Chery Blake gets up at 4 am every morning to make the tarts, cakes and cookies at Flat Earth Outpost, the first and only coffee shop and roastery on Fogo Island, Newfoundland. She refused the job at first. Cheryl met Curtis Burns, the coffee roaster and business owner, three years ago at the local Partridgeberry Festival. She had won first prize for her carrot cake, and he was selling coffee and French presses–a brave enterprise on an island of tea drinkers–when he suggested she come work for him. “I laughed and said I hadn’t worked in 18 years,” says the self-taught baker.
Cheryl has been at the Outpost now for four months. Like her new business partner, Curtis, she is known locally as a CFA–Come-From-Away. In other words, she wasn’t born on Fogo Island. She grew up in Ontario, but her husband was born and raised in the Barr’d Island community of Fogo Island. They met when she was 13 and he was 14.
“My parents used to go to this provincial park to camp. We were up there one weekend and this young boy asked me if I wanted to go for a canoe ride. We’ve been hooked at the hip ever since.”
They visited Fogo Island in 1984 and felt the pull of the place with its saltbox fishers’ cottages and blistered wooden stages dotted around the perimeter, all looking out to the Atlantic Ocean. But it took almost 20 years for them to come back. The couple were caring for aging parents in Ontario, so it wasn’t until eleven years ago that they made the move back to Bob’s abandoned family home. Things didn’t get off to the easiest start:
“The house had been empty for 11 years. The pipes hadn’t been bled. They all froze and had to be redone,” says Cheryl. “I didn’t have a shower for the first 14 months here. I had to bathe in a bucket in my bathtub.” Not that she’s complaining. In her community, many people run black hoses down from the top of Tallboy Hill, so they can have water to flush their toilets, do their laundry and run baths.
Gregarious by nature, Cheryl quickly expanded her baking repertoire by exchanging recipes with local women. “I got this one, for Lassie Tart, from a little old lady in Tilting,” she says. The name Lassie is an abbreviated version of molasses, which is a key ingredient in the dough. “We played around with it for the Outpost,” says Cheryl.”Traditionally they would use tea in the crust, but we use coffee.”
The result is a rich, flavourful pastry, with a hint of bitter flavour, cinnamon spice and the molasses tang so familiar to Newfoundlanders, who for centuries exchanged their salt cod with Caribbean trading partners for the black, syrupy stuff. The sharp and juicy ruby-red filling of partridgeberry jam complements the sweet, ginger-tinged crust beautifully.
You can find Cheryl’s Lassie Tart recipe below. As for the prize-winning carrot cake that led her to the Outpost in the first place–its recipe is top secret. If you’re ever on Fogo Island, you’ll just have to go into the coffee shop and taste the original for yourself.
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1 cup (250 mL) butter
½ cup (125 mL) sugar
1 cup (250 mL) molasses
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
2 tsp (10 mL) cinnamon
2 tsp (10 mL) baking soda
½ cup (125 mL) strong black coffee
5 cups (1.25 L) flour
1 pint (0.5 L) partridgeberry jam
1. Cream butter, sugar, egg, molasses, vanilla and cinnamon.
2. Dissolve baking soda in coffee. Add to butter-sugar mix. Stir in flour, gradually.
3. Roll out 2/3 of the dough to 3-4-mm thick and cut out rounds to lay in greased 4” pie plates. Spoon 2 tbsp (30 mL) of partridgeberry jam filling into the centre of each. Roll out the remaining 1/3 dough into a long piece, cut into 3-4-mm strips and place in a lattice pattern over tart the top, pressing the ends to stick firmly to the tart edge. Bake for 15-18 minutes at 350 F.