When we think of picnics, we most often think of lunch time or dinner events. Rarely, do we think of a breakfast picnic and yet it’s probably one of the easiest picnic meals to pack!
Recently, I suggested we pack up a continental breakfast and head to the beach for a morning picnic. We had just been to a nearby blueberry U-pick so, naturally, blueberries were included in the picnic.
The menu was simple. Orange juice, Greek yogurt topped with homemade granola and fresh blueberries, homemade muffins, peaches, and coffee.
I love these little multi-purpose jelly jars. They are perfect for yogurt parfaits!
A breadboard makes an easily transportable platform upon which to set the food. I find, with beach picnics and an uneven sand base, it can be a bit of a challenge to keep the food from tipping over and spilling. However, the breadboard provides a stable, level surface eliminating the problem.
All that needs to be added is the quintessential coffee! I have a small thermos/coffee butler that holds exactly two cups of coffee and is great for these types of events.
I love my wicker picnic baskets and this one came equipped with the plates, mugs, and cutlery.
Let’s take a peek inside the picnic basket!
A good book for one and the morning newspaper for the other found their way to the picnic, too! No need to take along lawn chairs – an old blanket and a couple of comfy pillows will suffice.
Our summers are short here in Prince Edward Island so we make the most of the lovely fine days and our close proximity to the beach. What better way to savour the last days of summer than to pack a breakfast picnic and head to the beach to enjoy breakfast with a view like this! Self-imposed time-outs can be a good thing!
It’s hard to think of summer without thinking of ice cream. Those hot, sultry summer days just seem to beg for an ice cream fix.
Here, on PEI, we have no shortage of ice cream venues to choose from. Whether you are a soft-serve ice cream fan or a hard ice cream aficionado, you’ll find lots to choose from. After a summer of research (full disclosure – the waistline may have been harmed by this initiative!), here’s the scoop on my favorite places on the Island for hard ice cream and for soft-serve ice cream. Readers will note that opinions expressed are my own based on personal experience at all venues mentioned below. None of the establishments knew I was sampling their products for this review. This is not a sponsored post and I received no compensation in any form for my reviews.
My review is broken down into two parts – hard ice cream and soft-serve ice cream. Readers will note that I was not reviewing every product sold by dairy bars and ice cream parlours. Rather I was reviewing two very specific products – hard ice cream and soft-serve ice cream. This to say that, for example, a dairy bar that specializes in, or is most known for, its soft-serve ice cream, may also serve other frozen products such as hard ice cream, too. In that example, if I was reviewing their soft-serve product, that’s all I was reviewing from that particular dairy bar. Likewise, if a business is known primarily for its hard ice cream but also sells, for example, frozen yogurt or sherbet, I only reviewed their hard ice cream product(s). Of those I sampled in 2018, what follows were my top favorites.
For Best Hard Ice Cream
Two locations that specialize in the production of the traditional hard ice cream stood out for me:
Creamery Location: 12 Milky Way (397 Capital Drive), Charlottetown, PEI (11 Canadian locations + 1 in Beijing, China)
Churning out delectable flavours since 1983, the flagship creamery is located on the aptly-named “Milky Way” just off of one of the famous roundabouts outside Charlottetown. This venue is open year-round so locals do not have to go through withdrawal due to seasonal closures (phew!). Other COWS locations, however, may be seasonal.
Apart from the high-quality ice cream (yup, 16% butter fat), COWS is legendary for its creative and unique ice cream flavour names often involving a play on words related to anything “cow” – like Cownadian Maple, Fluff ‘n Udder, Messie Bessie, and Moo Crunch, for example.
When I visit a COWS location, I go in with the best intentions to try a new flavour but, once I’m standing in front of the display case, I inevitably choose “Wowie Cowie”, a delectable concoction of vanilla ice cream, English toffee marble, chocolate flakes, and Moo Crunch. Ice cream is available in dishes or cones but their handmade waffle cones are hard to pass up! In my view, the cones are part of the “udderly” wonderful COWS ice cream experience!
There is no indoor seating at this COWS location though there are some nearby picnic tables outside. Some COWS locations may have indoor seating available. Tours of the creamery at this location are also available.
One of the things that makes COWS ice cream extra special is that it is available exclusively at COWS stores so heading to a COWS outlet just makes the experience that much extra special because you know you can’t buy it at the local supermarket. You can check out the story I earlier wrote on COWS here.
Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour
286 Fitzroy Street, Summerside, PEI
The newbies on the Island ice cream scene, this family-owned and operated ice cream parlour opened its doors in 2016 and is quickly earning a reputation for high quality homemade ice cream.
Located in a heritage home, known as the Holman Homestead, in Summerside, this ice cream parlour has fast become a favorite stop for ice cream aficionados. Much of the charm of the historical property has been maintained and gives an air of stepping back in time to a vintage ice cream parlour.
The premium homemade hard ice cream, manufactured on the premises, is made with all-natural ingredients. Several flavours of ice cream are available – my favorite is the Salted Caramel though I have heard rave reviews of their Cookies and Cream variety.
Ice cream is available in cones or dishes but, as you walk up the sidewalk toward the house, you can catch the tantalizing waft of the waffle cones being made – it’s hard not have one of those cones and they don’t disappoint!
The parlour also offers sundaes, banana splits, and soda fountain floats made with their homemade ice cream.
They also make sherbets and have at least one variety of ice cream made with sheep’s milk. Service is provided by friendly staff. Eat inside or, on lovely weather days, enjoy the ice cream in the garden. The ice cream from Holman’s is made all the more special because it is only available at their Ice Cream Parlour and you won’t find it in the frozen dairy section of any supermarket. Open seasonally. (Hint – In my view, it’s worth the drive to Summerside just to have an ice cream at Holman’s! Just sayin’, this might have happened on more than one occasion….for research purposes, of course, you know….just sayin’…..)
For Best Soft-Serve Ice Cream
Two locations that are known primarily for their soft-serve ice cream particularly caught my attention.
Sunny’s Dairy Bar – New Discovery 2018
559 Water Street, Summerside, PEI
This dairy bar came recommended to me by a couple of folks who thought I should check it out. Can soft-serve ice cream really be all that different from one place to another? Yes, it can and Sunny’s proves it!
Opened in 2011, in the west end of Summerside, this is a traditional style dairy bar in that you place your order at the window and take your ice cream back to your vehicle or to the Green Shore Park across the street. There is no indoor seating.
This dairy bar was a new discovery for me this year and I will be back! I opted for a Hot Fudge Sundae, my all-time favorite. The ice cream was the creamiest and richest I have ever had and the hot fudge topping was, well …. sublime!
Sunny’s has a long list of ice cream treats on its menu, too numerous to mention here. Portion sizes are very generous. I ordered a small sundae and, as can be seen in the photo, it is a very generous helping! Open seasonally, this is definitely a place to check out for ice cream in Summerside!
Frosty Treat Dairy Bar
Two (2) locations – Original at 109 Victoria Street West and new one in 2018 at 25010 Veteran’s Memorial Highway, both in Kensington, PEI
A long-time favorite with Islanders, this traditional-style dairy bar is well known for its catchy TV ads “Don’t Drive By! Drive In!” For many Islanders, it will come as no surprise as to why Frosty Treat made my list of “go-to” places for yummy ice cream in PEI. Frosty Treat has been synonymous with great soft-serve ice cream for many years and the frequent line-ups at the dairy bar window on hot summer days and evenings attest to this.
This popular ice cream bar serves up creamy soft-serve ice cream that will satisfy any craving for soft swirly ice cream. Other ice cream treats are also available on Frosty’s menu.
Frosty Treat has been a summer tradition for us for many years. Their Hot Fudge Sundae, in particular, is a perennial favorite. Open seasonally.
If you are in the Kensington area, “don’t drive by, drive in” to one of the Frosty Treat locations for a cool ice cream treat.
Somerset Ice Cream Bar – New Discovery 2018
2 Somerset Street, Kinkora, PEI
Located in the small rural village of Kinkora, midway between Charlottetown and Summerside, the Somerset Ice Cream Bar opened for business in summer 2018. What makes this ice cream bar unique, and what earned it a special mention in this article, is that its owner and operator is a young entrepreneur, still in high school (yes, you read that right)!
Many cones of generous-sized portions of creamy swirled soft-serve ice cream were served out of this new dairy bar this past summer. In traditional dairy bar style, orders are placed at the window. There is no indoor seating but there are benches on the deck around the dairy bar and limited picnic table seating. Open seasonally.
If you are traveling Rte 225 between Summerside and Charlottetown, make it a plan to stop for a tasty treat at this ice cream bar.
So, this is what the waistline could handle this summer! Again readers will note that some of these establishments also serve other types of ice cream and ice cream related treats. However, the purpose of my exercise this summer was to simply find great establishments that specialized in, or were best known for, either hard ice cream or soft-serve ice cream. Others may have differing opinions on my choices but, based on my personal experience on the days I visited the venues, I had great ice cream and service at each of these five (5) venues this year. In my view, you can’t go wrong with an ice cream treat from any of these five (5) venues. All establishments have active social media accounts (and some have websites) that you can check out for more information and hours and season of operation.
We thoroughly enjoy our home province of Prince Edward Island! Our special Island is small enough that we can get to know all parts of it quite well. In summer, especially, we do a lot of day trips all around the Island. Most times, for our day excursions, I pack a picnic lunch and we head off for the day. Sometimes, I have a particular picnic destination in mind and have a good idea if there will be a park nearby that would be suitable for a picnic and, other times, it’s totally by chance where we land at picnic time. Apart from the opportunity to dine outdoors in our all-too-short summer season here on Canada’s Atlantic Coast, transporting our own meal means we can eat wherever we are whenever we are hungry without having to try and be at a certain location where there is a restaurant which may, or may not, be able to accommodate dietary needs.
Our recent day trip took us to the north shore area of the eastern part of the Island. I love PEI lighthouses – the iconic red and white structures are dotted here and there all around the coast of the Island. I had been searching to find the St. Peter’s Bay Lighthouse for some time and was determined to find it this year. So, this was our primary destination on this particular day trip.
It wasn’t particularly easy to find this elusive lighthouse but, with assistance of an acquaintance who provided directions, I was able to locate it. Access is via a single lane red clay road with a canopy of trees. The adventure was indeed worth it!
After we enjoyed the vista surrounding the lighthouse, not to mention the beautiful beach, we decided it was time to find a place to set out our picnic.
I knew of the small park by the water in nearby St. Peter’s Bay where I had had a picnic before (click here to view those photos). What I didn’t recall was the lovely gazebo at this site. This find was a blessing since the temperature had soared to 28C by this time and it was way too hot to eat out in the open with no shelter!
When we arrived, we found the large gazebo unoccupied so immediately went about setting out our picnic lunch. Someone had planted beautiful flowers in boxes around the gazebo and that formed a ready backdrop that I could not have planned or hoped for. Bonus! See how gorgeous the flowers look in the photo below and how they fortuitously match my color scheme and complement the color of the lemonade!
The color theme of my picnic was turquoise, always a summery color. The burst of hot pink in the drink certainly adds a punch of color!
I found the bowls, matching small salad dressing containers, and rectangular dishes at Walmart. Not only are they all color-coordinated in turquoise blue but the dishes come with the needed cutlery built in, a real bonus because there is no need to remember to bring cutlery separately.
The bowls match my insulated picnic basket. A blue-checked tablecloth and checkered napkins, already part of my picnic arsenal, were found to match as well.
A small model sailboat in matching colors and a collection of shells formed the centerpiece for my tablescape. I figure if I am going to dine outside, I might as well go all the way and set the table attractively! It makes for a more fun and memorable picnic.
For lunch, I prepared my version of a picnic buddha bowl, ensuring it contained contents that would travel. There is no one right way to make a buddha bowl but, typically, they contain some kind of grain (preferably high fibre), veggies and fruit, a protein source, and greens. I began by layering the bowl with lettuce from our garden. Our garden has been a good producer this year so the cherry tomatoes, celery (it’s there but it’s hiding in the photo), and carrots are garden-fresh. The grain I chose to use was a tri-colored quinoa. To make the meal more substantial and to add some protein, I included a half hard boiled egg in each bowl. The addition of the red onion gives a flavor and color boost. I love how colorful and healthy this salad is!
I often brine and roast boneless skinless chicken breasts for various uses and they are perfect sliced for a main meal salad or as added protein in a buddah bowl.
Some freshly picked blueberries from the Tryon Blueberries U-pick added a bit of color, texture, and sweetness to the salad. A simple balsamic dressing was all that was needed to finish the salad. This type of meal is great for a picnic. The meal is completely prepped at home and contained in a bowl with the dressing added at the time of serving. The meal travels well – I use several ice packs in my insulated picnic basket to keep the food good and cold. At meal time, it is simply a matter of removing the cover from each diner’s bowl and the meal is ready to go. Clean-up is super easy because the covers pop back on to the bowls and the utensils fit inside the bowls so there are no messy plates and utensils.
I love the little bottles in the photo below. When I made the rhubarb lemonade earlier in the summer, I froze some in these bottles to have it ready for picnics. The bottles help to keep the food cool as we travel and they quickly finish thawing completely when removed from the cooler as the picnic is being laid out. This is a super tasty (and colorful) summer drink – you can access my recipe by clicking here.
These high bush blueberries are great snacking berries and I often pack them in my picnic basket when the berries are in season. Today, their blue color matches my color scheme, too!
Peanut butter cookies are always a great stand-by picnic treat. They are easy to make, easy to transport, and satisfy the sweet tooth. For my recipe, click here.
Peaches are also a great fruit to take along on picnics. I love to incorporate the flavors of summer into my picnic menus.
I hope you have enjoyed a peek into my picnic in the gazebo in St. Peter’s Bay, PEI! The Island has many picturesque places suitable for picnics and each comes with its own unique view.
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For other picnic inspiration from My Island Bistro Kitchen, check out these:
Tucked away on the Graham’s Road (Route 8), in the picturesque rural community of New London, Prince Edward Island, you will find The Table Culinary Studio that offers short (between 3.5 and 4.5 hours) cooking classes that focus primarily on cooking with fresh, local Island foods. This experience is a great way to learn about the Island food culture.
The rural setting is quintessential PEI. Fields in shades of green contrasted with the Island’s iconic red soil take visitors to the heart of some of the Island’s most fertile farm land.
Just down the road is New London Harbour, home to a small lobster fishing fleet and the grounds for other seafood like oysters, quahogs, and mussels. Not far away, quality food can be sourced from dairy and beef farms, organic farmers, beekeepers, cheesemakers, and garlic growers. Could there be a more authentic location for a PEI culinary studio!
While it is no secret that PEI has lovely scenery to enjoy, spectacular beaches and golf courses, and many attractions to keep visitors busy exploring our Island, many come to the Island knowing that PEI offers great food from the land and sea.
Our potatoes, oysters, mussels, and lobster, in particular, are shipped all over the world and these Island products are well known, respected, and sought after for their high quality.
So, what better way to experience the Island foods first hand than to take a short cooking class to learn more about them and how they can be prepared.
The Table Culinary Studio (formerly Annie’s Table) has been in operation since 2012, offering an array of short cooking classes on a myriad of topics. Under new ownership in 2016, The Table, with owner/chef Derrick Hoare at the helm, continues with the tradition of engaging culinary aficionados in ways to prepare local Island foods such as lobster, oysters, mussels, scallops, beef, cheese, and so forth. The focus is very much on using fresh local ingredients that are in season and, by extension, acquainting participants with the rich Island food culture.
The Table offers a number of hands-on cooking classes that include (at the time of writing) Bounty of the Sea, Black Gold (cured garlic), Farm to Table, Marilla’s Table, Hive to Table, Let Them Eat Beef, Oyster Obsession, Say Cheese, Vivacious Vegan, Applelicious, Artisan Bread, Gluten Free Gourmet, and Helping Hands. The Table operates seasonally from May to October to coincide with the Island’s tourism season. Several of the cooking classes involve field trips to farms and other local food producers to see, first-hand, how food is grown or produced and to pick up some local ingredients to bring back to The Table to be used in the class that follows. This form of experiential tourism provides the opportunity for the learners to create wonderful memories of their vacation time in PEI, connect directly with PEI food producers, and to learn more about the Island’s food culture and the role that farming, fishing, and other food production play in the Island’s economy and way of life.
I recently participated in the “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class at The Table which is located within walking distance to the house in which famed Island authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery was born and not far by vehicle to the resort municipality of Cavendish.
But, before I take you on the adventure with me, here is a brief description of the venue and what a cooking class is like at The Table.
What makes this culinary studio unique is its venue. It is located in a small white repurposed country church, very typical of so many seen in several Island communities. Inside the church, the pews have been removed and, in their place, is a large harvest table where, in a few hours time, class participants will gather to enjoy the lavish spread of the morning’s cooking. The church’s altar has been elevated to a loft setting and the building is tastefully furnished.
The original altar and choir loft locations have been transformed into an open teaching kitchen.
Class size is small and intimate – only a maximum of 10 participants per cooking class. This ensures that each person has a front row view as the culinary team teaches the cooking or baking techniques in the open-style kitchen. It also allows for participants to be actively engaged and participating in the cooking or baking activities.
The culinary team consists of owner/chef Derrick Hoare, Executive Chef Michael Bradley, and Events Coordinator Christine Morgan. The atmosphere is unhurried and very sociable. Strangers become friends over the commonality of food. With a growing hunger for knowledge about where one’s food comes from and how it is grown, produced, or harvested, cooking classes appeal to most age demographics and skill levels. No need to worry if you are not an experienced or accomplished cook – the classes offer something for everyone, including a scrumptious meal after the class in the beautifully appointed old country church.
So, now on to my adventure as a participant in The Table’s “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class. After morning coffee upon arrival, everyone got suited up with their aprons and side towels.
The class began with Chef Derrick giving a brief talk on lobster fishing on PEI, recounting his own experiences going out on a fishing boat to learn, first-hand, about lobster fishing on the Island. Chef Michael then gave a short biology lesson on how to identify the gender of a lobster.
It’s a good thing those lobsters were banded because, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having a finger caught in the claws of one, you are likely to end up with a broken finger – they’re strong!
Everyone was given a lobster and instructed on how to carefully de-band them before placing them in hot water to be cooked. Chef Michael explained how much salt was needed in the water to boil the lobsters and how long they needed to cook.
Chef Derrick kept a watchful eye on the lobsters so they were removed from the pot at just the right time.
Next came the lesson on how to crack open a lobster.
Chef Michael capably gave instructions as each student cracked open a lobster to reveal the succulent meat inside.
Yes, a basic table knife will do the trick!
Having never made homemade pasta before, I was particularly interested in the procedure.
The Table is very accommodating to class participants who have dietary restrictions. On this day, there were two participants who were gluten-intolerant so a separate station on an adjacent workspace was set up for them to make the gluten-free pasta and Chef Michael alternated between the two groups giving information and instruction on pasta making.
Black garlic from nearby Eureka Garlic, not far from Kensington, was used in the pasta to give a unique flavour. If you have never tasted black garlic, it’s not nearly as garlicky as you might think – I personally think it tastes like a cross between a fig and a prune. You can check out my story here on Eureka Garlic.
The chopped black garlic was kneaded into the pasta dough.
The pasta dough was cut and gathered into circles ready to be dropped into the cooking pot.
With the pasta made, we took a brief break from the food prep to listen to Christine explain how mussels are grown and harvested on PEI.
PEI mussels are world famous and they are shipped all over the world. Mussels are a common food to serve at many events, year-round, on PEI. They are easy to prepare and ever-so-tasty dipped in melted butter!
Chef Michael then guided the group in making Lobster Bisque. Once the Mirepoix started cooking, you can only imagine how tantalizing the scent was as it wafted through the old church building.
Ohhhh, that lobster is going to make a dandy lunch – can’t you just taste it!
The third seafood that we learned to cook was scallops, those tasty little morsels!
The morning went super fast and, before we knew it, it was time for lunch to be served by the culinary team.
The table was beautifully set (those of you who follow my food blog regularly know how I love well-set tables). The napkin at each place setting had either a small lobster trap or lobster napkin ring.
These napkin rings tied in well with the theme of the morning’s class – “Bounty of the Sea”.
How inviting does this look! Wouldn’t you love to sit in at this table!
Fresh homemade sourdough bread was on the table.
The landing at the top of the spiral staircase in the church provided a great vantage point for photography.
The group assembled at the big harvest table which is the focal point in the middle of the studio. This 12’ table was hand-crafted from old attic boards extracted from the house which The Table’s former owner restored just up the road at New London corner.
How great does this lobster bisque look with that succulent lobster claw! It tasted even better!
We were very anxious to taste the homemade pasta and it did not disappoint! The pasta in the photo below is gluten-free.
This was accompanied by big bowls of PEI mussels with squeaky cheese topping melting down through the mussels. If you are a mussel lover, these are hard to resist!
And as if we weren’t stuffed enough, out came dessert. The dessert in the photo below is a chocolate beet cake.
And, for the gluten-free dessert, it was a deconstructed blueberry pie which I can attest was simply yummy!
The Table is set with the right ingredients – small class size, fresh local Island foods, quality instruction, hands-on cooking, a shared meal, and a charming venue with a history of its own. If you are looking for an authentic and affordable cooking experience to allow you to more deeply engage with the local food scene and pick up some cooking tips and skills, check out course offerings at The Table. With the short half-day classes, visitors can have the best of both worlds – a cooking experience to learn more about local PEI foods in the morning followed by a delicious lunch and then the rest of the day free to explore other Island adventures and sights. For more information on cooking classes and prices, visit The Table Culinary Studio website at: http://www.thetablepei.ca/classes
The Table also offers fine dining in the evening (reservations required). Click here to read my recent story on The Table’s North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner.
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My thanks to The Table Culinary Studio for the opportunity to experience their “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class and for the fine hospitality. My participation in the class was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the class experience. All opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.
One of the things most of us enjoy about travel is the opportunity to sample foods local to a region. It’s part of the charm of a place and makes for great vacation memories. At one time, vacationers went to a destination, did some sightseeing, took in some typical tourist attractions (amusement parks, museums, beaches, etc.), and ate at whatever restaurant they happened upon at meal time. Today’s travelers, generally speaking, are more interested in diversified travel experiences than they are simply going to a place so they can check it off their bucket list of places they have been. Many seek out adventures that allow them to participate in activities, experience the uniqueness and authenticity of a place, mingle with the locals, and learn more about local foods and ways to prepare them.
One of the best ways to learn about a place and its culture is through its local food. In fact, many travelers choose destinations based on the local food scene, food festivals and events, unique dining experiences, and opportunities to participate in culinary classes. Many, therefore, seek out experiences that allow them to connect more fully with a region and what better way to do that than through food, especially if it is experiential cuisine where you learn something about the foods you are eating.
I was recently a guest at the North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio which hosts themed communal-style dinners featuring Prince Edward Island foods throughout the summer months. Today, I am going to share my dining experience at The Table with you.
The Table Culinary Studio is the successor of Annie’s Table Culinary Studio which was started by Annie Leroux in 2012. You can click here for my story on Annie’s Table Culinary Studio. Current owner, Derrick Hoare (himself a trained chef), had been a long-time summer resident on PEI for many years, was retiring from his career in the health care profession, and was looking for his next adventure. He contemplated buying a traditional restaurant in PEI but decided that was not his style. When Annie’s Table became available for sale, Derrick liked the concept Annie had begun so he bought the business which he began operating in 2016. In addition to keeping the tradition of offering short culinary courses, he added themed evening dining to the menu and renamed the business to The Table Culinary Studio.
Set in the small rural community of New London, not far from the resort municipality of Cavendish (the hometown of the fictional Anne of Green Gables – you may have heard of her!), you will find The Table on Route 8 or, as the locals would simply say, the Grahams Road.
With a backdrop of green fertile rolling countryside, The Table is located in a repurposed former United Church that is tastefully furnished with quality antiques. Several of the elements of the decommissioned church have been incorporated into the décor, including the pulpit that now occupies a prominent position overlooking the dining hall.
The entire venue is open concept so diners can watch the culinary team prepare the meal. This unique dining experience will make you feel like you are more at an intimate dinner party with a private chef catering than at a restaurant.
Open seasonally, seven nights a week, for themed dinners that feature local Island foods that come from the land and the sea, The Table can accommodate up to 18 guests an evening, one seating only. Tickets for the dinner must be reserved in advance (by phone or email) and the menu for each evening is a set menu – you eat whatever is being prepared that night which takes the pressure off of studying a menu and trying to decide what to have. Drinks are at extra cost and are payable at the end of the evening along with the dinner.
The themed dinners range from the Traditional Island Feast to the Island Dinner Party to Isle and Fire to the North Shore Surf and Turf and all focus on fresh local foods harvested or fished nearby. Seating is at one long harvest table in the middle of the old church and food is served family style which is to say that the main meal, on large platters, arrives at the table and guests pass the platters around, serving themselves. There are no individual tables.
It seems only fitting that communal dining would be the style of dining at The Table given that it is in a decommissioned church. Communal dining dates back to biblical times – you know, the breaking of bread together. The concept of individual tables for dining did not start until a long time after these origins. Some may find it requires some stepping out of the comfort zone to attend a dinner with strangers all seated at the same table but, when you think about it, church and community potluck dinners have been around for ages and they are traditionally served at long communal tables where you don’t necessarily know the people seated around you. We do a lot of cruising and have never requested a table for two in the ship’s dining room simply because we like to meet new people and inject some new conversation into meal times when traveling. So, sitting down to a meal alongside people I have not met before is quite comfortable and familiar for me. After all, the chances are that they are all food enthusiasts, too!
One of the lovely parts of this type of experiential dining is that you get to interact with those preparing the meal. In contrast, if you go into a traditional style restaurant, you are seated, have limited contact with the wait staff, and most likely never see the chefs let alone have any direct contact with them. At The Table, there are lots of opportunities to communicate directly with the owner/chef Derrick, executive chef Michael Bradley, oyster shucker George Dowdle, and The Table’s event planner, Christine Morgan. Together, this is the culinary team at The Table.
The Table benefits from having a talented and enthusiastic young chef. With over ten years of experience in professional kitchens, Chef Michael Bradley is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown. Chef Michael has been at The Table from the beginning, starting as an intern and working his way up to become the executive chef.
I truly felt like I was at someone’s private dinner party. It was a perfect sunny summer evening as guests arrived for the event which started on the side lawn of the church. When I arrived, local aquaculturalist, George Dowdle, was busy shucking oysters that he had fished from the nearby Southwest River only hours before the dinner.
Guests soon became preoccupied with consuming the fresh raw oysters which were served with a choice of three sauces: Asian Thai, Lemon Herb, and Pomegranate Herb. It wasn’t long before everyone felt comfortable and at home with each other as the conversations quickly turned to discussions about the food.
Not quite into slurping raw oysters? Chef Michael also has a unique way of serving grilled oysters. He first puts the oysters on the open fire grill to warm them up, then shucks them and tops them with a black garlic cream sauce and bacon jam, then puts them back on the grill to re-heat them. Simply sublime!
While clams sometimes take a back seat in popularity to mussels and oysters, The Table includes them as part of the meal.
When we had our fill of oysters, out came the cheese and charcuterie trays.
On this evening, The Table served their own homemade black garlic crackers alongside an assortment of cheeses from Ferme Isle St Jean in Rustico and Glasgow Glen Farm in New Glasgow. This was rounded out by pickled beets, pickled carrots, pickled spruce tips, and rhubarb chutney (all made in-house at The Table).
While guests were busy noshing on the appetizers, Chef Michael was preparing the sirloin tip roast with a black garlic espresso rub. Cooked over an open fire, you can only imagine how tantalizing the scent was!
Then, Chef Michael demonstrated how they cook the mussels in a fire pit with seaweed and smoke.
The mussels are placed in wet pillowcases which give the moisture the mussels need to open.
Guests leisurely made their way inside the church where the meal was served. The big 12-foot long handmade harvest table occupies much of the space that once would have been filled with church pews.
By this time, guests were very comfortable in the company of each other and, since there were three Islanders present, the conversation soon turned to various aspects of how local foods are produced and farming and fishing, in general. Food is such a commonality and ice breaker!
The meal began with a plated salad highlighted by the skirt steak from Atlantic Beef Products in Albany. The steak had been marinated in an onion garlic marinade.
The boards of housemade sourdough bread were served with a black garlic spread as well as honey butter.
Before each course was presented, Chef Michael came tableside to explain what the course consisted of and how it was prepared.
Next came huge platters of bountiful mixed seasonal vegetables with the fire-grilled sirloin tip roast.
The veggies (along with the salad greens) came from nearby Alexander Fresh Vegetables in Hope River. These were very attractively presented platters.
Then, the seafood platters arrived. All those mussels that had been cooking in the fire pit emerged from the pillowcases and formed the base for lobster claws and tails.
The lobster, fished from boats out of nearby French River Harbour, had been par-cooked with a garlic butter and then was finished on the grill outside.
The green sauce accompanying the mussels was a garden pesto cream sauce.
By this time, I was stuffed and thought I would just roll home but, wait, dessert was to come! Dessert was a blood orange infused carrot cake with orange cream cheese icing. I didn’t get a photo of it because I was too busy enjoying the gluten-free option that was a deconstructed strawberry pie made with a strawberry balsamic reduction and gluten-free pastry lattice, all topped with lactose-free ice cream.
The Table prides itself on using the best of what is fresh and local. Most foods for their themed dinners come from under 10 km away and are farmed and fished by friends and neighbours. So, you know that when you dine at The Table, food will not have traveled thousands of miles before it has reached your plate. In fact, you can seek out the same food suppliers to purchase high quality local PEI products.
I asked Christine if they ever get families for their dinners. She tells me, although 90% of their clientele are adults, parents are welcome to bring their children and they do often have families in attendance. Patrons should note, however, that there is no children’s menu offered so the wee folk eat the same food as the adults.
What I have described above is the meal for the Surf and Turf dinner. I inquired if the meal ingredients are identical for this particular dinner every night. Christine informs me that the appetizers, vegetables, and dessert do vary by what is seasonally available. So, if you are having the Surf and Turf dinner at The Table after having read this post, you’ll be aware that the meal ingredients may not be 100% identical to what I enjoyed in early July.
So, if you want to really immerse yourself in local PEI foods and have a totally relaxing evening in the beautiful countryside of Prince Edward Island while feasting on carefully prepared dishes in a unique setting, you should check out The Table Culinary Studio. If you have dietary restrictions, be sure to advise of that when making your reservation and, to the extent possible, the culinary team at The Table will do all they can to accommodate special dietary needs.
My thanks to The Table Culinary Studio for the opportunity to experience their North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner and for the fine hospitality. My dinner at the The Table Culinary Studio was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the North Shore Surf and Turf dinner. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the dinner experience. All opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.
