function.
When the Innu were following the caribou herds, hunting and subsequently preparing meat for winter’s consumption, children were busy foraging for Labrador tea, gathering then stuffing the leaves into their cloth dolls.
Today, I understand this is no longer done but “tea dolls” are still made, often depicting women who are carrying babies.
Note to self: I wondered whether forager Lori McCarthy has one?
2- Quidi Vidi Village Plantation
Quidi Vidi Village Plantation is an artists’ incubator in a building jam-packed with working artists’ studios.
From silk-screened T-shirts to intricate woven silver jewellery, to printmakers and painters, the Plantation is a must-see.
Here, artists often give demonstrations showing how they do their work.
3- Quidi Vidi Brewing Company
Craft beers are all the rage and for a different taste of The Rock, quench your thirst at Quidi Vidi Brewing Company by trying a flight of brews.
Iceberg beer is their light lager brewed with 25,000-year-old iceberg water harvested from those freshwater ’bergs that float past Newfoundland come spring breakup.
For another taste of The Rock, also try the 1892 Traditional ale, a hoppy, full-bodied amber ale, or Eric’s, a cream ale made from pale Crystal and Carastan malts.
4- Chinched Bistro
For delicious plates of regionally grown foods served in an intimate setting, venture into Chinched Bistro.
Chef/Owners Shaun Hussey and Michelle LeBlanc plus Sous-Chef Tyler Gallant produce beautiful-to-look-at, absolutely delicious fare.
The charcuterie, cheese and oysters are fabulous. Willing to try some more traditional foods? Order Pig Ear Fries.
5- St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival
2017 marks the 28th anniversary of what’s one of the world’s longest-running women’s film festivals.
The festival runs in October, so browse the website for the international films written, directed or produced by women.
As you can tell, a lot is going on on The Rock.
Rent an RV and explore. Rent a car and visit the lighthouse and other special accommodations.
But come and we welcomed by these warm-hearted, tenacious Keepers who are securing Newfoundland and Labrador’s proud stories and traditions, to secure their well-rooted future.
Where is Newfoundland?
Newfoundland is off the east coast of Canada. It’s part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and is separated from the Labrador Peninsula by the Strait of Belle Isle. Newfoundland is the 16th largest island in the world and the fourth largest in Canada. You can fly to St John’s from several cities in Canada, including Halifax (1.5 hours) and Toronto (3.5 hours) or from London or Dublin (5 hours).
If you’re considering driving in Canada, Newfoundland is a comfortable place to drive around. You can hire a car in St John’s or, if you’re planning a more extended driving trip, take the ferry from Nova Scotia.