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From: "Matt Mullaly" <>
Subject: [NFLD-LAB] Nfld. Dogberry lore
Date: Tue, 7 Oct 2003 10:29:10 -0400


Red all over 10/7/03
By DANETTE DOOLEY, Special to The Telegram

“Can you believe this weather? Sure, I haven’t seen the likes of this in all
my 80 years,” one gentleman said to another in the grocery lineup last week.
“No b’y, but we’re going to pay for this by-me-bye, you can mark that down.
The trees are just peppered with dogberries this year,” the other man

According to Newfoundland folklore, plentiful dogberries in the fall are a
sign of a hard winter. And did you ever wonder why there are so many
dogberry trees in Newfoundland?

Information posted on the Upper Gullies elementary school website says early
Scottish and Irish settlers believed that the dogberry or rowan tree would
keep the witches out of their garden.

While such information may merely be an urban legend, In Wild Flowers of
Newfoundland (1935), Agnes Marion Miller Ayre writes that the mountain ash
or dogberry tree was held in great esteem by the Beothuks, aboriginal
inhabitants of Newfoundland.

The dogberry tree is favoured as a decorative tree in yards and parks
because of its bright orange-red berries. It also flourishes in open woods,
rocky hillsides, forested areas and among moist thickets.

Bitter to the taste, the dogberry fruit is round and berry-like. It is red
to orange in colour and about one-half to one centimetre in diameter. Often
remaining on the trees in winter, with a backdrop of freshly fallen snow,
clusters of dogberries have become popular with both amateur and
professional photographers.

Dogberry leaves are made up of 11 to 15 sparsely tapered, sharp-tipped
leaflets five to nine centimetres long and one to 2.5 centimetres wide.

According to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, the berries of the
mountain ash are generally called “dogberries” by some, however, in
Newfoundland they are also called “pig-berries.”

While dogberries are a magnet for many species of birds, the Dictionary of
Newfoundland English notes that explorer John Cartwright felt other animals
were also attracted to the berry.

“He suddenly came upon a bear, which had been in the upper branches of the
dog-berry or mountain ash, deliberately bending and breaking the boughs,
that he might eat the berries,” the Dictionary states.

• • •

There are four species of dogberry on the island. One is an introduced
European species that is called the rowan tree in the United Kingdom. The
others are native, which may explain Ayre’s reference to the Beothuks.

Dogberries are a welcome ingredient in the colourful jars of jams and
jellies made from local wild and domestic berries that fill the shelves at
Auntie Crae’s. The specialty food shop has been a Newfoundland tradition for
over a quarter of a century.

According to owner Janet Kelly, most children who grew up in Newfoundland
tried their hand at attempting to make dogberry wine or beer, “although the
results usually had to be mopped off the ceiling by a long-suffering

Kelly says that while dogberries are favourites of children and birds, they
have little natural flavour. However, they have lots of bulk and pectin and,
in combination with other fruits, can be very useful.

“If your dear old nan made wonderful dogberry jam, chances are that it had
rosehip or ginger added to give it taste,” Kelly notes on the store’s

Kelly admits her comments on the curiosity of kids in making dogberry wine
come from first-hand experience. She recalls fondly when she was about 10,
how, along with her sister Mary, she decided to give it a try — not to
drink, but just for the sake of making it, because they’d heard it could be

The sisters gathered the dogberries, placed them in a few gin bottles with
some sugar and water and sealed the bottles.

“Gordon’s Gin bottles at that time had clamp-on bottle caps that would not
pop off under pressure. We always kept any that we found, as this was the
era before screw-on soda pop and liquor bottle caps, and a bottle with a
reusable lid was hard to find. Other liquor bottles must have had corks at
that time.”

The sisters put their concoction on a shelf in the cellar of their house, as
they’d been told the berries took a while to brew.

“You can imagine the results when, after a few weeks, they exploded all over
the basement. You could hear it on the third floor of our house. I suspect
we knew this could happen, as otherwise we would have put them in our
bedroom, where all other scientific and chemical experimentation usually
took place.”

Kelly says her curiosity about “what if” has never been satiated.

“I still take on that sort of thing and sometimes come up with new products
for Auntie Crae’s by my passionate interest in why ingredients behave the
way they do.”

While two young girls’ curiosity about dogberry wine led to nothing more
than lots of giggles and a pleasant memory to look back on, a more refined
product has found a place among, for example, the Twillingate-based Weil
Winery’s Notre Dame Wine Labels.

The word dogberry also has another meaning. Encarta World English Dictionary
2003 says dogberry means an unintelligent but self-important official.

Perhaps that explains why Shakespeare included a character named Dogberry in
his play Much Ado About Nothing. The character is a none-too-bright but
goodhearted constable.

In fact, the definition is so popular that the Police Federation of England
and Wales has a police magazine that celebrates the “dogberry actions” of a
cop. It can be found at

• • •

Dogberries can also be used in wonderful crafts such as Christmas tree
ornaments, all-occasion centerpieces and wreaths.

For transplanted Newfoundlanders like Betty (Crane) Webb, the dogberry tree
conjures up warm images of growing up on the rock. Even though she left her
Grand Bank home in 1956 at the age of 20, Webb says she will always be a
Newfoundlander and is proud of her roots.

“It is my homeland and, after all, I was a Newfoundlander almost 13 years
before someone informed me I was now a Canadian.”

Now living in northern Ontario, Webb’s garden is filled with gooseberries,
red, black and white currants, rhubarb, red and yellow raspberries and
several chokecherry trees. Growing in the front of her house is a dogwood
tree, planted by the city.

“We had a lovely old dogwood tree in our backyard (in Grand Bank). My father
always called them dogwood trees and we called the berries dogberries. …
Every year, my mother waited for the first touch of frost. She said that
took some of the bitterness off the berries. After that, we picked them and
then she made dogberry jelly — a jelly made from dogberries, crabapples and
a little water and sugar.”

While making jams and wines from dogberries in Newfoundland is nothing new,
Betty says her friends in Ontario tend to raise an eyebrow when told about
such plans.

“And my mainland friends always look at me funny when I say a dogwood tree,
because they call it a mountain ash. I tell them that as soon as we have
frost, I will pick the berries to make jelly and wine. I am informed that
the berries of the mountain ash are poisonous, only birds eat them. I
explain to them that most birds will not eat berries that are poisonous and
if they were, I would have been dead before I was a year or two old.”

Why not go pick a bunch of dogberries and try out some of Betty’s favourite

• • •

“In Newfoundland, where I was born and raised, mountain ash berries are
called dogberries,” Betty says. “This is an old Newfoundland recipe.”

Dogberry Wine

Place 2 gallons of berries in a boiler with 1 gallon of water. Boil for 2
hours. Press and strain. Place juice back in boiler for 1 hour, adding sugar
to taste. When cool, strain and bottle. Note: I suggest you wash the berries
first, as they sometimes get quite dusty.

• • •

“My mother made this every year just after the first frost. In my mother’s
handwritten cookbook, this is called Dogberry Jelly.”

Dogberry or Mountain Ash Jelly

1 quart mountain ash berries

2 dozen crabapples (or the equivalent in sour cooking apples)


Wash berries; wash and cut apples. Place together in a large saucepan and
cover with water; boil until soft. Mash while cooking. Strain through a
jelly bag or cheesecloth. Measure syrup and put on to boil for 15 minutes.
Add 3/4 cup of sugar for each cup of juice you measured. Continue cooking
until a few drops placed on an ice-cold plate will gel. Remove from heat and
pour into hot sterilized jelly jars. Seal and store in a dark, dry place.

For other greatNewfoundlandrecipes, visitBetty’s Place

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