18 June 2013

Dude, where's my rhubarb?

In which Fefe Noir and caribougrrl search the countryside for abandoned rhubarb patches, embarrass a fish monger, and make a surprising discovery close to home.

We stopped in Perry's Cove to have a quick look for rhubarb and took advantage of the scenery to take a picture
of what 4 lbs of fresh cod looks like.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been using a lot of rhubarb; partly because it is rhubarb season but largely because it has been a bit of work perfecting a particular rhubarb recipe for the blog.  Something we've discovered with this blogging business is that "this is great, next time we should try this or tweak that" is fine when you are cooking for yourself, but it doesn't pass muster when you are cooking in order to tell someone else how to make something.  Through the jigs and the reels, we have exhausted our rhubarb supply.  We have exhausted the supply of rhubarb we can politely beg from our neighbours.

Fefe had a tickle in the back of her mind of having seen a decent rhubarb patch somewhere, that looked like it didn't belong to anyone.  Maybe along the shoreline?  Maybe at an abandoned house?  Somewhere in Newfoundland for sure, she thought.  Fefe, by the way, has a poorly developed hippocampus. We figured even if we didn't find the patch from her memory, there are enough derelict homes around that we might strike gold on our rhubarb mission.

There are some great old houses, sadly abandoned,
but that's the way of things.  Watch your step for sheep
poop, but some apple trees and raspberry canes to keep
in mind for future forays. 
It sounds a bit shady, I know... but think of it like dumpster-diving for rural people.  Food left uneaten simply because it's not actively tended.  (We did have cash in our pockets and were prepared to buy some at a roadside stand if necessary.  But free is better when it doesn't cause any harm.  So a-scavenging we went.)

At a Sunday-drive pace, we meandered through Carbonear and Freshwater with no luck, but it was early still.  Heading into Victoria, Fefe and I startled the dogs (happily snoozing in the back seat already) with a burst of excitement.  Not rhubarb, no.  As good or better: a sign for a fish truck!

The significance of this is probably lost on most, if not all, of you reading here.  Firstly, in Newfoundland, it's not at all strange to stop on the side of the road or in a parking lot and buy fresh, frozen or salted fish from a truck.  Up until sometime last summer or fall, one of these trucks was permanently situated on the south side of Harbour Grace.  So for years, we bought our fish across the harbour from the house.  Lovely.  But then the truck was gone, and until the moment we spotted that fish truck sign, we hadn't found one convenient to home for buying local fish.  So what luck, right?  Whee!

He was out of halibut and scallops, so we went for the fresh
cod.  Note the greens hanging in bags in the background.
In all the ado I forgot to ask the very charming fish truck man his name, but: the fish truck is in Victoria on Thursdays and Saturdays, and in Clarke's Beach on Wednesdays and Fridays.  He was happy enough to let us take a picture of his set up, but turns out to be camera-shy himself.  Or maybe we just startled him with what must have seemed like disproportionate exuberance? (I have to confess that when I get excited about something, I talk too much and too fast and it's possibly overwhelming if you were planning on a calm, steady, ordinary day of selling fish.)  In any case, he waved away the camera and ran for cover.  

Since we had just started out, not yet found rhubarb, and were reluctant to turn back, we bought some ice at the gas station up the road and turned our rhubarb basket into a makeshift cooler.  Did I mention that when I'm excited and talking too much, I sometimes take leave of my senses?  I bought 4 lbs of fresh cod (there are only two of us) AND a big bag of turnip greens (our garden is full of both salad greens and cooking greens... I mean, it's evident the absolute last grocery item we could possibly need is leafy green veg, but there you have it, I just had to have some).
caribougrrl wore her favourite rhubarb-hunting footwear,
 but to be honest, you'd have trouble finding an event
that she didn't think of as an excuse to wear rubber boots.  