Prince Edward Island is well-known for its variety of high quality shellfish – think lobster, mussels, and oysters, in particular. Today, however, my blog posting is all about the world-famous PEI Malpeque oysters. According to the PEI Government website (https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/agriculture-and-fisheries/oysters ), the Island is Canada’s second largest oyster producing province and is the largest oyster producing province in the Atlantic region. It’s not uncommon in my travels to find PEI Malpeque Oysters on a restaurant menu. No matter the variety or brand of oysters from PEI, or what part of the Island they are fished or farmed, they are generally all referred to as “Malpeques”. How that came to be is, itself, an interesting story.
PEI oysters have a long history with the government issuing leases for oyster fishing back as far as the mid-1800s to those wishing to fish oysters from the ocean seabed. The oysters were made famous at the 1900 Paris World Fair where, in an oyster-tasting contest, they were crowned the world’s best oysters. The oysters were simply named for Malpeque Bay on the Island’s north shore from where the winning oysters were fished.
However, the oyster industry on PEI was stricken in 1915 when disease wiped out about 90% of the Island’s oyster population. Miraculously, however, the oysters in Malpeque Bay survived. Seed (which is basically a tiny version of an adult oyster) from these oysters was gathered and spread throughout other bodies of water around the Island and the oyster industry rebounded. To this day, over 100 years later, all oysters produced on PEI are considered to be direct descendants of oysters from Malpeque Bay. So, that’s why all PEI oysters, regardless from what part of the Island they come, or what variety or brand they are, are called “Malpeques”. Who knew PEI oysters had lineage and a family tree! So, while there is one species – the Malpeques – there can be any number of varieties and brands. A little more about the varieties of “Malpeques” a bit later.
To find out more about the oyster industry on PEI, I paid a visit to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., one of the Island’s largest oyster growing operators, processors, and exporters. At the company’s hub operations center in Bayview near Cavendish on PEI’s north shore, I caught up with James Power, oyster connoisseur and manager of the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
James lives and breathes oysters and you would be hard pressed to find anyone any more passionate about the oyster industry than James. And, with good reason. Oyster sales are brisk for the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., growing year over year. James tells me that more than 10M oysters are cultured annually from the company’s farming operations in New London Bay, Rustico, and Oyster Bed Bridge/Rustico Bay. While the majority (about 90%) of their sales are in North America (with Montreal, Toronto, and Boston accounting for about 75% of sales), they regularly ship internationally all over the world that includes weekly shipments to the Netherlands as well as regular shipments to places like Belgium, France, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. Small wonder, then, why it’s generally not too surprising to find PEI oysters on restaurant menus in all corners of the world!
Both oyster fishing and oyster farming exist on PEI. The traditional method of oyster fishing is done through the use of manually-operated large wooden tongs.
If you travel around the shores, bays, rivers, and estuaries of PEI, a common sight from spring to fall will be dozens of little dories each manned by a lone fisher using long wooden tongs with rakes at the ends to scoop up the oysters. These are independent local oyster fishers who buy licenses from the federal government allowing them to fish wild oysters on any public fishing grounds.
These oysters are known as bottom culture oysters that are slow to mature taking, on average, 5-7 years to grow to the desired market size of 3” – 3½“. Bottom culture oysters grow slowly because there is less natural food available to them. Oysters harvested by these small independent fishers are sold to oyster processing plants.
The other method of producing oysters is to raise, culture, or grow the oysters, a practice commonly known as “oyster farming” and that’s the method used by large commercial growers for mass production needed to meet demands from around the world. Growers lease ground, that is not public fishing ground, in which to grow their oysters.
There are two methods of oyster aquaculture – bottom culture and off-bottom (sometimes known as top, floating, or surface culture) and Raspberry Point Oyster Co. uses both methods. With bottom culture oysters, grown in water depth between 3’ and 8’, the grower spreads the oyster seed on the seabed. James says their top culture oysters are grown in water that is between 8’ and 15’ deep. The oyster seed is purchased from hatcheries and from oyster farmers who catch wild spat, or larvae in collectors like the ones in the photo below. Once the oysters are big enough, they will be transferred to netted bags to grow, safe from predators like starfish and crabs.
All oysters at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. are started as top culture in floating mesh bags and then some are moved to bottom culture areas. The type of culture (bottom or top) used is often chosen on the basis of local growing conditions. Some parts of leased areas are too shallow for top culture and others might have too soft a seabed for bottom culture oysters. Using the two methods of farming, therefore, allows the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. to maximize the growing areas in their leases and also allows oysters to develop with different flavours, colors (they range from brown/white, gray to green), and appearance. Generally, the larger oyster seed is spread on the seabed because the oysters’ advanced size makes it more difficult for crabs and starfish to get at them.
When the bottom culture oysters have grown to market size, specialized oyster harvesters that use water pressure, scoop up the oysters. The oysters come up from the seabed on to an escalator and those that are of the desired size are harvested while ones not quite of sufficient size are returned to the seabed bottom to allow them to continue to grow. Bottom culture oysters usually take 5-7 years to grow to market size and this is because there is usually less water flow and food on the sea bed than is available for surface culture oysters. Oyster farmers do not need to provide special food for their oysters as the bivalves draw all the necessary nutrients from their seawater habitat along with naturally occurring plankton and plant life. So long as the mollusks have clean water and care is taken to limit their predators access, oysters will grow naturally on their own.
The other method of growing oysters is top culture, often referred to as surface or floating culture. With advances in oyster growing technology and methods, today’s floating aquaculture speeds up the rate of maturation allowing for top culture oysters to be grown in about 3-5 years. There is usually more constant water flow as the result of wave action during tidal changes and more natural food supplies nearer the water’s surface so oysters grown as top culture in floating bags just at or under the water surface are able to grow to market size sooner. Top culture oyster farming involves growing the oysters in mesh bags that float in basket-like cages around the water surface level.
The baskets are constructed so that the water is able to flush through, bringing food to the mollusks and keeping them cleaner than those grown in the mud on the seabed bottom. The baskets are regularly flipped and the water flow and waves rock the baskets and chip away, or manicure, the rough edges of the oysters, giving them a more desirable looking shell. This also allows for seaweed, barnacles, and other organisms that find their way into the baskets to be exposed to sunlight and dry out and not become an infestation to the growing oysters. The bags inside the floating baskets also help to protect the oysters against predators. So, if you see rows of these floating cages in a body of water around the Island, you’ll know they’re filled with growing oysters.
Once oysters, either bottom or top cultures, have reached their market size, they are brought into the processing plant where they are culled, graded for size and shape, washed, counted, boxed, and are shipped to customers around the world.
Because this industry is now year-round, oysters not needed for immediate shipment are put into trays like the ones shown to the left in the photo below and placed back out into shallow water until needed.
Since they are already graded, counted, and sorted by variety, they can quickly be retrieved and shipped when orders come in year-round.
The barge in the photo below is returning to shore with a load of trays filled with graded and sorted oysters which will soon be on their way somewhere in the world to fill orders!
Oysters like cold water but, in PEI’s cold winters, they can’t stay up near the water’s surface where they would freeze. So, for top culture/surface grown oysters, the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. sinks aluminum cages filled with oysters into 15’ – 20’ of water each winter. At the time of writing, the company prepared upwards of 1000 aluminum cages that they filled and sunk with 7000 graded and sorted oysters per cage at the end of November. Locations of cages are marked by a metal pole and the oyster harvesters head out over the ice to retrieve the oysters to fill winter shipments, making the Island’s oyster farming a year-round industry.
Sometimes, the ice is so thick that workers have to use a high-powered saw (shown in photo above) to cut through the thick ice so that tethered divers can dive in and locate the cages and hook them up to a hydraulic lift that will pull them out of the water.
The oysters are then hauled on a sled towed behind a four-wheeler or, if the ice is sufficiently thick, by a truck, back to the processing and shipping plant.
The varieties of oysters on PEI are often (though not always) named for the body of water in which they are grown. The Raspberry Point Oyster Co. draws its name from a little point of land on the Homestead Trail in nearby Cavendish. Readers from outside PEI will likely associate the Cavendish name as the setting for famed authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous Anne of Green Gables series of books. A number of years ago, Scott and Charles Linkletter, the owners of Raspberry Point’s forerunner company, The PEI Oyster Company, had a lease to fish oysters in this area so they renamed the company to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. Today, still owned and operated by the Linkletter family, Raspberry Point Oyster Co. has six varieties of Malpeque oysters on the market:
Raspberry Point– Bearing the company name, this variety of 3” oysters is grown as bottom culture in leases in New London Bay. The Raspberry Point variety is the company’s most popular oyster.
Lucky Limes – These are 3” oysters, also bottom grown in a lease along the Homestead Trail in New London Bay. The water in this area is filled with algae and that’s what turns the oyster shells green, thus the “lime” in the name.
Shiny Sea– At 2½“ in size, these are considered to be the “baby brother” of the larger 3” Raspberry Point variety. These bottom cultures are also grown in New London Bay.
Pickle Point – These are top-culture oysters as they are grown nearer the water’s surface in floating bags in New London Bay.
Daisy Bay – These 3” oysters are top-culture, or surface culture, grown in North Rustico.
Irish Point– Considered to be cocktail size oysters, these 2½“ oysters are also surface cultures and are grown in North Rustico.
Controls are in place to ensure sustainability of the Island’s oyster industry. Only so many leases are granted by the government to avoid overfishing. The mollusks, themselves, help to ensure their species continue to survive as they act as great filters to clean the water of toxins by filtering algae and phytoplankton from the water.
According to James, the nature of the water flow and the shape of the seed oyster will basically determine the final shape of the oyster. While James will say that the perfect oyster is very much an individual’s own taste, he says the perfect shaped oyster, in his opinion, is a rounded tear-drop shape that is 3” long by 2” wide. The perfect flavour should consist of a clean, salty taste and a sweet finish. The meat should be a little bit, but not too, fatty because nothing should interfere with the natural salty taste.
Power says oysters are like terroir is to wine – the flavour of each variety is built on the content of the bay or stream in which the oysters are grown and each oyster will look and taste a little different from the next one. Since the oysters are coming from the sea and the French word for sea is “mer”, perhaps the term “merroir”, as some have coined it, might be the best description! Power says true oyster connoisseurs can identify the different flavour profiles in raw oysters. Oysters grown in waters that have more of a rock base may have a mineral-rich flavour (though none of Raspberry Point oysters have this terroir/merroir) while others grown elsewhere may have a slight vegetable taste picked up from whatever vegetation or algae may be in their water habitat.
Power also says the oyster meat and flavour change with the seasons. In summer, the oysters are thin and salty – the bivalves are more interested in reproduction than getting fat so keeping their svelte figure is obviously their concern! In the fall (September – October), the waters are getting colder and the oysters will start building up fat for the cold winter months. When the water temperature gets down to 5°C, the oysters shut down and hibernate inside their hard shells, living off the fat they built up in the fall. So, if you are eating oysters that come from icy waters, they’re likely to be quite plump and perhaps just a little sweeter. In the spring, the oysters still stay fat but, as the snow melts, it dilutes the natural salt in the water so the oysters will taste less salty.
Oysters are low in fat, high in protein, and are a good source of iron and zinc. They are also a source of, amongst others, Vitamins B12 and C along with Thiamin, Magnesium, and Phosphorus.
Oysters are most often served raw on the half shell on a bed of ice with freshly squeezed lemon or, sometimes, with a peppery shallot mignonette. Chef Michael Smith often serves oysters with a Bloody Mary Ice seen in the photo below.
Oysters are shucked using a special short, blunt knife made for this purpose. Power says he believes oysters are popular, especially eaten raw, because they are an all-natural food, not processed or transformed. Oyster bars are very popular and an emerging trend is to pair oysters with wines, beers, and whiskey. Fresh oysters are available at most fish markets on PEI as well as the larger supermarkets. On PEI, many restaurants serve raw oysters and, at many Fall Flavours Festival events each September, oysters are a staple, like they were at the 2017 “A Taste of Rustico” event where Chef Michael Smith (in photo below) was busy shucking Raspberry Point oysters.
So, the next time you are slurping back one of the plump briny Prince Edward Island oysters, you’ll now know a little bit more about how the Island oysters are produced, the flavour profile of an Island oyster, and you’ll be enjoying a unique terroir (or perhaps it’s “merroir”) taste from waters in and around Prince Edward Island on Canada’s East Coast.
Food plays a vital role in Christmas celebrations here in Prince Edward Island. I recently chatted with five Islanders who, in one way or another, have strong food connections. Read on to find out what foods these foodies most associate with Christmas and what foods, if they didn’t have them, it just would not be Christmas for them.
(With the exception of Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Seafood Pie, all photos in this posting are from the food blogger’s own stock collection and are not of contributors’ specific recipes mentioned in this article.)
Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island
Food factors heavily into Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Christmas festivities. The premier, a great cook himself, launches into seafood pie production in mid-December. He produces some 20 seafood pies filled with mussels, lobster, bar clams, scallops, and some fin fish like salmon, trout, or haddock.
Premier MacLauchlan uses grated potatoes that have been cooked in seafood stock to make a heavy starchy paste which eliminates the need for flour as a thickener for the pie filling. The ingredients are combined and placed inside a double-crusted pastry and baked.
When asked what he does with all the pies, he tells me he gives them away as gifts. And, for those who aren’t seafood lovers, he makes tourtière and says he usually makes between 6 and 10 of those each December.
Food also plays a part in a Solstice Sunrise Party that the premier has been hosting at his home for almost two decades. Held annually on the day of the winter solstice, the premier says he simply couldn’t stop it now even if he wanted to because the regulars would just show up anyway! Rising early to make 3-4 dozen muffins and to brew a couple of urns of coffee, the premier opens his doors at 7:30am and people start arriving to watch the sunrise together around 8:00am. It’s not uncommon for 75-80 people to attend. With a commanding view to the east and to the south out over Stanhope Bay, it’s a time for family, friends, and neighbours to visit and re-connect. Everyone brings food to contribute to the potluck event which is set up buffet style.
Christmas Day is spent with immediate family and, on Boxing Day, the larger extended MacLauchlan family gather at the premier’s home for a potluck brunch.
The premier has kindly shared his recipe for his Seafood Pie which is printed here with Wade MacLauchlan’s permission. The premier says, although the recipe yield is for 20 pies, the recipe is easily scalable.
Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Green Party of Prince Edward Island
Communal family cooking has always played a significant part in Peter Bevan-Baker’s life starting when he was a lad growing up in Fortrose, just north of Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland. The family would all prepare the Christmas dinner together, chopping vegetables and singing Christmas carols.
Member of the Legislature and Leader of the Green Party of PEI, Peter’s first and foremost memory of a food enjoyed at Christmas time is his late father’s vol-au-vent made with leftover turkey from Christmas dinner and served with Sauce Robert, a brown mustard sauce. Sometimes, the vol-au-vents would be served as nibbles but other times as the main for a meal when they would be served with “tatties and neeps”, the Scottish names for potatoes and turnips, respectively.
When asked what Christmas dinner dessert consisted of, Peter says it was always Christmas Pudding which he did not like at all! However, he says the arrival of the pudding at the dinner table was quite an elaborate ceremony. Everyone stood up and literally lifted the table off the floor to meet the pudding – it was a true salute to the Christmas pudding! Of course, some alcohol would be heated, poured over the pudding, and the pudding set aflame. Peter claims watching the pudding burn was the best part since he had no liking for the pudding! His father made a brandy butter to serve with the pudding. Peter says another great memory he has of Christmas as a young boy in the Scottish Highlands was visiting a rich family who lived in the area and who served Coca Cola at Christmas which was very special since it was not something he had at home.
Peter’s father was a great cook and modeled to his children that it was okay for men to be in the kitchen cooking. Today, Peter and his wife have four adult children (two of whom are chefs) and cooking remains very much a family event. Vol-au-vents will make an appearance over the holidays in keeping with his long-standing family tradition. While the family usually has a turkey dinner for Christmas, Peter says it will usually be with a contemporary twist of some sort that may include some dishes from other cultures.
