Category Archives: Field Trips

Dave’s Lobster – Charlottetown’s Newest Lobster Roll and Taco Eatery

Tonight, I have some mouth-watering photos for you featuring one of PEI’s most famous foods (and certainly one of my favorites) — lobster!

It’s always exciting when a new eatery opens in town.  I was fortunate enough to have been invited to this evening’s pre-opening event for Charlottetown’s newest restaurant featuring lobster rolls and tacos.

I thought you might be interested in seeing the photos of lobster rolls and tacos from Dave’s Lobster in Charlottetown, PEI (now stop drooling on the keyboard and read on!).

Let’s take a look at the menu boards.  Main features are lobster rolls (both hot and cold) and lobster tacos.

However, if you are not a lobster lover, they offer grilled cheese sandwiches using local COWS Creamery cheeses.

One thing I always look for in a lobster roll is lots of big chunks of identifiable lobster (I loathe “mashed” or shredded lobster).  As you can see from the “Fancy Lobster Roll” below, there is no problem with identifying the lobster.  The roll was amply filled, too.  The other thing I look for is how much non-lobster filler has been added to the lobster roll.  This one was filled with 100% pure, fresh lobster and nothing else.  The chopped fresh chives really add a contrast color and make the orange color of the lobster pop.  I had the warm lobster in a roll that was lightly grilled and quite enjoyed it.  This is a bit of a switch for me since I always choose to eat my lobster cold.

Staff were kept busy making the lobster rolls and tacos, all under the watchful eye of Chef Ilona Daniel who owner, Dave Hyndman, engaged as a culinary consultant on his new restaurant.

If lobster rolls aren’t your thing, perhaps a lobster taco would fit the bill!

Lobster Taco
Lobster Taco

So, if your tastebuds lead you to craving lobster, why not head on down to Dave’s Lobster located in Founder’s Hall, 6 Prince Street, just off of Water Street, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.  This is in the same building that houses the PEI Visitor’s Centre and is just steps away from Peake’s Quay and the cruise ship port.

While there is a small eat-in section at Dave’s, eating a lobster roll outside under the bright red umbrellas on a warm summer day would be ideal.

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Do you have a new restaurant opening or a culinary event happening in Prince Edward Island?  If so, and provided it fits with the philosophy and theme of my blog, I invite you to get in touch with me as I may be able to feature it here on my Island food blog.

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Gardeners: It’s Time to Make Seed Selections – A Visit to Vesey’s Seed Company in York, PEI

My family has a long history of planting Vesey’s seeds.  I well remember my grandmother receiving, by mail, the white envelope bearing the Vesey’s seed catalogue.

She would spend many an hour perusing the catalogue, marking an “x” beside the seeds she planned to order and turning down the relevant pages.

Vesey's Seed Catalogues Throughout the Years
Vesey’s Seed Catalogues Throughout the Years

Now, this might not seem strange to you but what is ironic about it is that this woman never ordered a different variety of beans, peas, lettuce, or any other seed from one year to the next!  Nevertheless, she sure enjoyed those little catalogues (particularly when they started to have photographs in them) and, each spring, she would mail off her seed order (on an order form much like the one in the photo below) and, a few weeks later, the much anticipated small white box of seeds would arrive in the mail from Vesey’s in York, PEI.

Vesey's Seed Catalogue Order Form
Vesey’s Seed Catalogue Order Form

Today, we either order the seeds online, by phone, mail or, for many of us Islanders, we simply drive to the Vesey’s store to pick up the seeds.  However, in my grandmother’s day, this would have been about an hour’s drive from her house and her way of doing much business was by regular postal service.

Vesey's, York, PEI
Vesey’s Seeds, York, PEI

Planting a garden was of particular importance to my grandmother’s generation because the produce from the garden was what sustained a family through much of the year.  In-season, families would enjoy fresh produce from their gardens but they also ate from the gardens for the rest of the year, too.  Cucumbers were grown for pickles; beets would be canned; parsnips, onions, and carrots were stored in cold cellars for use over the winter.  Pumpkins and squash joined them and were used for jams and pies through the long, cold winter months.  You see, in my grandmother’s time, there were no big supermarkets with imported produce and, as far as farmers markets were concerned, they weren’t an item in rural PEI because most everyone had their own vegetable gardens in which they grew the produce they needed.

Once the frost was out of the ground in June, out would come the Vesey’s box of seeds and the planting process would begin.  My grandmother’s garden was always large.  She and my grandfather would debate over the straightness of the drills because, if they weren’t in proper line, people driving by would think they didn’t know how to plant a garden!  And, she wanted to make sure the garden looked full and lush because no one wanted to be known for having a “poor” garden.  That’s why she relied on Vesey’s seeds that she trusted to produce a good garden. I think my grandmother got great pleasure out of tending her garden and harvesting and processing its products.  Today, we plant a smaller garden but still use Vesey’s seeds because we know we can trust them as they have been tested to ensure they will grow in PEI’s short growing season.

This year marks the 75th Anniversary that Vesey’s has been in business.  I recently sat down with Heidi Carmichael, horticulturalist at Vesey’s, to talk about the seed company’s operation.  Heidi has been with the company for five years and supervises the seeds that are brought in for trials and monitors how well they do in the vegetable trials.  Every seed that appears in Vesey’s catalogue has been grown in a trial plot at Vesey’s to ensure it will grow in our Island climate.

Vesey’s Seeds was started in 1939 by Arthur Vesey (now deceased).  The current owner, Bev Simpson, began working with Mr. Vesey when Bev was just 16 years of age.  Today, he is joined by a son and daughter who also work at Vesey’s, a company known for its excellent seed quality products, loyalty to customers, and good customer service.

Vesey’s seeds come from all over the world.  However, before a seed variety will be offered for sale, it will be grown and tested in Vesey’s trial plots, usually over a couple of years so the seeds can be tested over different summers with different growing conditions.  It is important that imported seeds pass the germination test as well as a purity test for no diseases or weeds. The company has two acres of trial plots for regular vegetable seeds and one acre for hot field crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  It’s not uncommon for 90-100 tomato varieties to be under trial at the same time.

Both new and existing varieties of seeds in the annual Vesey’s seed catalogue get tested every year.  Today, Vesey’s markets over 700 varieties of seeds and some are not vegetables that you might think would grow in cool Maritime climates, like avocados and watercress, for example.

Vesey’s sell both conventional as well as organic seeds to respond to the growing demand for organic products.  Heidi tells me that, each year, Vesey’s adds more organic seeds to their offerings.

A long-time mail order company, I asked Heidi if the popularity of online shopping in recent years has impacted their operations.  She says internet sales have grown and, while the paper copies of the catalogues still remain popular, they are seeing more web orders for seeds.  In fact, they ship their seeds all over North America and shipping orders make up the majority of their sales.

A Small Sample of the Seed Section at Vesey's Store in York, PEI
A Small Sample of the Seed Selection at Vesey’s Store in York, PEI

Seventy-five years is a significant milestone in any company’s business.  I asked Heidi to what Vesey’s attributes their ongoing success and longevity.  She believes, first and foremost, it is Vesey’s customer service.  Second, the availability of good quality land to test seeds to ensure that what they offer for sale will actually grow in our climate.  Third, the long-time experience of seed-testing and growing means gardeners can trust that Vesey’s seeds are credible.  Fourth, the company has carefully and intentionally grown and kept up with the times.  As Heidi says, Vesey’s is “not just seeds” – you can buy everything you need to garden at Vesey’s because they have different departments like rototillers and lawn tractors, landscaping needs, and flowers and bulbs, for example.

Heidi says Vesey’s is continually searching out new vegetable and seed varieties and they remain current on what customers are looking for.  For example, as Canada becomes more culturally diverse, Vesey’s is looking at the foods immigrants to Canada are likely to be seeking.  This year, the company is currently testing vegetable seeds like Chinese greens because there are a number of Asian immigrants in the country.

Something that Vesey’s has started doing is putting together convenient theme garden packages of seeds.  For example, they offer a salsa seed package that will contain the seeds you need to grow all the vegetables and herbs for making salsa.  This makes it easier for the customer who doesn’t have to go in search of individual seed packages and put together their own seed package combinations.  Vesey’s also offers a tomato-themed seed package that will contain a collection of several different kinds of tomatoes from early to late varieties, including beefsteak, plum, and cherry tomatoes.

Before we ended our chat, I asked Heidi if she could offer some advice for the first-time gardener thinking about starting his or her own garden.  Here are her tips:

1)                  Get a soil sample analysis.  Take a small sample (about 1½ cups) of your garden soil to a government-run lab that will do a soil analysis for you.  There is usually a nominal fee involved but the analysis will tell you what you need to add to your soil for nutrients.  For example, it may indicate you need to add lime and/or peat moss to make more acidic nitrogen to help your plants grow better.

2)                  Start with a small plot so it won’t be overwhelming and be sure you are up for the challenge and have the time to weed, water, and maintain the garden.

3)                  Plant the garden close to your kitchen for convenience and also for ease of regular watering purposes.  If your garden is planted too far from your kitchen, it will make it more of a challenge to tend to it and to harvest and use your produce.  Make sure the garden is planted in full sun.

4)                  Grow what you like to eat and know that you will use.  Plant some seeds that will quickly yield produce, such as greens like spinach, so you’ll see some quick results.  Tomatoes and peppers are good suggestions, too, because they can be eaten on their own as well as used in many recipes.  Herbs are also good for first-time gardeners because they are easy to grow and are very versatile in their usage and can be dried for winter use.

5)                  If space is limited, consider growing pole beans and trellised cucumbers and beans as this will leave more ground space to grow other vegetable varieties.

Vesey’s trial plots are located behind their main building in York, PEI, and are open to the public.  Heidi tells me each plot is marked to indicate what is being grown so you will know what seeds Vesey’s is currently testing and that may make their way into a future catalogue.  In case you are wondering what happens to the produce from the trial plots, Vesey’s donates it to the local food bank.

When you are visiting the trial gardens during peak growing season, be sure to also stop by “Arthur’s Memorial Garden”, a garden established in honor of the man who began the seed company 75 years ago.

As the old saying goes, if you want to be really sure where your food comes from, grow your own produce.  It’s been a long, cold, brutal winter in the Atlantic Provinces this year and most — particularly gardeners — are yearning to see some plant growth.  It may still be a while before any of us can dig around in our gardens or see any locally-grown produce; however, it is not too soon to start planning our vegetable gardens and making our seed selections.  So, while blizzards may still be hitting Eastern Canada when the calendar tells us it is spring, why not head over to the Vesey’s website and browse through the colorful photographs of garden-fresh vegetables and dream of summer gardens and fresh produce.

My thanks to Vesey’s Seeds and, especially to their horticulturalist, Heidi Carmichael, for taking time out of busy days to talk with me about gardening.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

Be sure to visit my Facebook page at My Island Bistro KitchenYou may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro, on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”, and on Instagram at “PEIBistro”.

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.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

Be sure to visit my Facebook page at My Island Bistro KitchenYou may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro, on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”, and on Instagram at “PEIBistro”.

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

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From Field to Table: Potato Growing and Harvesting in Prince Edward Island

The PEI potato harvesting season has drawn to a close for another year – the spuds are out of the ground and on their way to a multitude of uses.  Part of my objective with this food blog is to showcase food products produced on PEI and the producers and farmers behind them.  In this story, I will introduce you to Lori Robinson, a fifth generation PEI potato farmer.  Lori is Farm Manager at Eric C. Robinson Inc. in Albany, PEI.

PEI Potato Farmer, Lori Robinson
PEI Potato Farmer, Lori Robinson

I hope that this feature story will shed a little light on just where the bags of potatoes that you pick up at the supermarket come from or where the potatoes that go into making potato chips originate.

For the land mass size of our Province, PEI produces a lot of potatoes. According to the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, there were 89,000 acres of potatoes grown on PEI in 2013.   The Board tells me there were approximately 45 varieties grown in commercial quantities and more than double that amount when those that are being grown in test plots or market gardens or for limited specialty markets are included.  An economic impact study completed a little over a year ago determined that the potato industry is worth just over a billion dollars annually to the PEI economy directly and in spin-off effects.[1]

Individual potato farms on PEI range in size.  The Robinson farm grows around 500 acres of potatoes annually in rotation with soybeans, barley, and forages.   For the past five months, I have been following Lori from the time she planted the spuds in the ground back in May to their harvesting in October and ending with the washing and packaging process that is now, at the time of writing, underway at the farm.

Let’s begin by finding out what led Lori in her career choice to become a potato farmer.  I think it would be fair to say that Lori grew up with potato farming in her bloodline.  Her great, great grandfather began growing potatoes in Augustine Cove, PEI, in the early 1800s and successive generations have continued the tradition.  She says her decision “to become a potato farmer was part tradition, part general interest in all things science based, and part desire to work with other members of her family in a family-owned and operated business in PEI”.  By the time Lori was in her mid to late teens, she knew what her career path would be – she would study agriculture at university and become a farmer.

Lori holds a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Guelph where she majored in Agriculture Business.  While Lori will be the first to tell you her university degree did not specifically teach her much about growing potatoes (she learned that by doing), her education did teach her how to think critically, solve problems, and manage human and financial resources.  These are all skills useful to today’s commercial farmers.  Farming is much more than planting seed in the ground and waiting for the produce to grow.

In 2013, Lori grew 15 different varieties of potatoes.  This year, 35% of their crop will be used to make potato chips at Frito Lay, 20% will be used for seed, and 45% will be for table stock – the ones that will make it on to our dinner tables. The seed potatoes will be used to plant the farm’s crop next year and also to sell to other potato growers.  The potatoes in the large storage bin behind Lori in the photo below are next year’s Norland seed. 

Today’s commercial potato farming is very scientific and controlled.  Lori points out that “seed potatoes must be inspected in the field by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) agents and then tested in an accredited laboratory to ensure that disease levels (viruses) are below a certain percentage before the seed receives certification to be replanted the following year”.  It is interesting to note that seed potatoes can be used as table stock but table stock potatoes cannot be used as seed.

The Island spuds will travel.  Lori’s farm sells both the seed potatoes and table stock in Canada and the United States while the “chipstock” (those used to make potato chips) will be sold in Canada and the United States as well as in Indonesia, Thailand, and Guatemala.  You just never know where you might be eating an Island potato!

All professions have their challenges as well as their sources of satisfaction.  Lori says her biggest challenge is finding an adequate number of staff to work on the farm and in their packing house. She currently employs 14 year-round, full time staff and 4-5 seasonal employees from late September to late June. In terms of job satisfaction as a potato farmer, Lori has this to say:  “Harvesting a good crop of high-quality potatoes that I eventually see in our local Superstores provides me with a great sense of satisfaction.  No two years in potato farming are ever alike.  Many new challenges come up every year, every growing season.  There is always something new to learn about farming.  The need to overcome these challenges to remain successful and the desire to learn new things are what motivate me and make me passionate about my job as a potato farmer.

Lori has been potato farming for 20 years, continuing on in a long line of successful potato farmers in her family.  I asked her what she attributes the success of her potato farm to.  She says her predecessors “recognized the importance of good land stewardship in order to achieve the balance between economic viability and environmental sustainability”.  Lori has carried on these traditions and philosophy while adding a few of her own ideas along the way to maintain the success of their potato farming operation and carry it into the future.

Lori is very much a hands-on farmer.  She actually gets on a tractor and works in the fields herself in the spring doing land preparation work that occurs prior to planting.  On May 29, 2013, when I arrived at a huge long field waiting to be planted in North Carleton, PEI, I found Lori and her crew planting Dakota Pearl potatoes. That’s Lori up on the planter on the right-hand side checking to make sure things are working as intended.

The farm operates with 7 John Deere tractors, 1 planter, 2 sprayers, 7 tandem trucks, 2 windrowers, 1 harvester, and 3 telescopic pilers.

Farm sizes and farming methods and machinery have changed over the years for sure.  I asked Lori what she sees as the biggest changes in potato farming over the years.  For her, one change really stands out – input costs for potato farming continually increase while the price farmers receive for the potatoes is relatively unchanged from the days when her grandfather sold potatoes.  She also says that a big change has been in the advancement of technology, mainly in the use of GPS for field operations.  Lori also notes that, while the Robinson farm has remained relatively the same size since she started farming 20 years ago, most well-established farms on PEI have grown larger at the expense of a number of smaller farms going out of business due to financial strain or lack of a succession plan.

So, let’s look at the timeline of the potato season at the Robinson farm on PEI.

May 29, 2013 – Planting

Potato Seed (aka potato sets)
Potato Seed

It all begins with the potato seed for this field of Dakota Pearl variety.

Loading the Planter with Seed

And, well-tilled fertile soil.

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And a planter full of potato seed along with some fertilizer.

A good John Deere tractor helps, too!

Planting potatoes
Planting potatoes

And, the seed is in the ground!

June 20, 2013 – Fertilizing and Hilling

Field work continues through the growing season to ensure a good crop of potatoes (yes, that’s the Confederation Bridge in the background and, yes, PEI soil really is that red!).

Fertilizing and Hilling the Potatoes
Fertilizing and Hilling the Potatoes

July 2, 2013 – Potato Plants Growing

By early July, there is evidence that the potato plants are growing well – look at that gorgeous emerald green color against the rich red soil of PEI!

July 20, 2013 – Potato Blossoms

A drive by the field in mid-July reveals that the Dakota Pearls are out in blossom!

Potato Blossoms
Potato Blossoms

The field is abloom with white blossoms that have tiny bright yellow centers.

This is a super long field!

September 30, 2013 – Harvesting

By September 30th, harvesting was underway on the Robinson farm.  On this day, I found the crew harvesting the Norland variety (deep red-skinned potatoes) in Albany, not far from the Confederation Bridge.

Two windrowers (one two-row and one four-row) were working the field in advance of the harvester, and moving the freshly-dug potatoes over into the drills where the harvester would pick them up while digging two more rows of potatoes itself at the same time. 

This means that the harvester is picking up a total of eight rows of potatoes as it moves down the field.

The harvest days are long and dependent upon good weather and, of course, no mechanical breakdowns.

Once the truck is full of spuds, it heads to the warehouse and an empty truck comes alongside the harvester to be filled as they move in tandem down the long drills of potatoes.

Heading to the Warehouse
Heading to the Warehouse

At the warehouse, the spuds are offloaded from the truck on to the conveyer belt that takes them into a small grading house just outside the warehouse where three employees remove any stones, plant particles, or damaged or spoiled potatoes.

From there, via conveyer belt to a bin piler, the potatoes make their way into a huge warehouse that is divided off into separate bins for the different varieties of potatoes.

In the photo below, the man is standing on top of 1/2 million pounds of potatoes in order to insert a temperature probe down into the pile of potatoes to monitor any significant rises in temperature in the middle of the pile which would signal attention needed.

The warehouse is temperature-controlled to maintain the freshness and quality of the potatoes.

1-1-DSC00722

By the end of the first day of harvest, 3/4 million pounds of potatoes will have been dug and stored in the warehouse.

Three different sizes of the red potatoes dug on this day will be destined for different uses.  The smallest on the lower left of the photo below are mainly sold for restaurant trade where they would be roasted or baked.  The next size up are sold in 2 lb or 3 lb bags to grocery stores.  Consumers would typically purchase these potatoes to use for roasting or baking at home.  The largest of the three sizes are sold in 5 lb poly and 10 lb paper bags to grocery store chains in Canada and the United States for sale mostly as baking potatoes.

In the photo below you can see some of the freshly dug Norlands I brought home with me after my field visit.  You’ll find the recipe I used them in at the end of this posting.

Early November, 2013

Before the potatoes make their way to market, they are graded, washed, and packaged on the farm.

Grading Potatoes
Grading Potatoes

 

Bagger Machine
Bagger Machine

Once the potatoes are packaged, they are ready for shipping to markets.

Pallet of Potatoes Graded, Washed, and Packed Ready for Shipping
Pallet of Potatoes Graded, Washed, and Packed Ready for Shipping

 

Small Bags of Potatoes Ready for Grocery Stores
Small Bags of Potatoes Ready for Grocery Stores

Working with potatoes day in and day out, I was curious as to Lori’s favourite potato dishes.  She tells me her favourite way to serve potatoes is to simply toss some small red potatoes with olive oil and herbs and roast them in the oven.  She also likes the potato lasagne recipe found on the Prince Edward Island Potatoes Website.

There is nothing like fresh produce straight from the rich red soil of PEI.  The day I visited the Robinson farm during harvesting season in early October, I brought some of the Norlands home with me.  These beautiful red-skinned variety potato with white flesh are a multi-use potato (they are good boiled, roasted, baked, in salads, and scalloped).  I am presenting them here in my favourite old-fashioned scalloped potatoes recipe.



[1] Source:  Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 30 October 2013

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Old-fashioned Scalloped Potatoes

 

1¾ lbs. potatoes (about 3 medium-sized), peeled and sliced about 1/8” thick

1 medium onion, sliced in rings

3 tbsp melted butter

1½ cups milk

1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon

½ tsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp flour

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

Pinch nutmeg

Salt and pepper, to taste

Paprika

 

Preheat oven to 350F.

Assemble ingredients.

Spray or grease a 1½-quart casserole.

Place a layer of sliced potatoes in casserole.

Slicing the red-eyed potato
Slicing the red-eyed potato

Add a layer of sliced onions.

Repeat potato and onion layers to fill casserole.

In microwaveable bowl, whisk together the milk, melted butter, chicken bouillon, Dijon mustard, flour, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Add 2½ – 3 tbsp. grated cheese.  Microwave 2½ – 3½ minutes, just until mixture is heated.

Pour warm sauce over the potatoes and onions in the casserole.

Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese and paprika.

Bake, covered, for about 1 hour.  Remove cover and continue to bake until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes, or so.  Remove from oven and let sit 10-15 minutes before serving.  Serves 4-6.

Serve with ham and your favorite side vegetable.

 

Scalloped Potatoes
Scalloped Potatoes

Tips:

Using whole milk or a blend of whole milk and cream will make creamier scalloped potatoes.

Removing the cover during the latter part of the baking process will give the scalloped potatoes a nice crust on top.

Scalloped potatoes have a tendency to boil out of the casserole.  To avoid a messy oven clean-up job, place a piece of tin foil on a large baking pan and set the casserole on it.  Lightly spraying the tin foil will also make it easier to remove the casserole from the baking pan should the contents bubble out.

 

My thanks to Lori Robinson for allowing me to follow her potato operation over the past season and for answering my multitude of questions.

This story will also be published  as part of the Canadian Food Experience project which began on June 7, 2013.  The November 2013 theme for this project is “The Canadian Harvest”.

As we (project participants) share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen.  You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.

Through the Drills at Jen and Derek Campbell’s Organic Farm in Wilmot Valley, PEI

CSA Box of Vegetables from Jen and Derek's Organic Farm
CSA Box of Vegetables from Jen and Derek’s Organic Farm

In August, I visited the farm of Jen and Derek Campbell in Wilmot Valley, just outside Summerside, Prince Edward Island.  I delayed posting this story until now because I wanted to publish it during National Organic Week in Canada which runs from September 21-28, 2013.

The Campbells are organic farmers and grow the most amazing variety of vegetables I have ever seen….some I have never heard tell of, like this alien-looking vegetable called kohlirabi, for example.

Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi

If you want to meet someone totally passionate about her work, then Jen is the gal to talk with.  Jen manages the day-to-day operations of the farm while husband, Derek, works in nearby Summerside, returning home to work on the farm evenings and weekends.  With twin four-year old boys, this is a busy household.

Jen grew up on a potato farm so is no stranger to farming.  She attended a natural resource school, Sir Sandford Fleming College, in Ontario graduating with a diploma as an Eco-system Management Technician.  After graduation, Jen lived and apprenticed on an organic farm for nine months.  A woman ran the farm so Jen was inspired that she, too, could be a farmer.  But, she didn’t start farming right away after graduation.  Jen returned home to PEI and began working at the Agricultural Research Station in Charlottetown, then at ADL Dairy for four years.  But the yearn for the land was great and the couple settled in Brookvale, PEI, where they began their organic farming.  They stayed in Brookvale for five years where they were certified organic farmers then, in 2011, moved to Wilmot Valley to be closer to family.  This marks the second year they have been farming in this location and they have one more year before they qualify as certified organic farmers in their Wilmot Valley location.  This is because certification requires the land to be three years free from the last prohibited substance in order to be considered fully organic.  They are, however, certified to grow organic transplants while the rest of the farm is in transition for one more year.  Being in transition means that, while they manage their farm organically and keep all the proper records, they have to wait until early summer 2014 to say their produce is “certified organic”.

New Transplants Mid-Summer at Campbell's Organic Farm
New Transplants Mid-Summer at Campbell’s Organic Farm

Today, the Campbells have approximately 3 – 3½ acres of land in cultivation and have between 2½ – 3 acres which are actually farmed with over 40 different vegetables.  They are under the control of Atlantic Certified Organic (ACO), Atlantic Canada’s accredited certification body, and must maintain comprehensive records of their farming operation, buffer zones between their farm and others which are not organic, and ingredient content of compost and fertilizer used. In addition, they must test their water regularly and submit to monitoring by ACO as well as a third party inspection to ensure they are following the organic standards.

Vine-ripened Organic Tomatoes
Vine-ripened Organic Tomatoes

The Campbells grow the usual types of vegetables like tomatoes, beans, lettuce, onions, broccoli, and so forth but they also grow some vegetables that people might not associate with being grown on PEI.  For example, they grow tasty kohlrabi, collard greens, round lemon cucumbers that look like yellow transparent apples, Pattypan squash, and a multitude of herbs.

Pattypan Squash
Pattypan Squash

This is the first time I have seen these apple-shaped cucumbers.  In appearance, they resemble a yellow transparent apple but, in flavour, there is no mistaking they are cukes!

Round Cucumbers
Round Cucumbers

I wish my basil plants looked as healthy as these!

Organic Basil
Organic Basil

The day before I arrived for my early August visit, the Campbells had just harvested their garlic crop.

Freshly-harvested Garlic Drying
Freshly-harvested Garlic Drying

Jen says her produce is available at the Village Store in Lower Bedeque.  But, her biggest market comes from the Community Shared Agriculture Boxes (CSA Boxes). This process involves individuals (known as CSA members and sometimes referred to as shareholders) buying shares in her farm – i.e., at the beginning of the season, they sign a contract with the Campbells.  In return, the Campbells contract with their CSA members to do the best job they can to provide them with high-quality vegetables.  The CSA members either buy their shares upfront for the anticipated harvest or they contract to pay in installments over the season.  As a benefit and return on their investment, once harvest season begins, CSA members get a regular share of the vegetables from the farm as they are available. The risk, of course, that the CSA members accept is that weather and/or pests can play havoc with crops so, sometimes, yields might be lower or some crops might not be available at all that season if a crop failure happens.

Large-sized CSA box
Large-sized Weekly CSA box

Jen has two sizes of boxes available for her shareholders – those who buy large shares get a box of 12 different vegetables worth between $28-$30.  The smaller boxes have fewer vegetables and their shares are valued at $18.  The most popular size is the large share box because it is the better deal for people who eat lots of vegetables and CSA members with large share boxes also have unlimited swaps and grabs from the grab boxes.

Extra Veggies in the Grab/Swap Boxes
Extra Veggies in the Grab/Swap Boxes

While the boxes will come with vegetables pre-selected by Jen and will obviously vary according to what is in season, CSA members can swap out some vegetables, that they either don’t like or need, for something else from, what Jen refers to as, the grab boxes of other vegetables and herbs available.

Green Beans in the Grab/Swap Boxes
Green Beans in the Grab/Swap Boxes

Currently, there are 88 families and restaurants on the Island who have bought in to Jen’s CSA boxes which are available from June until October.  Of those, 84 are weekly recipients while 4 have opted to receive boxes every two weeks.  When she first began CSA boxes in 2008, Jen had 15 CSA members.  Today, with her 88 CSA members, she has a waiting list of others wanting to join.  Jen tells me she has very loyal CSA members with a 98% return of the same folks year-over-year.

Knowing that weeds, pests, and plant diseases are common to farmers, I asked Jen how, as an organic farmer, she combats them.  They obviously don’t use herbicides and Jen tells me control is through cultivation and weeding.  Last year, the couple purchased a vintage 1951 Alice Chalmers tractor which they converted to be electric.  They use this cultivating tractor to weed many of their vegetables such as carrots, beans, spinach, lettuce, etc., and they also use an ECO weeder for cultivating their broccoli and cabbage crops.  However, much weed control is still done the traditional, old-fashioned, painstaking way of hand weeding and by some flame weeding.

I asked Jen what the greatest source of her satisfaction is as an organic farmer and what keeps her farming organically.  She tells me she loves to work outside on the land but her greatest satisfaction comes from the feedback she receives from her CSA members who are very supportive and appreciative of her products.  She enjoys educating her CSA members on different vegetables, and how to prepare them, and encouraging people to step outside their comfort zones and try new veggies.   I can attest to this as I stopped by one of her Charlottetown drop-off locations and it was like a cross between Christmas and Old Home Week when her CSA members would come to pick up their CSA boxes of produce.

Jen's Truck Arriving at Distribution Location with Weekly CSA Boxes
Jen’s Truck Arriving at Distribution Location with Weekly CSA Boxes

Greeted enthusiastically by Jen, there was lots of “oohing and ahhing” as the CSA boxes were opened by Jen for each person. 

This is definitely personalized service and attention to CSA shareholders!

Jen tells me she sees her CSA members more as friends than customers or shareholders.  She sees most of them every week and, from the chit-chat, they were like long-time friends who were having great discussions over how they were going to prepare and serve this week’s offerings from their CSA boxes!

This summer, the Campbells have been busy building their new washing and packing barn which Jen, jokingly refers to as her “Veggie Palace”.   In addition to improvements in her washing and packing processes, when complete, the new facility will have a large walk-in cooler in which to store the veggies.

Jen employs two part-time seasonal employees, one from May till mid-November and the other from the end of June to the first of September.  Harvesting is done four days a week, Monday to Thursday, and Jen has two output distribution days –  i.e., she has two drop-off areas in Charlottetown each Tuesday and one in Summerside on Thursdays.  CSA members show up at one of these drop-off/pick-up locations with their recyclable grocery bags, baskets, or coolers to claim their share of fresh, organic vegetables from the Campbell farm.  PEI produce at its best!

Line-up to Pick up Weekly CSA Boxes
Line-up to Pick up Weekly CSA Boxes

Jen regularly blogs about what produce is available by the week on the farm and you can read her blog here:   http://farmfreshveggies.blogspot.ca/

There is nothing better than farm-fresh produce just picked from the field.  I arrived home from my visit to the Campbell farm with a supply of two kinds of beets, tri-colored carrots, kohlrabi, Pattypan squash, and collard greens.

One of my favorite ways to serve vegetables is to roast them.  I used kohlrabi, pattypan squash, beets, carrots, and red onion in a roasted veggie medley for which the recipe follows.

Preheat oven to 425C.

Peel and chop the vegetables into chunks of similar size.

Place veggies in large bowl and drizzle with a good quality olive oil, just enough to coat the vegetables. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste.

Transfer the vegetables, single-layer, to a parchment or tin-foil lined rimmed baking sheet.

Roast for about 40 minutes or so, just until the veggies are fork-tender.  Serve hot.

Roasted Vegetables
Roasted Vegetables

My thanks to Jen Campbell for taking time out of her busy farming season to show me around her organic farm and explain its operation to me.

How are you celebrating National Organic Week this year?

To raise awareness and show appreciation and support for local organic farmers who grow great food for us, please share this story on your social media sites.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen.  You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.

A Visit to Burns Poultry Farm in Freetown, PEI

The Burns Family (Photo:  Lynda MacSwain.  Submitted by Wendy Burns with permission.)
The Burns Family – 7th Generation PEI Egg Farmers
(Photo: Lynda MacSwain. Submitted by Wendy Burns with permission.)

This post was originally published on my blog in August 2013.  I am re-sharing it in April 2014 as part of the year-long Canadian Food Experience Project which began on June 7, 2013.  As we (participants) share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identify.  The Project’s theme for April is a story about a Canadian farmer or producer.  The Burns family members are 7th generation egg farmers on PEI so, with that heritage lineage, I felt their story and poultry farming operation fit the April theme perfectly.

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I have a keen interest in where the food I eat is produced.  Recently, I visited Burns Poultry Farm in Freetown, PEI, to find out about egg production.  There are five active registered egg-producing poultry farms on PEI, one of which is the Burns farm.

Before seeing the egg grading process in action, I sat down with Wendy Burns to find out about their poultry farm.  Wendy’s husband, Nathan, is a 7th generation egg farmer on PEI so the Burns family knows a thing or two about egg production!  Wendy and Nathan bought the poultry farm from Nathan’s parents in 2001.  Wendy remarks that, from the time he was very young, Nathan had a keen interest in poultry farming and knew what his future vocation was going to be!  Wendy manages the office, the accounting, and payroll while Nathan tends to the feed formulations, egg production, and egg grading.

The couple met while attending Nova Scotia Agricultural College, from which they both graduated – Nathan from the Agricultural Engineering Program and Wendy with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture.  In addition to being parents to four active growing children, this couple has transformed their egg farm into a very efficient family business.  They have expanded existing barns; built a new barn for the laying hens; added a bigger generator with an automatic switch that kicks in if the farm is without power for 5 seconds; expanded their cooler capacity; invested in a new egg packer that packs eggs each day from their laying barns; upgraded their water systems to provide ozonated water for the hens which aids in their digestion; purchased a Pulsefog machine to disinfect the barns faster and more efficiently; and installed a state-of-the-art grading machine into their newly-renovated, federally-inspected egg grading station.

Burns Poultry Farm
Burns Poultry Farm

The Burns family holds quota for about 32,000 laying hens and they have three equally-sized barns that house the flock. With over 90% of the hens laying one egg per day, it is a lot of eggs to gather. Every time an egg is handled or moved, it increases the potential for damage or cracks. Wendy explains that, with their efficient collection system, it is possible for a  hen to lay an egg and the egg not be touched by a human hand until the consumer takes it out of the carton or the restaurant chef cracks the egg on the grill. This is because the Burns’ have an “in-line” system that transfers the eggs from the barns via a conveyer belt to the grading station.

Conveyer belt connects all barns on Burns farm and transports the eggs to the grading station
Conveyer belt connects all barns on Burns farm and transports the eggs to the grading station

The system the Burns have installed is all computerized so it allows the eggs to come from the barns, be counted, washed, candled, graded, packed, and in their cooler in approximately 15 minutes.  Now, that’s what I call farm-fresh eggs!

I wasn’t able to go inside the barns where the hens are housed so I did not see any of the laying hens.  This is because of their on-farm food safety program and biosecurity protocol.  Wendy says “the goal is to maintain a consistent, undisturbed environment for the birds because deviations from their normal habitat could affect their well-being and, consequently, egg production”.  On a daily basis, only Nathan and two workers are permitted inside the barns.  A walk-through of each barn is done twice per day and each row of hens is checked to ensure the birds have enough water and feed and that their environment is comfortable. Nathan also checks the barns each evening after all the feedings are finished to ensure all is well before lights out.  Wendy explains that the only other person permitted to enter the barns is the inspector from the Egg Farmers of Canada.  “The inspector makes several site visits each year where the birds are counted and swabs are taken for testing to ensure there are no diseases present”, explains Wendy. The inspector also audits their Start-Clean/Stay-Clean records to ensure all protocols follow the guidelines of their On Farm Food Safety Program.

Wendy was able to tell me about their flock.  At the time of my visit, the hens were all one breed – Lohmanns. They all lay white eggs but Wendy says that the farm placed some brown egg layers in the grow barn last cycle and those hens will begin to lay brown eggs in September.  The highest expense in the operation is the feed. The Burns monitor feed consumption to ensure the hens are getting adequate nutrition.  The hens need different levels of nutrients, such as calcium and protein, at different ages.  This ensures bird health is maintained and the hens produce the best quality of eggs possible.

It takes 18-19 weeks for a chick to become a laying hen.  The chicks arrive in batches of about 12,000, two or three times a year. Wendy says that it is always an exciting day on the farm, as you can imagine, with four young children seeing 12,000 baby chicks arriving all at once!  The Burns have three production barns that house the hens, each containing a flock of hens of a certain age – i.e., 20 weeks apart in age.  This means their farm can ensure a steady supply of high-quality fresh eggs for customers year round.

I asked Wendy what determines the different sizes of eggs.  She tells me that it is the weight of the egg that will determine if it is a small, medium, large, or extra large egg.  Younger hens typically lay smaller eggs and the average egg size increases as the hens age. Generally, medium, large, and extra large eggs are packed for the fresh shell egg market while the other sizes are sent off for industrial use – for example, dried for cake mixes, frozen, liquid whole egg, or whites only.  No eggs, regardless of size, are wasted.

Weight of an egg determines if it is a small, medium, large, or extra-large egg
Weight of an egg determines if it is a small, medium, large, or extra-large egg

Eggs are a supply-managed commodity. The egg industry is heavily regulated and the Burns must comply with the regulations of the Egg Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in terms of housing the hens, cage density, sanitation programs, welfare of the birds, and pest control.  There is a lot of record-keeping involved in the operation of an egg farm and egg-grading station. All food safety-based programs are in place to ensure the safest possible supply of eggs for consumers.

Wendy tells me that the “Best Before” date of graded eggs is six (6) weeks from the date they are graded.  She also explains that washing the eggs, which is an obvious necessity, reduces the shelf life of eggs as it removes the natural sealant that the hens leave on the eggs when they are laid.

I asked Wendy what their biggest challenge is as egg farmers.  She says she has concerns over the possibility that, at some point, supply management of the egg industry could be disbanded.  This is the Canadian system that regulates quota and, consequently, egg production.  If that was to happen, anybody could build a barn and start large-scale egg production, with no food safety procedures, no testing protocol, or no rules.  As Wendy explains, “currently, registered egg producers pay levies that pay for their food safety protocols, testing, and ensure there is no surplus of eggs on the market which could impact negatively on their chance of a fair return for their investments and hard work.”  As Wendy says, “being a regulated producer is a big investment but it provides stability without relying on government dollars as it is producer-funded”.

As for their greatest source of satisfaction as egg farmers, Wendy says she and Nathan work well together and the couple enjoy being their own boss.  They like the challenge that comes with no two days being the same on the farm.  Wendy tells me she really enjoys the lifestyle of living and working on the farm as it allows her to be home with her children before they catch the school bus and greet them when they return home in the afternoon.

The day I visited the Burns farm, they were busy with their egg grading which takes place once a week.  By the end of the day, they would have graded approximately 55,000 eggs for market!

Some of the activities in the egg grading process
Some of the activities in the egg grading process

The number of eggs graded is determined by what the farm can sell as graded product. On days when no grading is taking place, the eggs are packed on to plastic trays by a farm packer machine, loaded on to pallets, and refrigerated. Eggs that are surplus to fresh markets are sold as industrial product.

Graded Eggs Heading to Refrigeration
Graded Eggs Heading to Refrigeration
Eggs Stored in Refrigerator
Eggs Stored in Refrigerator
Large Cartons of Eggs Ready for Shipping

The farm employs three individuals full-time on a year-round basis and six individuals on a part-time basis.

So, some interesting egg trivia I learned:

-          egg shells are made up mostly of calcium – the better the quality of egg shell, the less likelihood there will be of cracked eggs.

-          the color of the egg shell (white or brown) is determined by the genetics of the hen, not by diet.

-          the color of the egg yolk is determined by what grains the hens are fed (yes, there really is a difference in the color of egg yolks — paler yolks result when paler grains are fed, such as barley or wheat, and a richer yolk color results when corn is in the feed)

The Many Colors of Egg Yolks

-          according to the Egg Farmers of PEI Website, Island egg farmers produced 3,304,300 dozen eggs in 2012 and about 50% of those were consumed by Islanders!  That’s a lot of eggs!

Nathan and Wendy are marketing their eggs through ADL Foods.  The public may purchase the eggs on-site at the ADL Foods Retail Outlet in Reads Corner on Highway 1A in Summerside.  ADL Foods also sells Burns Poultry Farm’s eggs by the box to many Island restaurants so, chances are, if you have eaten an egg at an Island restaurant that gets its eggs from ADL Foods, you may have eaten an egg produced by this 7th generation PEI family farm.

I used Burns’ eggs in the following recipe for Baked Eggs with Basil Pesto and Cheese.

Baked Eggs with Basil Pesto and Cheese
Baked Eggs with Basil Pesto and Cheese

Baked Eggs with Basil Pesto and Cheese

Ingredients:

2 large eggs

3 tsp basil pesto

4 tsp grated Parmesan cheese

2 tbsp milk or cream

1 green onion, sliced

Fresh chives, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

2-3 tsp Boursin Garlic and Fine Herbs cheese, or your favorite feta cheese

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Preheat oven to 325C.

Spray two ramekins dishes with cooking spray.  Place 1 ½ tsp pesto in bottom of each dish and swirl it around so bottom of ramekin are covered with pesto.  Sprinkle 1 – 2 tsp parmesan cheese on top of pesto.  Crack one egg into each ramekin without breaking the yolk.  Add 1 tbsp milk or cream to each dish.  Sprinkle each with sliced green onions and fresh chives.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Top with 1 to 1 ½ tsp soft cheese.

Place ramekins in oven-proof baking pan.  Fill up pan with boiling water until it reaches the half-way point on the sides of the ramekins.

Bake eggs for 10-20 minutes, depending on whether you like eggs runny, medium, or well done.

Serves:  2

 

This egg dish is perfect for a special weekend morning breakfast or brunch or even for a light supper.

My thanks to Nathan and Wendy Burns for taking time out of a busy day to meet with me and explain the egg production process at their farm.

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Dining and Guest Etiquette

It’s the beginning of the season of wedding receptions, summer dinner events, get-togethers, and banquets.  I thought this might be a good time to post an article on dining and guest etiquette.  Many of us, at one time or another, have probably found ourselves at a dinner event, sat down to a somewhat crowded table with heavily laden place settings that displayed more cutlery and glassware than imaginable and wondered, hmmm, which bread plate was ours – the one on the left or on the right of the place setting.  Or, perhaps you have wondered what to do if your neighbour to the left has started to use your bread and butter plate thinking it was his or hers.  Maybe you have deliberated over which utensil to use.  Perhaps you have wondered if it is proper to tilt or pick up a soup bowl to get the last drop of that yummy soup.  For answers to these and other guest and dining etiquette questions, I contacted Tina Lesyk, Banquet and Catering Coordinator at The Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI.  I first introduced you to Tina in May 2012 when I posted a feature on how to properly set a table.

The purpose of learning and practicing proper table manners is to feel comfortable at any table, not insult your host or hostess and, in the case of business functions, it is essential for professional success.  Let’s face it, no one wants to embarrass him or herself in these social situations.  Follow the basic guidelines outlined below and you’ll be well on your way to being a model dinner guest in any setting, whether that be at a dinner in a private home, in a restaurant, or at a formal or state dinner.  For a description and explanation of the elements of place settings, please see my earlier posting “Let’s Set the Table”.

First, let’s begin with some general tips on dining and guest etiquette.

General Dining Etiquette

 -          The old rule still holds true – elbows off the table when food is present.

-          You should sit in the chair so that your back does not actually touch the back of the chair – this forces you to sit up straight.

-          Everyone, leave the tech gadgets away from the table.  Out of respect for the host/hostess and other guests, put cell phones on vibrate.  If you absolutely must take a call during dinner, never answer the phone at the table in the presence of the host/hostess and other guests.  Excuse yourself and move to another room to discretely take the call.  The same applies to making a telephone call.

-          Never use a toothpick while at the table.  Picking food out of your teeth in front of fellow guests and the host or hostess is not appropriate conduct.

-          If you drop a piece of cutlery on the floor, leave it there; do not retrieve it.  If you are in a restaurant, signal to the waiter to bring you a replacement.  If at a private event at someone’s house, ask your host/hostess for a replacement.

-          If you find you have taken a bite of food that has a piece of gristle or small bone in it, do not make a big scene or draw attention about it.  As discretely as possible, remove the item with your fork (the utensil it went into the mouth with) and set it to the side of your plate.

-          If you have a severe food allergy, advise your host/hostess in advance of the function.

-          If you are served a food that you do not like and cannot eat, make no mention of it; rather, simply go through the motions of moving the food around the plate.

-          Never push the plate away from you when you have finished eating and do not stack up plates, utensils, and so forth, from your place setting – you may think you are helping but this gets in the way of the servers’ techniques for clearing tables.

-          Applying lipstick, combing hair, and so forth are considered grooming activities, inappropriate for the dining table.

Napkins

The purpose of the napkin is to protect clothing by acting as a shield or guard for spills and, if necessary, to dab the fingers and mouth, and remove traces of food particles from the outside of the mouth.

-          Remove the napkin from the place setting and place it on your lap immediately upon being seated at the table.

-          For a normal-sized napkin, completely unfold the napkin and place it on your lap.  It is not considered appropriate (and there is no need) to “shake” a napkin out of its fold.  Simply, and very discretely, unfold the napkin.

-          If the napkin is exceptionally large, fold it in half and, with the fold of the napkin facing you, place it on your lap.

-          The napkin always goes on the lap and is never tucked into the collar and used as a bib.

-          The napkin remains on your lap during the entire meal.  If you need to temporarily leave the table during the meal, loosely bunch up the napkin and place it to the left of your plate.  When you return to the table, re-place the napkin on your lap.  At one time, the general rule was to place the napkin on the seat of your chair during a temporary absence from the table.  However, there are a couple of issues with this that suggest an alternative location for the napkin may be preferable.  First, the napkin may have food particles on it that will stain an upholstered chair and may also stain your clothing or leave crumbs on the chair when you return to the seat.  Second, given the sole use of a napkin is to dab the mouth, many do not want to use that napkin for that purpose after it has laid on the seat of a chair that is used for, uh, sitting on the derrière.  One never knows how clean those chairs are!  Now, when bunching up the napkin that has stains or food particles on it, you will want to loosely fold the napkin in such a way that the stains/food particles are not visible when you temporarily leave the napkin on the table during your absence; leave the napkin, clean side up.  You will also want to make sure your napkin does not touch the elements of the place settings of your neighbors to the left and to the right.

-          A napkin is not a tissue or handkerchief so avoid using it to blow your nose (Note – you should excuse yourself from the table before blowing your nose).

-          At the end of the meal, loosely bunch up the napkin and place it to the left side of your place setting, not on the dirty plate.  A paper napkin, however, could be left on the [dirty] plate since the napkin will be discarded anyway.

Cutlery

-          If the cutlery is already on the table, begin using the utensils placed farthest away from the plate (assuming there is more than one fork and knife at the place setting).  If there is no cutlery at the place setting when you sit down at the table, this means the host/hostess will bring the necessary utensils with each course of the meal.

-          Never gesture or point with a piece of cutlery.

Proper Ways to Hold Cutlery While Eating

There are two main styles – American and European.

American

Normally, with this style, you hold the fork in the hand you write with.  For demonstration purposes, I will describe the procedure for someone who is right-handed.

Hold the fork in your left hand and the knife in the right.

Proper Way to Hold Utensils
Proper Way to Hold Utensils

With fork tines facing down, gently spear the food with the fork to hold it in place as you cut the food. Once a bite-sized piece has been cut, rest the knife diagonally across the upper right edge of the plate.  Switch the fork to your right hand and, with tines facing up, pick up the food and transfer it to the mouth.

If there is a pause in eating a course during the meal (e.g., to take a sip of water or briefly leave the table), there is a way to signal to the wait staff that you have not yet finished eating.  Lay the fork, tines facing up, as shown in the photo below and place the knife, diagonally on the upper right-hand corner of the plate.  Note that, once the knife has been picked up from the table, it should not touch the table again during the meal.

American Style for Cutlery Position During Brief Pause in Eating
American Style for Cutlery Position During Brief Pause in Eating

At the conclusion of the course, place the knife and fork together (fork tines up), parallel to each other at about the 4:30 clock position on the plate to signal to the wait staff that you have finished eating.

Placement of Cutlery at Conclusion of Course
Placement of Cutlery at Conclusion of Course

European

With this style, the fork remains in the left hand and the knife in the right for the entire meal.  Food that needs to be cut is speared gently with the fork and cut with the knife held in the right hand.  The knife is used to push food onto the back of the fork.  The food is then transferred to the mouth with the fork, tines facing down, held in the left hand.

If there is a significant pause during the course, the fork and knife are placed on the plate as shown in the photo below.

European Style for Placement of Cutlery During Brief Pause in Eating or Short Absence from the Table
European Style for Placement of Cutlery During Brief Pause in Eating or Short Absence from the Table

At the conclusion of the course, place the knife and fork together (fork tines facing down) at about the 4:30 clock position on the plate to signal to the wait staff that you have finished eating.  This would be the same as the American style with the only difference being that the fork tines would face downward toward the plate.

Which is mine?

-          Follow this easy trick for remembering which bread and butter plate and which glass is yours:  With your left hand, touch the tip of your first finger to your thumb.  You will see it makes a lowercase “b” shape; “b” stands for “bread” – it goes on the left of the place setting, aligning with your left hand.  Now, do the same thing with the first finger and thumb of your right hand.  This makes a lowercase “d” shape.  The “d” stands for “drink” and drinks go the right of the place setting, aligning with your right hand.

-         If you find your neighbour has already starting using your bread and butter plate, discretely ask your host/hostess (if at a private dinner party) or your server at an event to bring you another.

Bread and Rolls

 -          Break bread and rolls with your fingers (as opposed to cutting with a knife).  The knife is provided for buttering the bread or roll, not cutting it.

-          If the bread or roll is served cold, take the butter pod and place it on to the bread and butter plate provided and butter each piece/bite of the broken bread or roll at a time as you eat each bite.

-          If the bread or roll arrives warm at the table, break it apart and butter each broken section all at once to let the butter melt.

 Soup

-          The appropriate way to consume soup is to scoop it away from you as you will be less likely to spill or splash it on yourself.

-          Do not place the entire bowl of the soup spoon in the mouth.  Rather, sip the soup from the spoon.

-          It goes without saying that there should be no ‘slurping’ noise during the soup-eating process!

-          If the soup is too hot to comfortably consume, wait for it to cool.  It is never considered proper etiquette to blow on the soup or stir it vigorously to cool it.

-          It is inappropriate to dip bread in the soup as a way to gather up the soup – this is what a soup spoon is for.

-          It is acceptable to tip the bowl ever so slightly away from you to scoop up the last bit of soup.

Acceptable to Slightly Tip the Soup Bowl up and away from you to Scoop up Remaining Soup
Acceptable to Slightly Tip the Soup Bowl up and away from you to Scoop up Remaining Soup

-          It is not appropriate to lift the bowl up and hold it close to the mouth as you consume the soup.

-          If the soup bowl has been served on a server plate, place the spoon on the server plate once you have finished the soup.  If there is no server plate provided, leave the spoon in the bowl.

Wine

 -          If you are not a wine drinker, or do not want any wine with the meal, there are two ways to handle the situation when wine is being served:  1) discretely place your hand on top of the wine glass as the server approaches you with the wine.  This will signal to the server that you do not wish to partake; or 2) simply let the server pour the wine and just do not drink it.  The key is always discretion – you don’t want to make an issue of anything or draw attention to yourself.

-          The proper way to hold a wine glass is by the stem so that your hand does not warm the wine or that fingerprints get left on the goblet itself, making it look smudgy.  Holding the glass by the stem is also considered to give you better control when moving the wine in the glass and tasting it.

Proper Way to Hold a Wine Glass
Proper Way to Hold a Wine Glass

-          Monitor your consumption – if several wines are being served throughout the meal, it is completely acceptable etiquette not to finish every glass.  Intoxication does not make a good dinner guest.

Starting to Eat

 -          Wait for everyone at the table to be served before starting to eat.  This applies to each course of the meal.  If you are at a private dinner, it is proper etiquette to wait until the host/hostess picks up his or her fork before starting to eat unless, of course, the host/hostess tells you to start while he or she is still continuing with the dinner preparations and serving other guests.

-          If food bowls, platters, etc., are being passed around the table for guests to serve themselves and one is starting with you (i.e., you pick up the bowl or platter directly in front of your place setting), offer it first to the person on your left while holding it for him/her to serve him/herself.  Then serve yourself and pass the item to the person on your right.  Always send everything to the right around the table and never directly pass items to guests across the table.

-          Never intercept food being passed.  For example, if someone asks for the basket of rolls to be passed, do not sneak a roll from the basket as it is going by you.  Rather, after the requester has been served, ask for the item to be passed back to you.

Salt and Pepper Shakers

-          Salt and pepper shakers should always travel in a set together even if someone ask for just the salt or pepper to be passed to him or her.  This is because the next person looking for them will find them together, not orphaned here and there somewhere on the table and end up having two people passing them from different directions along to the requester.  When someone ask you to pass him or her the salt and pepper, set them down on the table in front of the requester.  This is the preferred method as there is less chance of dropping the items or upsetting them as could happen if they were transferred hand to hand.

-          It is considered proper etiquette to always taste the food before seasoning it or you may insult the chef/host/hostess who has prepared the food – theory being that the chef has already properly seasoned the dish before serving it.

Special Food Items

Ever wonder what foods must be eaten with a fork and knife and which ones are acceptable to be eaten with the fingers?  Here are some of the more common foods which are acceptable to be eaten with the fingers:

Asparagus (unless covered in a sauce)

Crispy bacon (ever chase a piece of crispy bacon with a fork around the plate as you try to capture it or cut it with a knife and the bacon lands on your neighbour’s plate?)

Oysters (probably the only, or one of very few, foods that can be acceptably eaten with a ‘slurping’ sound!)

Corn on the Cob

Pizza

Crostini

Artichokes

Chicken Wings

Ribs

Shrimp

Cookie served with a dessert (the cookie is considered a finger food)

Dinner Conversation

 -          Stay with topics that are neutral and of general interest, non-conflictual in nature – the old advice about avoiding discussions on politics and religion still holds true.  The last thing you want to do is to instigate, or become engaged in, a heated discussion that leaves everyone around the table uncomfortable or at odds with each other.

-          Do not discuss food allergies, health issues, or bad experiences with food.  The fact that you may be lactose intolerant, have irritable bowel syndrome, or once got violently sick from eating shellfish, or have had food poisoning, does not make these subjects suitable table topics.  As they say, that’s way too much information and detail, particularly at a dinner table where food is being served.  Nothing can zap an appetite faster than to have a dinner guest regaling at length the graphic details of a bad food experience.

My thanks again to Tina Lesyk for taking the time to chat with me about proper guest etiquette and to share her extensive knowledge on the topic.  We certainly haven’t covered every aspect of dining etiquette but, hopefully, we have covered the main points.  Happy dining!

Asparagus Bundles and a Visit to an Island Asparagus Farm

Asparagus Bundles

Yesterday, I paid a visit to Tim Dixon in North Tryon, PEI.  Amongst other crops grown on the family farm, Tim grows a small acreage of asparagus which he markets to Island restaurants and also sells at the farm gate.

Tim Dixon with freshly picked asparagus from his North Tryon, PEI Farm
Tim Dixon with freshly picked asparagus from his North Tryon, PEI, Farm

Below is a photo of an asparagus spear just about ready to be harvested.

Asparagus Spear

Tim has been growing asparagus since 2000 and presently has acreage that yields between 500-700 pounds of this spring vegetable annually. I asked Tim why he decided to grow asparagus and he tells me he was looking to diversify his crop planting and was also looking for a market niche.

There are several varieties of asparagus but the bulk of Tim’s crop is the Jersey Giant variety.  The asparagus is planted in springtime and is grown from crowns planted 1 foot deep in the rich red soil not far from the Tryon River.  It usually takes a couple of years for the asparagus from a crown to be fully ready to be harvested.

Despite its Mediterranean origins and liking heat, Tim says asparagus is a hardy plant that only requires a light discing in the spring, a coating of manure, and some weed control.  Tim says winter kill is not an issue for asparagus and a crown will generally produce spears for about 15 years.

Asparagus is one of the first vegetables of spring on PEI.  Harvesting usually begins around Victoria Day in mid-May and continues until the end of June/first of July.  When the spears are 6”-8” tall, Tim hand-picks them by snapping the spears off the stock, not cutting them.  He tells me that the rule of thumb for harvesting asparagus is to pick for one week in the first year after planting, then 2 weeks the next, 3 weeks in year 3, up to 6 weeks of harvesting for mature asparagus.

Tim says the local community is very supportive and neighbours are amongst his best customers.  On the farm, he sells both 1-pound and 2-pound bags of fresh asparagus.  I asked him if he knew how his neighbours were preparing the asparagus and he says, typically, many steam or sauté the spears.

Fresh Asparagus
Fresh Asparagus

A standard-sized portion serving is 5 spears.  Asparagus plates well because of its long, slender, vivid green spears and pointed flower heads that can range in color from dark green to tints of deep purple.  It adds presentation, texture, and flavour to a meal.  Asparagus has an earthy, unique taste and pairs well with poultry, seafood, and pasta.  There are endless ways to prepare asparagus.  One of my favourite ways to prepare asparagus is to mist it with a good quality olive oil, sprinkle it with freshly ground pepper, sea salt, and finely grated parmesan cheese and then barbeque it in a veggie basket over the open flame.

For maximum freshness, this vegetable is best used within 2-3 days of picking; however, asparagus will last up to near a week if stored in an open-ended plastic bag in the refrigerator.  Wrap the woody ends of the spears in a damp paper towel to prolong their freshness.  Be sure to trim off the woody ends before cooking.

Freshly picked Asparagus Spears Stored in Refrigerator to Maintain Freshness

My feature recipe today for asparagus is very simple.  I tossed the spears with a light drizzle of Liquid Gold’s Arbequina extra virgin olive oil.  Make sure you use a high quality olive oil for this dish.

For each serving I used a super-thin slice of prosciutto onto which I carefully spread a thin layer of spiced garlic and herb soft goat cheese.  Be very gentle and careful with this step as prosciutto is very delicate and breaks apart easily.

Bundle together five spears and place them on the prosciutto slice.  Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and sea salt.

Gently wrap the prosciutto around the asparagus spears.

Transfer each bundle to a lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake at 375F for about 15 minutes.

I served the asparagus bundles with an almond-crusted stuffed chicken breast and duchess potatoes.

The Dixon Farm is located at 140 North Tryon Cross Road in North Tryon, PEI.  To make arrangements to buy fresh Island asparagus, visit the farm or contact Tim Dixon by phone at 902-432-4771 or by email at dixonfarms1@live.com.  Be sure to visit Tim’s website to learn more about the Dixon Farm.

