It was the afternoon of October 6, 2005. Robby and I were making our way along the Nova Scotia coast toward Cape Breton where a French family had a bed and breakfast waiting for us in the little town of Chéticamp.
It was hard to cover much territory because there was so much to see. Even the colorful lines of laundry soaring up into tall trees were arresting. Signs advertising Mushaboom’s 4th Annual Mackerel Derby aroused our curiosity. We had a little trouble visualizing such an event, not being from the Maritimes ourselves, and not knowing much about mackerel.
But the beauty of the Atlantic Coastline was abundantly clear. Every glimpse of the sea slowed us down further. We pulled over at a sign for Taylor Head Provincial Park and got out to explore the lonely beach. It was gray, chilly, windswept, and magnificent.
Now, you may have been thinking that this blog entry was not going to involve wild cranberries, but surprisingly enough, that would be fallacious thinking.
Because, after exploring the rocks, the water, and the sand, we noticed something surprising: the shore was covered with a carpet of ripe cranberries.
The next surprise was a woman in a blue jacket and gray cap. She was kneeling in the vegetation filling a white grocery bag with berries as fast as she could pick them.
“Here,” she said, “take my extra bag. Pick all you want. This is the last day the park is open this year. We’re allowed to pick the cranberries.”
Her name was Helen and she was from Sheet Harbor. Who was I to doubt her word? I took the bag, knelt in the damp sand, and began to pick.
As daylight faded, we left the park with about five pounds of beautiful red and white cranberries.
It turned out we missed Mushaboom’s Mackerel Derby, but in addition to the cranberries, we took home something else really special: Helen’s recipe, in her own words.
Helen’s Christmas Cranberry Sauce
Put cranberries in a pot. Add water till they float. Boil till they pop. Strain through colander, put in jelly bag. Hang 24 hours. To each cup of juice add ¾ cup sugar. Boil till it’s jelly.
That year we had enough Canadian cranberries to grace our table at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was the best cranberry sauce ever, bringing with it a taste of the wild chill North Atlantic, and the memory of a serendipitous October afternoon in Nova Scotia.