When the Trans Labrador Highway opened up—making it possible to drive 1126 km from Labrador City over to L’Anse-au-Clair—my husband and I decided to make the trek. I’m still trying to find the right words to describe the journey. The best I can come up with is “wondrous.”
For starters, it’s a vast hunk of land. Labrador is so huge that the rest of Atlantic Canada (including Newfoundland) could fit quite nicely into it. Touted as one of the world’s last frontiers, Labrador’s beauty is gob-smacking. Even those oh-so-long dirt highways command a certain respect—brought home by signs like the one outside of Churchill Falls: “Next service 294 km.”
But the most striking feature of this land is her people. Hospitality went far beyond what we could consider “normal.” For example, when working on our itinerary, we discovered that it wasn’t possible to find a room in Labrador City. (The next town with accommodation was over 500 km away—not a good prospect after an eight hour drive from Baie Comeau.)
Being prepared for emergencies, we had camp gear and hoped to pitch our tent at the Grande Hermine RV Park about 40 km past Labrador City. A friend called on our behalf, but owner Cavell Burke, said, “No way! There was ice on the lake last night. They stays with us!” I’m sure Cavell and her husband, Ned, gave up their bed although she denies this. Shortly after we arrived, we were enjoying her peanut butter cheesecake (recipe follows) and hearing tales of hunting caribou.
The next morning, Cavell and her friend Jane Walsh made breakfast for us. Picture this: bacon and eggs, sausages, bologna (called Newfoundland steak), beans, toutons and molasses. I’d never heard of toutons before but now I’m hooked. It’s bread dough that’s risen once, rolled out to about a half inch thick, and cut into pieces around 3 in. x 3 in. Poke your finger through the middle to make a small air space then fry in about ½ in. of vegetable oil until the dough rises and browns up. Flip over and brown on other side. Warning: these are addictive.
Further along in our journey we spent a morning with Pete and George Barrett. They own and operate Experience Labrador Tours located in Cartwright. Pete’s a woman (and an artist) and loves to see the expression on people’s faces when they expect to meet a man. They took us by motor boat to the Wonderstrands, a 54 km sandy beach that juts from the mainland. At its tip is a haunting cemetery, testimony to lives lost to the Spanish Flu in 1918, which devastated the Labrador coast.
For lunch we motored over to Packs Harbour where Pete proceeded to heat up stewed moose over a fire built on the rocks where we perched for our picnic. Sopping up the moose juice with home made rolls, the discussion turned to food, and Pete asked if we’d ever eaten flummies. “Nope,” says I. Pete gave me her recipe (below).
Fast forward a few days when we were ferried over to Battle Harbour, a National Historic Site on a small island. Overnight the winds picked up; with gusts up to 70 K, there was no chance of getting back to the mainland. I was so happy I did a jig. For one thing, it’s a magical island with over 20 restored sites harkening back to the days when cod was king. Also, there are no cars on the island; nor phones, internet or TV in the rooms.
For four days we watched icebergs heave to and fro, took short hikes, read, poked around the settlement and had long chats with the residents. The cook, Myrtle Rumbolt, gave me her recipe for Labrador stewed beans and showed me how to make fish & brewis—pronounced ‘brews.’ (Recipes below.) Bonus: there was enough left over fish & brewis and scrunchions (pork fat) to fry up the next day for lunch. Deadly and divine.
What more can I say? Try these recipes and let me know what you think. Then get yourself to Labrador!
Cavell’s Peanut Butter Cheesecake
2 C Oreo cookies, crushed
½ C butter
1 pkg cream cheese
1 C peanut butter
1 C sugar
1 tbsp soft butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 C whipping cream, whipped
Blend butter into crushed cookies and pat down into a pie plate. Mix cream cheese, peanut butter, sugar, butter and vanilla. Fold in whipped cream. Pour over crust. Refrigerate. (Note: Cavell topped this with two packages of Dreamwhip mixed with less milk than the recipe calls for.) Drizzle chocolate sauce on top if you dare.
For each cup of flour, add 1 tsp of baking powder, a little salt and enough water to form a batter slightly thicker than you would for pancakes. Spoon into a pan of hot margarine and fry until golden. Top up with a brown sugar sauce made by boiling 4 tbsp brown sugar, 1 C water and 1 tbsp cornstarch. After that’s come to a boil, add a tsp margarine, ½ tsp vanilla or a dollop of rum. Note: you can add just about anything to flummies including berries, mushrooms or left over meat.
Myrtle’s Stewed Beans
1 pkg (1 lb) white pea beans
2 C (more or less) cooked corned beef
1 small turnip, 1 onion and 2-3 carrots cut in small pieces
Cover with water and simmer for about 3 hours.
Fish & Brewis
Soak 4 hard tack cakes (Purity Hard Bread) overnight. Cut a hunk of pork fat into small pieces and fry until browned. (Called “scrunchions” when cooked). Fry up a pan of chopped onions. Bring either salt or fresh cod to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for a few minutes. Bring pot of bread to a simmer. Be careful not to boil the bread. Drain the bread and fish, mix together. Serve with side dishes of the fried onion, scrunchions—and molasses.
All photos by Sandra Phinney – All Rights Reserved