J.J. Stewart Foods and Soda Company – Fine Island Flavors

 

I am always thrilled when I discover products made on PEI.  I recently paid a visit to the small commercial kitchen of J.J. Stewart Foods and Soda Company in Stratford, PEI, where I met with owners and sole employees of the company, Heather and Thom MacMillan.

Under the brand label of J.J. Stewart, the MacMillans are producers and purveyors of a number of fine food products that includes preserves, flavoured mustards, sauces, pickles, salsa, lemonade, sodas and, of course, their signature artisan root beer.

While I was anxious to find out more about the products they make, I was first curious to learn about J.J. Stewart and his connection to the company.

The MacMillans tell me that the J.J. Stewart branding came about because of the root beer they were making.  They have been producing their artisan root beer since 2009.  When they were searching for a brand name for it, they discovered that Heather’s grandfather, John James Stewart, made and sold root beer in the early 1900s in his general store in Wood Islands, PEI. So, with the lineage and history, it seemed only fitting that their root beer should bear his name.

So, that explains the root beer but what prompted the production of the sauces, preserves, maple mustards, and pickles?  The MacMillans have been in the tourism business for many years.  They decided it was time to downsize and slow down so they sold their hotel business in Wood Islands and moved to Charlottetown.  However, their retirement was short-lived as their lifelong entrepreneurial spirit was still prompting them to do something else.  Both like to cook and when the Embers Company in Kinkora, PEI, became available for sale about three years ago, they bought it along with rights to the recipes for specialty food condiments that were already well-known and received on the market.  They have continued to produce those items as well as develop, test, and market new items, like Peanut Butter and Cranberry Champagne Jam with Ginger, under the J.J. Stewart label.

The dividing line between mass-produced mustards, preserves, and sauces and those produced by the MacMillans lies in the care and attention to detail that can only come with hand-producing small batch quantities, using high quality ingredients, and adhering to a strict individual quality control process.

Large Cooking Pot inside the JJ Stewart Kitchen
Large Cooking Pot inside the J.J. Stewart Kitchen

The difference can also be discerned in the taste and flavour when pure ingredients are used.  Wherever possible, the MacMillans use regionally-produced products.  Thom says he can actually pinpoint the berry field at Penny’s Farms in Belfast, PEI, where the strawberries are picked for the J.J. Stewart Strawberry Preserves!  The berries for their blueberry products come from Wyman’s near Morell and the cranberries and raspberries are locally sourced as well.  Cucumbers for their mustard pickles come from local roadside farm stands which offer the freshest of garden vegetables.  The maple syrup comes from Acadian Maple Products in nearby Nova Scotia.  J.J. Stewart products have become synonymous with quality so much so that the MacMillans tell me that people buy their preserves by the case in the summer and their freshly-made mustard pickles are a fall favourite which customers also buy by the case to have as their winter supply.

Like any food product produced and marketed for sale on PEI, the MacMillans are subject to food regulation and provincial inspection processes to ensure their products are safe for the market.

Bottles of Dill and Chardonnay Maple Mustard
Bottles of Dill and Chardonnay Maple Mustard Waiting to be Labeled

The artisan foods produced by the MacMillans are a perfect blend of modern and traditional fare.  Under the J.J. Stewart label that bears his picture, look for modern products like blueberry salsa and blueberry barbeque sauce and a number of flavoured mustards along with old favorites like mustard pickles and raspberry and strawberry preserves.

With distinctive flavour pairings like Dill and Chardonnay Maple Mustard and Wild Blueberry Sauce with Grand Marnier, for example, the J.J. Stewart line of products brings together the best flavour combinations.  J.J. Stewart products are both delicious and very versatile.  Whether used independently on their own as they are or incorporated as an ingredient into a recipe, these quality products are palette pleasers.

Over the next while, follow my blog postings as I use a number of their products in different recipes.

I am sure J.J. Stewart would have been happy to sell these products in his general store and he would, no doubt, be both thrilled and proud to know that his descendents are carrying on the tradition of producing artisanal root beer and other tasty products.  The J.J. Stewart speciality item products are available in select locations in the Maritimes.  For example, they can be purchased at the PEI Co. Store in Charlottetown’s Confederation Court Mall, at Riverview Country Market in Charlottetown, and at several other locations across the Island as well as at Sugar Moon Farms in Truro, Nova Scotia.

Thom MacMillan at the J.J. Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market
Thom MacMillan at the J.J. Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

Each Saturday morning, you can also find Thom at his booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market where sales are brisk and you’ll find regular customers returning week after week to pick up their favorite J.J. Stewart products.  Farmers markets are great venues for customers and producers to meet and interact.  In fact, Thom says he gets the greatest feedback and new product ideas from his regular Saturday morning customers.  Be sure to drop by the Farmers Market and taste the J.J. Stewart products at the tasting bar set up in their booth.

Tasting Bar at the JJ Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market
Tasting Bar at the J.J. Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

In the summer months, their products are also sold in their own J.J. Stewart Mercantile Store in Cavendish, PEI.  Additionally, products are also available online at www.jjstewartfoods.com and they ship across North America.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Old-fashioned Jam Squares
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Old-fashioned Jam Squares

For my feature recipe today using a J.J. Stewart product, I have chosen to use their Raspberry Preserves in old-fashioned vintage jam squares.  For this recipe, you need to use a superior quality jam or preserves because that is what gives the square its flavour.  Red jams or preserves work best because, for plate presentation purposes, they are the most showy.  I found the J.J. Stewart Raspberry Preserves to be a nice, thick consistency which is necessary in order for it to stick to the dough and not be runny when the squares are cut.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Old-fashioned Jam Squares
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Old-fashioned Jam Squares made with J.J. Stewart’s Raspberry Preserves

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s

Old-fashioned Jam Squares

These are an old-fashioned favourite that I grew up with.  They are easy to make and take common ingredients.  While any kind of jam may be used, they are most showy when red jam (preserves) is chosen.

Ingredients:

⅓ cup butter

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

½ tsp almond flavoring

½ cup white sugar

1 cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp cinnamon

⅛ tsp cardamom

Finely grated rind of 1 lemon

½ cup J.J. Stewart Raspberry Preserves

Method:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Assemble ingredients.

Ingredients for Jam Squares
Ingredients for Jam Squares

Prepare 8”x8” pan by lining with parchment paper.

With electric mixer, beat butter well.  Beat in egg, vanilla, and almond flavouring.  Mixture will appear lumpy.

Sift and mix together sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Grate the rind of one lemon.  Stir in grated lemon rind.

Add dry ingredients to butter-egg mixture and blend thoroughly.

Gather up dough and shape dough into a small oblong shape.

Cut off about ⅓ of the dough and place in freezer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, press remaining ⅔ dough into prepared pan.  Place pan in freezer.

When the reserved dough has been in the freezer for 15 minutes remove both reserved dough and the pan from the freezer.  Evenly spread the ½ cup raspberry preserves over dough in pan.

Using a grater, grate the chilled and reserved 1/3 dough evenly over the jam.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until topping on square is lightly golden in color.

Let square cool completely in pan before removing and cutting into 16 squares.

Jam Squares
Jam Squares

 

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

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What’s Brewing at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. in Charlottetown, PEI?

Prince Edward Island Brewing Co., Charlottetown, PEI
Prince Edward Island Brewing Co., Charlottetown, PEI

Prince Edward Island is well known for its seafood and potatoes, both of which are major industries on the Island.  However, what many of you may not know is that there is an emerging industry on the Island that involves beverage making.  Blueberry juice, apple cider, cranberry juice, wine-making, spirit distilling, and beer-brewing are all happening on PEI.

Today, I am taking you with me on a visit to the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. in Charlottetown where the local artisan brewery, now set up in its spacious new state-of-the-art facility on Kensington Road, brews award-winning ales and lager.  After we tour the Brewery, we’ll head downtown to the Gahan House Restaurant to talk with the chef about beer pairing and find out how he uses beer in making a traditional Maritime dish – Fish Cakes – and, yes, he shares his recipe 🙂

My guide at the Brewery today is Al Douglas, Director of Branding and Community Engagement.  We begin our chat in the modern and spacious lobby of the brewery.

Lobby and Bar at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co
Lobby and Bar at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co

The brewery had its beginnings 13 years ago when owner, Kevin Murphy, operated it under the name of Murphy’s Brewing Co. in a restaurant (Lone Star Café) he owned in Charlottetown.  The brewery then moved its operations to the Gahan House Restaurant in Olde Charlottetown and, when it outgrew its space there, moved to a location on Walker Drive.  After two years in that location, it became apparent that the demand for the product was increasing as they were running out of beer mid-season.  So, in 2013, to increase their brewing capacity, the brewery moved to their current newly-refurbished building at 96 Kensington Road.

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Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. brews both ales and lagers the old-fashioned way with no preservatives, additives,or pasteurization.  The brewery currently brews eight ales and one lager which is aptly named “Beach Chair Lager”.  The Beach Chair Lager has the distinction of being the first-ever canned craft beer produced in Atlantic Canada.  Al says their most popular products are the Beach Chair Lager and Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale.  They do brew some seasonal specialties like a pumpkin ale in the fall and Dunkel, a vanilla and bourbon oak-infused dark lager over the Christmas and winter period.

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I asked Al what sets their beers apart from others on the market.  He tells me that it is a locally-brewed product that uses no preservatives or additives.  Additionally, the naturally clean and clear PEI water is easier to filter.  Consumers today are conscious of where the products they consume come from and there is support for products that are produced locally, like the brewery’s ales and lagers.

The brewery’s beers have won awards attesting to the quality of their products.  In 2011, the Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale was awarded the Canadian Brewing Awards’ gold medal.  In 2012, the brewery won both gold and silver medals and, in 2013, was awarded the silver medal from the Canadian Brewing Awards.

On Tap at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Company
On Tap at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co.

The beer is available onsite at the brewery and is also sold in all liquor stores on PEI and in many restaurants, cafés, and bars around the Island.  If you are off-Island, look for the beers in select locations in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, and British Columbia and, come spring 2014, in Ontario.

What makes the current location of the brewery unique is that it has a huge area where they can host large events like weddings and concerts.  Check out the chandelier and the contemporary white chairs in the photo below.

page - chandelier

Event capacity is up to 500 persons and Al tells me they have held a number of events already, have more planned, and bookings are brisk for wedding receptions for the upcoming wedding season.  Two full-scale kitchens onsite, including a large brick oven, allow for food preparation for large numbers.

Serving Kitchen at the Prince Edward Island Brewery
Serving Kitchen at the Prince Edward Island Brewery Co.

The brewery employs 16 full time employees over the winter and, in the summer, that staff complement increases to 25-30 that includes both full and part-time employees.  The brewery has two certified brew masters on staff.

Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. supports local producers, buying local ingredients where possible.  For example, the Sir John A. Honey Wheat Ale uses honey from Honey Dew Apiaries in Canoe Cove.  The blueberry beer uses a blueberry purée from PEI Berries Ltd. in East Montague.  This means the brewery has a year-round demand for these two ingredients since both beers are brewed all year.  This is good news for the support local movement.

So, what goes into beer making?  There are four basic ingredients:  water, grains (malt), hops, and yeast.  Extra flavorings such as blueberries or honey may also be added.  Each of the main ingredients contributes important properties to the beer.  The water carries the flavour, the malt adds sweetness, color, and flavour, the hops add flavour, aroma, and some bitterness to counter or balance the sweetness from the malt, and the yeast converts sugar extracted from the malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas that adds flavour.  Yeast is what causes the beer to ferment.

“Fresher is better.  Having a brewery in the community is where you’ll get the freshest beer.”

— Chris Long, Master Brewer – Prince Edward Island Brewing Company

What’s next for the PEI Brewing Company?  This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference where the Fathers of Confederation first met to begin laying the framework for what would later become Canada.  In honor of this event, the brewery has brewed a Fathers 2014 Commemoration Pack of beer.

I asked Al if there was one product they brewed that surprised them in terms of its popularity.  He says the blueberry beer was initially developed to be a seasonal beer available in the spring/summer season but it became so popular that customers and restaurants were continuing to ask for it other times of the year that they now brew it year-round.

In addition to the retail store, a bar, and a cold beer store on the premises, 45-minute tours of the brewery are available for $10/pp (+HST).  This includes a sample of the hand-crafted beer in the tasting room as well as a tour through the facility, starting with the ingredients room where you can see samples of the ingredients and smell the hops.

The tour takes you past the large brewing tanks.

Inside the Brewery
Inside the Brewery

A pristine brewing operation.

The tour concludes in the bottling center area which was really busy today.

Lots of beer being bottled at the Brewery this afternoon!

Bottling Beer at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Company
Bottling Beer at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co.

The brewery was certainly a hive of activity today!

And, the end result – pallets of boxes filled with bottled artisan beer ready for shipping to customers.

Pallet of Beer
Pallet of Beer

For more information on the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co., visit their website.

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Up until a few years ago, if you went into a restaurant and asked what the server recommended as a drink with a certain dish, you would most likely be provided with a wine suggestion.  Today, however, you might very well receive the suggestion of a beer pairing with your meal.  To find out what dish would go particularly well with the PEI Brewing Company’s beers, I went to the Gahan House in Olde Charlottetown where, incidentally, they still brew onsite all the beer served in their restaurant.

Gahan House Restaurant, Charlottetown, PEI
Gahan House Restaurant, Charlottetown, PEI

Chef Dwayne MacLeod of the Gahan House suggests a good Maritime dish to demonstrate how beer can be used as an ingredient and/or paired with food – Fish Cakes made with salt cod and haddock.  Chef MacLeod says the beer brings out the saltiness in the food and several of the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. beers pair very well with fish cakes.  He also suggests, if beer is used as an ingredient in the dish, the same beer would pair very well as a beverage with the meal.  So, if you cook the potatoes for the fish cakes in beer, as Chef MacLeod suggests can be done, then the same beer would pair well as a beverage with the fish cakes.

Chef Dwayne MacLeod's Fishcakes
Chef Dwayne MacLeod’s Fish Cakes

Chef MacLeod has graciously shared his recipe for fish cakes.  He has two beer pairing suggestions to go with the fish cakes.  The first is the Gahan Iron Bridge Brown Ale (pictured in the photograph below).  He says this beer will introduce a nutty and caramel flavour to the meal.  His second suggestion is a wheat ale like the Gahan’s Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale.  It is a light beer and will not overpower the flavors of the fish but will add to the flavour of the salt cod.

Gahan Iron Bridge Brown Ale
Gahan Iron Bridge Brown Ale

 

Chef Dwayne MacLeod’s Fish Cakes

(from the Gahan House Restaurant in Charlottetown, PEI)

Fish Cake Ingredients

1.5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes

1 lb. haddock

1 lb. salt cod

1.4 oz green onion

1 tsp. garlic

2 oz oil or bacon fat

 

Sauce Ingredients

½ quart (2 cups) mayonnaise

1.7 oz. horseradish

1 cucumber

 

Method for Fish Cakes

Soak salt cod in water for 12 hours.  Drain and rinse cod and chop up finely in a blitz machine.

Cook haddock in water.

Cook potatoes.  If desired, cook the potatoes in beer and water (ratio is 2 parts water to 1 part beer).  Cool potatoes.

Finely chop green onion and garlic.

Mix haddock, salt cod, green onion, and garlic together.  Portion out 2 oz for each fish cake and form into a patty.

Heat oil or bacon fat in pan over medium to medium-high heat.

Place fish cakes in hot oil and cook until the edges start to turn golden brown.  Once golden brown, flip the cakes and cook the other side the same.

Serve with the cucumber sauce and enjoy.

 

Method for Sauce

Remove the seeds of the cucumber with a teaspoon and blitz the cucumber very well in a Blitzer.  Mix the cucumber with the mayonnaise and horseradish.  Season to taste.

Yield:  4-6 servings of fish cakes

Fishcakes Paired with Beer
Fish Cakes Paired with Beer

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

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A Wee Spot of Tea for St. Paddy’s Day!

Tis the day for the wearing of the green!  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

My teatime today offers some aspects of a time-honored classic menu but also offers some more modern fare to tempt the palette.

Teatime Menu

Warm currant and orange zest scones served with a selection of jams

Spinach Pinwheel Wraps filled with roasted turkey breast, cheddar cheese, and fresh spinach

Pistachio & Chocolate Pudding

Tweed Squares

Lemon Spritz Cookies

Tea Selection:  Twinings Irish Breakfast

Instead of the traditional sandwiches, I opted to serve these pinwheel wraps which are super easy to make.  I used a garlic herb cream cheese spread mixed with a good quality olive oil to make it almost the consistency of mayonnaise.  I spread that over each spinach wrap, then added two thin slices of roasted turkey.  I added some chopped orange pepper and fresh spinach and then sprinkled grated cheddar cheese over the top.  I rolled the wraps and placed them in the refrigerator for about an hour before slicing and serving them.

After the sandwiches came the scones, fresh and warm from the oven.

I brought the wee bottles of jam home with me from Stratford-Upon-Avon last October.  I knew they would fit in perfectly with my teatime menus and would bring back nice memories of a wonderful cream tea we enjoyed in Stratford-Upon-Avon!

In keeping with my green theme, I made these small pistachio puddings.

The base is ground up chocolate cake (ground Oreo cookies would also work).  My featured Island product today is chocolate sauce made on PEI by J.J. Stewart Food and Soda Company.  I drizzled a couple of teaspoons of the tasty sauce over the chocolate crumbs then added some pistachio pudding, topped with Cool Whip and sprinkled with chocolate crumbs.  A tasty little dessert!

Tweed Squares and Lemon Spritz shortbread cookies decorated with orange and green gumdrops rounded out the dessert course.

My tea choice for today was Twinings Irish Breakfast blend.

Since we were having our tea around noontime, I figured I could get away with a breakfast blend tea and this black tea is one of my all-time favorites….anytime of the day.

And, of course, I used my Shamrock-patterned dishes

and my Irish linens that I bought some years ago at the Blarney Castle.

Instead of flowers on my tea table, I chose a small Oxalis plant, more commonly known as the Shamrock plant, with its tiny star-shaped white flowers. (I looked but didn’t find any four-leaf clovers on this plant!)

And, of course, I wore the sweater I also bought at the Blarney Castle.

And, when it all came together, this is what my tea table looked like.

I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into how we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.  What are your St. Paddy’s Day traditions?

Pistachio and Chocolate Puddings

Assemble ingredients.

The little glasses I used only hold a scarce 1/4 cup so, if you are using larger dishes, you will need to vary the amounts accordingly but it is easy as there is really no right or wrong measurements in these puddings!

Add about 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp of ground up chocolate crumbs to each dish.   Lightly tamp the crumbs on the base of each dish.  Drizzle about 2 tsp chocolate sauce over the chocolate crumb base.

Prepare instant pistachio pudding mix according to package directions.  Spoon about 2 tbsp pudding onto chocolate base of each cup.  Top with Cool Whip (or your favorite whipped topping).  Sprinkle with chocolate crumbs.

An Irish Blessing

May your troubles be less

and your blessings be more

And nothing but happiness

come through your door.

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Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Blueberry Pancakes
Blueberry Pancakes

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day as it is commonly known.  It’s tradition in my house to have pancakes on Pancake Day.  This year, I am serving up Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes with a delectable Blueberry Sauce.  I figure, if it’s going to be blueberries, I might as well go all out!

Did you know that pancakes freeze well?  I make a large batch and freeze them then reheat them for 3-4 minutes in my toaster oven.  Tastes like fresh-made pancakes!

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Ingredients:

1¼ cup flour

2½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp soda

¼ tsp salt

2½ tbsp sugar

¼ tsp cinnamon

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

3 tbsp melted butter

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and cinnamon.

Whisk eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla together.

Make well in dry ingredients.  Pour liquid ingredients into the well.  Stir just until flour is combined into the liquid ingredients.  Batter will be lumpy.

Gently fold in the blueberries.

Melt apx. 2-3 tsp butter in frypan.  Using ¼ measuring cup, add batter to frying pan.  Cook over medium-high heat until top of pancakes lose their glossiness and bubbles appear in the batter.  Flip pancakes over and cook for 2-3 minutes longer.  Add butter each time you add batter to the frying pan to ensure they don’t stick.

Serve hot with maple syrup or blueberry sauce (recipe follows).

Yield:  10-12 pancakes, depending on size

 

Blueberry Sauce

Ingredients:

1¼ cups blueberries

3 tbsp sugar

⅛ tsp cinnamon

Pinch salt

¾ tsp grated orange rind

1½ tsp lemon juice

2½ tbsp orange juice

Scant 1 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp maple syrup

½ tsp vanilla

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

In medium saucepan, combine blueberries, sugar, cinnamon, salt, grated orange rind, lemon juice, and one-half of the orange juice.  Cook over low heat for about 5 minutes.

Whisk cornstarch and the remaining half of the orange juice together until smooth.

Add about 2 tsp of the hot berry mixture to the cornstarch to temper it.  Add the warm cornstarch mixture to the blueberries and stir gently to blend.  Simmer for 4-5 minutes or until desired thickness.

Stir in maple syrup and vanilla.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Serve warm over pancakes.

Yield:  Apx. 1 cup