Bill Martin, Mayor of Summerside and Owner of the Water Street Bakery
Mayor of the City of Summerside, Bill Martin has very fond memories of waking up on Christmas morning to the scent of meat pies baking. His mother, a Scottish war bride, had an absolute Christmas morning tradition and that involved homemade meat pies. The family enjoyed the meat pies, complete with homemade mustard pickles, after opening presents on Christmas morning. Mayor Martin continues that tradition today. He and his family enjoy Christmas breakfast of bacon, eggs, homefries, and toast along with the meat pie and mustard pickles. To this tradition, they have also added the Acadian dish, Rapure, a grated potato casserole.
Mayor Martin and his wife have run the Water Street Bakery for the past 29 years. They make meat pies year-round now and, in December alone, they will make more than 2000 meat pies which are made with pork, chicken, turkey, potato, onion, and spices, all covered in a biscuit dough crust. These pies are in such demand during the Christmas period that the bakery has rented additional freezer space. In fact, on the first Saturday in December, they made 200 meat pies and sold 100 of them the same day. As a bakery owner, the other two most popular items that Martin says never go out of style are the chocolate-covered peanut butter balls and the cherry balls, both of which are available at the bakery only at Christmas which makes them more special treats.
Irwin MacKinnon, Executive Chef, Papa Joe’s Restaurant and PEI Chef of the Year 2017
Long-time executive chef at Charlottetown’s Papa Joe’s Restaurant and recently-named PEI Chef of the Year 2017, Chef Irwin MacKinnon says it would not be Christmas in his household without the “Jimmy Jams”. These delightful cookies have been made by ancestors on his mother’s side for years. Today, his mom is the principle baker of these Christmas treats that his children look forward to each Christmas. As MacKinnon describes them, Jimmy-Jams are two round shortbread cookies, about 1½“ – 2” in diameter, sandwiched together with plain white icing. Each sandwiched cookie is iced again on top and then decorated with rainbow-colored sprinkles.
Everyone has his or her own version of the stuffing for the turkey and Chef MacKinnon discovered how important that tradition is when he and his wife married 25 years ago. On his side of the family, they make what he calls “Grammie’s Stuffing” which is bread-based and the ingredients are bound together by mashed potato and lots of butter and seasoned with onion, summer savory, and salt and pepper. A bit of brown sugar is added just to give a sweet tone. On his wife’s side of the family, they make the stuffing (dressing) completely opposite and Chef Irwin classes it as a potato stuffing made with mashed potatoes, onion cooked in butter, and seasoned with summer savory. This is baked in the oven and there is no bread in this version. If you are an Islander, you’ll get and appreciate the significance of family recipes for the turkey stuffing/dressing!
So, whose stuffing recipe will be on the Christmas table in the MacKinnon household this year? You guessed it – Irwin will be making his grammie’s stuffing recipe to go along with the fresh turkey from Larkin Brothers in New Glasgow. To this, he’ll include a wide variety of veggies that include potatoes, turnip, carrots, squash, and brussel sprouts.
For dessert, Chef Irwin’s mother-in-law’s plum pudding will grace the table complemented by Irwin’s rich brown sugar sauce made from a rue of butter and flour with caramelized brown sugar added. Chef Irwin says a slice of pudding topped with ice cream and a good drizzle of a glossy brown sugar sauce is the ultimate Christmas dinner dessert.
Since he cooks everyday for a living, I asked Chef Irwin if he lets someone else cook the Christmas dinner but he says it’s him that spearheads the dinner at home and one of his greatest joys is to cook for his own family. Other members of the family pitch in and bring contributions to the dinner as the family melds their different traditions from their blended families.
Glenda Burt, Chef, and former owner of The Home Place Restaurant in Kensington, PEI
For Chef Glenda Burt, the highlight of the Christmas dinner is the plum pudding and warm sauce. She says that, even though you might be “stuffed to the gills” from the main meal, there is always room for plum pudding! Glenda makes a rich toffee sauce to serve with her plum pudding, a sauce made with brown sugar, whipping cream, butter, and vanilla.
Glenda grew up in the family that originally owned Mary’s Bakery in Kensington so baking and candy making are certainly second nature to her. She has very fond memories of the chocolate, brown sugar, and divinity fudges that her mother made at Christmas and how they would appear in a plastic Christmas motif tri-sectioned dish on Christmas Eve. Homemade raisin bread toasted on Christmas morning is an annual tradition in the Burt household. Glenda doesn’t prepare a big Christmas Day breakfast because she says the whole day is spent eating; however, the raisin bread must be present to start the day off.
Other foods that will make their appearance over the holidays will be gingersnaps, dark fruitcake, meat pies (that Glenda says are pure comfort food) and, in deference to our Maritime culture, some kind of seafood which could be lobster in the shell or seafood chowder.
Chef Glenda is hosting her family Christmas on Boxing Day this year and she will be doing the cooking of the traditional Christmas dinner that will include roast turkey, stuffing, and veggies. Glenda will be serving her famous turnip casserole as well. This yummy dish is made with mashed turnip, a white sauce with Parmesan cheese, and topped with buttered bread crumbs. Of course, all the traditional fixins’ like homemade rolls, pickles, and beets will be on the table to complement the turkey dinner.
My thanks to Premier Wade MacLauchlan, Leader of the PEI Green Party Peter Bevan-Baker, Mayor Bill Martin, Chef Irwin MacKinnon, and Chef Glenda Burt for sharing their Christmas food traditions with me.
On PEI, there are a number of small-scale farmers who are producing artisan-quality food products. Produced on small-scale, it allows the producer to focus on quality and on producing products, or varieties of products, that larger-scale producers might not. I recently paid a visit to the Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico PEI.
Owned and operated by Deirdre and Gabriel Mercier, the new farmers bravely forged ahead in 2015 with dreams of becoming cheesemakers using sheep’s milk. When Deirdre’s family home and small hobby farm became available for sale, the couple decided the time was right to pursue their entrepreneurship dreams in Deirdre’s home community of Rustico. Gabriel attends to the day-to-day farm operations and the yogurt and cheese making while Deirdre looks after the farm’s bookkeeping.
Currently, the Merciers are milking 104 sheep that produce, on average, between 1 – 1½ litres of milk each a day. They have two breeds of sheep. The first, East Friesian dairy sheep, originate in northern Germany and are, according to Gabriel, the highest milk-producing sheep. The second breed, the Lacaune, are a dairying sheep breed originating in southern France. The Lacaunes produce less milk than the East Friesians but their milk has a higher fat and protein content.
The farm’s new milking parlour allows for 24 sheep to be milked at once.
Gabriel is new to a career in farming having spent nearly 10 years in military service. He spent time on a work term on a farm in Quebec followed by a month working in a cheese plant – Nouvelle France Fromagerie – and has taken a course in cheesemaking in Quebec.
Currently, the farm is producing yogurt and cheese by transporting the milk to a cheese factory in Mont Carmel, PEI, where Gabriel goes to make the products. Some cheese is made in a facility in New Brunswick that has an aging room for the cheese, some of which takes time to ripen. In addition, the farm also has lamb sausages available which are made for them by Island Taylored Meats.
When asked what the biggest challenges are to sheep farming in PEI, Gabriel says operating costs, labour involved, and the long days and 24/7 commitment as the sheep are milked twice a day during lactation for the first 90 days after giving birth then once a day afterwards.
Particularly during lambing seasons, the days can be very long as the lambs start arriving in February when it is cold on PEI and so attention is required to ensure they quickly get their first drink and are kept warm.
I love the sentiment captured in the photo below of a mama with her baby lamb!
Despite the work and commitment, the Merciers find great satisfaction in sheep farming. Gabriel says he has a passion for cheesemaking and enjoys taking a raw product and converting it into something else like yogurt and cheese. The other bonus is he gets to see more of his young family than he would if he worked off the farm.
