Whether you’re a seeker of hobbit-like structures or an avid vegetable preservation enthusiast, you’re going to want to visit Elliston. And if you’re both, you may want to sit down, ‘cause this might just be too much.
In 2000, Elliston declared itself the Root Cellar Capital of the World, a claim backed by the presence of 133 documented root cellars in the area, some of which have been around for nearly two centuries.
Root cellars are a traditional method of preserving food – how people got by before refrigeration. They kept the locally-grown vegetables cool in the summer, and prevented them from freezing in the winter. They’re typically dug into the side of a small mound or hill, often with two doors and a small hall-like chamber between them. Root cellar doors usually faced east, as easterly winds were thought to be frost-free.
The cellars were so vital to survival they’re part of the local folklore, and likely play a similarly important role in other parts of the world. Children, for example, were told babies come from the cellars, and they also provided them with a place to play. Their little doors are, well, adorable, and I half-expected to see Bilbo Baggins emerge from one.
Cal Hayley of Tourism Elliston took us for a tour of some of the town’s cellars. At first they can be tricky to spot, but after having several pointed out to us, we began to see them everywhere in the landscape. Some are still used, some have been restored, and others have collapsed altogether; these are the toughest ones to spot, as they’re almost fully grown over.
Cal also explained to us how they were built. There were typically three methods: hatch cellars (built into the ground with a shed-like structure on top), ground up cellars (first creating a mound into which the cellar could be dug), and hillside cellars (which are usually the easiest to spot).
The Elliston shoreline is striking. In addition to seeing the root cellars, we also walked past this wooden structure, which is used for drying fish in the summertime.
Elliston is also home to Roots, Rants, and Roars, a wildly popular “….regional celebration of the natural gifts of Newfoundland and Labrador.” Events include a ‘King of Cod’ cook-off between local chefs, a food hike with chefs from across the country, and a big feast with live music.
During the food hike, participants make their way between stations where participating chefs are waiting to feed them! Honestly, the Elliston coastline combined with delicious food pit stops just sounds too good to be true. No wonder the event sold out last year in a flash.
Inspired by Elliston, my boyfriend and I have taken to storing our vegetables in an outdoor cellar. In actuality, it is more of an old Rubbermaid bin on the porch labelled "Truck Parts"......but we very seriously refer to it as The Root Cellar.
Get yourselves to Elliston to see the real things. They're worth it.
Here's Newfoundlander Amelia Curran, who was one of the musicians providing tunes for Roots, Rants, and Roars last year: