Aunt Marion's Story

So it’s mid-April and the snow is nearly gone, you hear the sound of water running again. The astilbe is coming through and dandelions cropping up. People poking their heads out of doors. Cleaning up the garden, marvelling at that special spring green. There’d be crabs on the beach and lobster. For so long it’s been mussels, day after day the youngsters down on the beach in their bare feet looking for mussels, because that’s all they were going to get to eat.

Goodbye and good riddance you’d say to the long and hungry month of March. Long because it follows the shortest month, and hungry because there’s not enough to eat! The outports were the worst, the isolation, no road, and then in winter no boat. No one with any cash money anyway! If you saw a skinny man looking like he knew hard times it was “oh look there goes mister long and hungry month of March.”

The flour and molasses you got from selling fish, the fish you salted and dried, the vegetables you raised, the greens and berries you picked, the animals you killed. Everything was preserved or pickled or salted or down into the root cellar. So for a while there’s lots of homemade bread with molasses and blueberry jam, mostly baked twice a day, and there’s bakeapples, partridgeberries, mustard pickles, bottled rabbit and moose. Turnip, carrot, potatoes and cabbage in the root cellar. The salt meat lasts a good while. But it’s a long way to go. Six months where nothing grows, nothing moves. That’s it.

And there was a stigma to having to eat fish all the time. Maybe you didn’t want people to know you were so poor you didn’t have so much as a can of tinned meat in the cupboard so you had to eat lobster. I remember a fellow hid the shells out behind the shed. It was poverty food, you see.

But imagine, if you had a crowd over and there was weather and they had to stay. Well, that would throw the whole thing out! Five or six extra people hung about for a few days and that could mean resources were seriously depleted! But what could you do?

A sheep would see you through. Otherwise you might be nothing but skin and grief by end of March! But for most it was the same, every year, as soon as the snow was off the ground you’d be out there, scouring for seeds and greens, for flavourings for your bread, for that scotch lovage on the seashore, you’d munch on that. Some would even eat seaweed, but oh that was desperate! You talk poverty food!

The whole game was to get the better of winter. That was it. Simplicity was all there was. It was all making do with a bit of butter on it!