The three cheeses presently made from the farm’s sheep milk are Alexis Doiron, Blue d’acadie, and Patrick Mercier. The Alexis Doiron, a firm cheese that is not ripened or aged, is made by Gabriel at the plant in Mont Carmel. Gabriel classes this as a table cheese that he particularly likes grated on eggs. He says this cheese is grillable and is very good barbequed because it doesn’t actually melt. He also suggests it can be grated on pizza as well.
The Blue d’acadie is made in a federally-inspected plant with an aging room in New Brunswick. It is a semi-firm ripened blue cheese that is suberb on burgers or steak, used in a sauce, or as an addition to a cheese tray.
The newest cheese, Patrick Mercier, is made with unpasteurized sheep’s milk and aged at least four months at the same plant in New Brunswick where the Blue d’acadie is made.
Gabriel produces 200 – 500ml jars of yogurt each week. This yogurt is 100% sheep’s milk plus culture and is available unflavored. Add some pure maple syrup and toss some granola on top for a special treat or top it on your favorite cereal along with some fresh fruit.
What about all the wool on those sheep? The sheep are sheered once a year, in November, which allows them to grow back a wool coat before the really cold weather strikes PEI. The wool is transported to MacAusland’s Woolen Mills in Bloomfield, PEI, where it is turned into yarn and woven into blankets.
This past summer, the Merciers opened a retail shop on the farm where the cheeses, yogurt, and lamb sausages can be purchased at source and where customers can enjoy some samples of the yogurt and cheeses. During the winter months, the shop is open by appointment only.
The farm’s products are currently available in several locations including Riverview Country Market, Kent Street Market, Brighton Clover Farm (all in Charlottetown), as well as at the Charlottetown Farmers Market , the Farmed Market and Craft Butchery and the Summerside Farmers Market, both in Summerside, and Gallant’s Country Market in Rustico. Several Island restaurants, including those in the Rustico area, are serving yogurt and cheeses from the farm as part of their menus.
If there is one consolation to summer’s end on PEI, it’s the anticipation that September brings the annual PEI Fall Flavours Festival. The Island’s emerging culinary scene with all its fine foods is showcased each September in an array of culinary events that comprise the festival. What started out in 2008 as a small 10-day festival consisting of a few culinary events aiming to extend the Island’s short tourism season into September, the festival has grown into a full month-long feast extravaganza.
September is the perfect month for a PEI food festival as the produce is at its prime, potato harvesting is getting underway, and the fall lobster season is open in certain zones around the Island. We are lucky here in PEI – we have a wonderful array of fresh local foods from the land and sea and the festival is a great celebration of our love of local foods. Culinary events are spread out in communities across the Island and each tends to highlight foods that come from a particular area and/or that are associated with a certain region’s culture.
The “Festin acadien avec homard” (or lobster feast) at Abram-Village, west of Summerside, is always the first PEI Fall Flavours Festival culinary event of the season and it signals a tasty month ahead. Tickets for this event sell out weeks in advance and it is one Fall Flavours event that is certain to draw a lot of Islanders to the Evangeline area. In some respects, it’s almost like a homecoming weekend as family members travel home to the Island’s Evangeline region for the annual Evangeline Agricultural Exhibition & Acadian Festival. There is no better way to learn, first hand, about the culture of a region than to partake of the regional foods and entertainment. “Le Festin acadien avec homard scores high points on both counts.
This year marked the second year that I attended this event – that’s testament to how much I enjoyed it the first time! While the menu remained almost identical to the previous year, what changed was the entertainment and the headline celebrity chef who, in 2017, was Chef Danny Smiles, Chef de cuisine at Restaurant Le Bremner in Old Montreal. This was Chef Smiles’ debut at the PEI Fall Flavours Festival.
The lively musical entertainment was provided by Vishten, a trio of talented musicians (two from PEI and one from the Magdalen Islands). Rooted in traditional music from the two east coast islands, their indie-folk style fuses Acadian and Celtic genres and motivates foot stomping and hand clapping. The performers are multi instrumentalists and they easily transition between various musical instruments that include violin, guitar, accordian, and keyboard. The trio tours and performs internationally and has five albums and more than 1000 performances to their credit.
The “Festin acadien avec homard” event has been running for several years and organizers have it well organized and they are very efficient in carrying it out. MC Georges Arsenault is a very capable and effective Master of Ceremonies.
Georges had lots of fun in store for the evening that included a demonstration of different ways that lobster can be cracked and eaten.
Georges selected a young person from the audience who had never cracked open a lobster before, celebrity chef Danny Smiles, and Odette Gallant from the Evangeline area who has been cracking open lobster with her teeth all of her life – yes, her teeth! I wondered how many sets of teeth she might have gone through because those lobster shells are hard!
Georges also had audience participation on stage as a member of Vishten taught Chef Danny and others how to step dance.
All of this entertainment took place in between courses of the meal. Oh yes, the menu……
As this event took place in the region of the province that has a high concentration of the Island’s Acadian population, it is obvious that the evening’s menu would focus on Acadian fare along with lobster and potato salad since the region is known for its farming and fishing industries.
Like many PEI gatherings, the evening started off with steamed PEI mussels. Patrons were then invited to sample three new soda flavors produced by Upstreet Craft Brewing in Charlottetown.
Known for their craft beer, making soda is a new venture for Upstreet. The event proved to be a great opportunity for the brewery to showcase their new products – Strawberry Rhubarb Basil, Apple Ginger Elderflower, and Malt Spice Cola.
Dinner was served, family style, at long communal tables. Servers, garbed in traditional Acadian dress, brought bowls or platters of food to both ends of the table and the food was then passed from one diner to the next with each person serving him or herself.
The first course was Chicken Fricot, a traditional Acadian broth stew made primarily of chicken, onion, and potato and seasoned with summer savory.
Every time I have a bowl of this stew, I’m always amazed at how tasty it is given that so few ingredients are in it. I maintain it’s the summer savory herb that makes this dish. Summer savory is used a lot on PEI and most Island cooks add it to their poultry dressing/stuffing.
This was followed by the second course comprised of Râpure and Acadian Meat Pie.
Some may know the grated potato dish, râpure as “rappie pie”, a name that stems from the French verb “râper” which means “to grate”. The grated potatoes are squeezed through cheesecloth to remove the liquid which is then replaced by adding broth (usually chicken) and baking it, casserole style, with onion, and cooked meat such as chicken or pork. The end result is a hearty and tasty dish.
The second course also included Acadian meat pie or, pâté, as it is sometimes called.
This is a very common dish in Acadian communities and is an integral part of Christmas Eve celebrations in many Acadian homes on PEI, though it is now commonly served at other times of the year as well. Molasses is often drizzled on top of the meat pie to add a touch of sweetness to this savory dish.
Our server, Velma Durant, was very pleasant and most accommodating to me with my camera clicking away throughout the evening!
Then, of course, it was time for the pièce d’résistance – PEI lobster in the shell served with true, authentic homemade PEI potato salad – these folks know how to make a perfect potato salad!
It just would not be a PEI lobster feed without the potato salad!
French biscuits were on the table, too, with that good ADL butter!
And, for those who still had room, homemade apple pie polished off the evening’s menu.
One thing is for sure, no one would have gone away hungry after this mammoth meal!
For stories on other PEI Fall Flavours culinary events I’ve attended, click on the links below:
The month-long PEI Fall Flavours Festival, held annually each September, offers visitors the opportunity to delve into local culture in a unique and tasty way through attending culinary events at various locales across the Island. Originally started as a 10-day festival that could extend PEI’s short tourism season into September, the Festival has grown into a full month of a wide variety of culinary events for every taste. A popular Festival with foodies, visitors travel great distances and several return each year especially for the Festival. Now in its 10th year, the Festival puts local food at the forefront of the visitor experience and, in so doing, also builds and strengthens collaboration between food producers, chefs, restauranteurs, local communities and, more broadly, the Island tourism industry.