As an aside, but an important one if you ever plan to tour Newfoundland by car, the drive we continued on is part of the Baccalieu Trail, one of the official "scenic routes" of the province.  Newfoundland has few roads and most roads outside of St. John's that aren't the Trans Canada highway, are coastal, so driving almost anywhere in the province is part of a scenic route.  I don't mean to sound dismissive... the scenery really is spectacular in a wild-fantastic tumble-into-the-ocean way.  Not that we noticed, eyes trained as they were to try and pick out patches of broad deep-green leaves breaking up the otherwise scrappy early summer vegetation.  Incidentally, the blueberry plants are heavy with flowers right now, and not that I'm wishing time away, but I'm already looking forward to berry season.  

We diverted whenever the road looked reasonably safe and occasionally pulled over to check out some promising vegetative patterns (no luck).  We spotted a few lonely looking rhubarb patches that on closer inspection appeared to belong to a house being lived in.  We took the dogs for a walk at Perry's Cove (no rhubarb) and toyed with the idea of knocking on a couple of doors where the backyard rhubarb looked like it wasn't being used.  Yet in the end, our mainlander selves got the best of us and we decided to keep looking rather than be sociable.

In Ochre Pit Cove, there was a brilliant looking patch of rhubarb that seemed to belong to an obviously empty and unused house.  But so many neighbours out about.  Deciding to wait for a more covert opportunity we pressed on.  The gas gauge by now was getting a bit low; worrisomely low actually.  We went past a few abandoned properties taking a mental note to check on the way home if we didn't have better luck before then.  There are some really huge rhubarb patches tended in front yards and back yards along that stretch of coast.  We began to develop rhubarb-envy.  When the gas station I knew would be our saving grace in Northern Bay turned out to be closed down, we decided that was the signal to turn ourselves around and head back.

Those abandoned properties we saw earlier were too long abandoned.  If there had ever been rhubarb, there wasn't any more.  But some good finds anyway:  a few apple trees in bloom, though from the evidence at the scene, we might have to fight through some grazing sheep for them come fall (I am only mostly kidding, I wouldn't aggravate sheep just for a few apples, and we do have an apple spot already, but you never know when you need a second picking ground).  But those are the breaks, sometimes these scavenging trips are a bust.  For good measure, we kept going slowly and kept our eyes peeled all the way home.  And forget the money in our pockets, not only had we spent it on fish and greens, but there was nary a roadside rhubarb stand to be seen.    

When we'd finally given up, easy walking distance from
home, there it was.  The mythical feral rhubarb!

A few hours after we'd started out, feeling a teensy bit disappointed (but we had fish!), we drove back into Harbour Grace.  Which is when Fefe Noir was struck by a metaphorical thunderbolt.  Harbour Grace.  Along the water.  Walking distance from home.  THAT might be where she'd seen the rhubarb.  

The full haul.
Sure enough, precariously clinging to the edge, there it was.  A rogue patch of beautiful rhubarb, likely taken root after being dumped with other yard waste over the edge.  So we got out, sat securely on what we hoped was solid cliff-edge and plucked enough rhubarb to both meet our immediate needs and ensure some new growth. 

Likely part of the reason we exhausted our own rhubarb is that we have been picking it incorrectly over the last few years and thereby not encouraging it to spread.  As it turns out, you should not cut it with a knife.  Grab and twist those suckers right out of the ground. (If you'll allow me another diversion, here is where I confess that I grew up parented by gardeners, gardeners who know how to maintain rhubarb, gardeners who undoubtedly taught me how to pick rhubarb.  I should have paid better attention.)

Fully successful and feeling rather pleased with ourselves, we took our bounty back home.  We ignored the spatchcocked chicken in the fridge prepped for our supper; it could wait another day.  What we needed at the end of this day was obvious: fresh cod, wrapped with sage in bacon, cooked on the barbecue   Life doesn't get any better.  Well, it does, but if I told you what we drank with it, that would spoil an upcoming post...
Bacon and sage wrapped cod.  Life could be worse.


  1. Life could certainly be worse! Loved reading your adventure on a cold February night. Thoughts of spring, rhubarb and fish trucks. Fond memories of the Baccalieu trail this summer. I can recommend the Grates Cove Studio café when you have a full tank of gas.

  2. Very excited to hear the Grates Cove cafe is worth the trip. We intend to head out there sooner than later... where does all the time go? Thanks for your kind words. :)