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PEI Burger Love 2013

"The Canadian Legend" Burger from the Lucy Maud Dining Room at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI
“The Canadian Legend” Burger from the Lucy Maud Dining Room at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

For the third consecutive year, April has represented Burger Love on Prince Edward Island.  Yes, that’s right, love of beef burgers!  This year, 31 restaurants across the Island paid a $600 entry fee to cover advertising and promotion costs to participate in the month-long celebration of Island beef.  PEI Burger Love has certainly created a hype and brought patrons to a number of Island restaurants to sample the array of gourmet beef burgers that chefs have created specially for the event.  Make no mistake about it, these are not your average hamburgers.  These are gourmet burgers that require a hefty appetite to do them justice.

Partnerships Forged to Support Initiative

PEI Burger Love, created by Fresh Media, is carried out in partnership with Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers, PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry, PEI Flavours, PEI Potato Board, and the PEI Restaurant Association.  The formation of this collaborative group has brought heightened awareness to PEI’s beef industry.

PEI Burger Love Grows in Popularity

In its inaugural year in 2011, a total of 14 Island restaurants participated with 5500 burgers being served in the month of April.  Last year, 22 restaurants signed on and, collectively, sold over 16,000 burgers in just one month.  I suspect, by the time, the event ends on April 30th, the number of beef burgers consumed on PEI in the month of April, 2013, will have surpassed 2012 figures.

For the month of April, one would be hard-pressed to go anywhere on the Island without hearing some talk about PEI Burger Love.  In workplaces, on the street, and just about anywhere, one could hear Islanders enthusiastically talking about and describing the burgers they had already tried and the ones still on their list.  Social media has been used extensively in this awareness campaign and burgers have suddenly become the hottest and most photographed subjects around!  Servers would bring burgers to the tables and, all of a sudden, cameras and cell phones appeared and started clicking!  Photographs of burgers have been everywhere, including on twitter and on Facebook.  This year, for the first time, PEI Burger Love engaged nine individuals, one of whom was me, to use blogging as a platform to further advertise the Burger Love campaign.

Overall, I believe Islanders have embraced this campaign and have had a lot of fun with it.   It has not been uncommon throughout the month to see groups of as many as 20 heading to the local restaurants at any day at noon to try out the burgers.  Even local businesses got in on the action.  Staff of Century 21 Colonial Realty in Charlottetown, for example, select one restaurant a week, call ahead with their burger order, and then their entire team of real estate agents show up en masse with a video camera in tow.  Joel Ives says they have been doing this since Burger Love began and find it’s a fun activity for their team while supporting local at the same time.  Says Joel, “Our business is about being local – local homes, local businesses, and being in the community.  We do our best to support local initiatives.  When PEI Burger Love came out, we thought we could have some fun with it by going as a group to eat lunch together, have some laughs, and make some fun videos.  Since all of our agents are busy doing their own thing, it is great that we can book off one lunch a week during the [Burger Love] campaign to get together.”  You can check out the Century 21 fun videos here to see how one local business has embraced PEI Burger Love.

Diners are engaged in Burger Love fever too as they head to local dining establishments to order up the creative burgers.  They can rate the burgers they eat by voting online for their favorite and win great prizes in the process as well as help crown the most popular burger in the 2013 Burger Love campaign.

Timing is Everything

April is traditionally a slower month for local restaurants because the tourist season hasn’t yet started but, this year, participating restaurants are hopping busy as burger lovers converge on their establishments to sample the many burger options.  Linda Dickie, Food and Beverage Director at Mavor’s Restaurant in the Confederation Centre of the Arts, says they chose to participate in PEI Burger Love because they like to support local whenever possible and it brings awareness to the restaurant.  According to Linda, Mavors sold 1700 burgers in the first couple of weeks of the campaign with the highest single day servings of 210 burgers!

Chef James Oja, who owns and operates The Big Orange Lunchbox restaurant in downtown Charlottetown, is a first-time participant in PEI Burger Love.  He says the annual PEI Burger Love campaign “generates a busy month giving restaurants that participate a little warm-up for summer”.   Chef Oja claims Island beef is the best beef in Atlantic Canada and that his “supplier, Bluefield Natural Products, provides superior beef that is richer in iron, antioxidants, flavour, and texture”.

Just How Many Burgers Can You Eat?

As I mentioned earlier, I was one of nine guest bloggers for PEI Burger Love this year and my assignment was to sample four of the burgers and blog about them.  Now, I thought four burgers was a lot to consume in a little over a week.  However, Connor Jay set himself the challenge to eat all 31 burgers….and he did… in just 14 days!  Averaging two a day plus three on two different days, he proudly says there was one day that he ate two of these huge burgers within two hours!  Asked why he decided to set out to eat all 31 burgers, Connor says he thought “it would be something fun to do and would be a great way to experience the Island“.  He says he “loves the PEI Burger Love campaign and thought eating all 31 [burgers] would be a great opportunity to get other friends involved in it and that it would inspire them to go grab a burg“.  I am also aware of a workplace where employees would order a couple of burgers from each of 3-4 restaurants for lunch each Friday in April, bring them back to their workplace, and cut them into quarters so that co-workers could have the opportunity to sample as many of the burgers as possible.

What’s in a Gourmet PEI Burger Love Burger?

Other than the requirement to use 100% Island beef in the burgers, chefs had unfettered licence to dress the burgers with whatever toppings they wanted and to prepare and present them as creatively as they wished.  Suffice it to say that Island chefs rose to the challenge and created some mighty fine culinary creations with unique flavour combinations.

The meat in the burgers generally ranged in size from 6 oz to 9 oz and was prepared in different ways – some burgers were charred over an open flame while others were grilled or sautéed. Toppings ranged from candied bacon (yes, oh là là!) to nachos and salsa, coleslaw, bacon jam, Jalapeno peppers, various renditions of aioli, Portobello mushrooms, guacamole, and onions encased in wontons or presented as beer-battered onion rings, and just about anything else you could imagine going into these tall burgers.  Then, there were the many variations of buns encasing all this goodness.  One burger even had two grilled cheese sandwiches holding it in place instead of a traditional bun!  And, of course, each restaurant creatively named their burger.  Here are photographs of the four burgers I was assigned to sample as part of my blog assignment:

From the Gahan House in Charlottetown, PEI, comes the “Not’cha Burger” that features Tortilla chips, salsa, spicy cheese dip, and Jalapeno mayo to accessorize the beef burger.

"Not'cha Burger", Gahan House, Charlottetown, PEI
“Not’cha Burger”, Gahan House, Charlottetown, PEI

The “Canadian Legend Burger” was created by the Lucy Maud Dining Room, a teaching restaurant in the Culinary Institute of Canada.  It features a gouda-stuffed burger accessorized with smoked tomato aioli, confit cherry tomato, bacon jam, candied bacon, and the best onion rings I have ever tasted.

The "Canadian Legend Burger" at the Lucy Maud Dining Room of the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI
The “Canadian Legend Burger” at the Lucy Maud Dining Room of the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

The Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn in Summerside, PEI, presented the “Big Kuhuna Burger” that featured smoked bacon, banana peppers, a grilled pineapple ring, and guacamole.

The "Big Kahuna Burger" from the Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn, Summerside, PEI
The “Big Kahuna Burger” from the Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn, Summerside, PEI

The Old Triangle in downtown Charlottetown created the “Mr. Miyagi Burger” that included Hoisin BBQ sauce, Asian slaw, and caramelized onion wontons.

The "Mr. Miyagi Burger" from The Old Triangle in Charlottetown, PEI
The “Mr. Miyagi Burger” from The Old Triangle in Charlottetown, PEI

As you can see, these are huge, well accessorized burgers!  If I had one suggestion for organizers for future PEI Burger Love campaigns it would be to consider also offering smaller versions (perhaps even slider size) for those who don’t have large appetites but yet who want to try out the burgers.

The gourmet burgers, on average, are in the $12-$14 range (burger only).

PEI Burger Love Surpasses Expectations

The Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers Association reports being pleased with the  campaign.  The Association gets great exposure for its industry and, as representative Rinnie Bradley says, they “are a small industry compared to dairy or potatoes so it has been difficult to get our message out to the general public that we are important to the Island’s economy.  From truckers, to feed mills, vets, farm machine shops, to processing facilities and meat shops, the beef industry contributes significantly to our economy directly and indirectly.”  Bradley says “PEI Burger Love 2013 has surpassed our expectations to date.  We are very pleased that so many restaurants have signed on and that several new participants decided to include Island beef on their menus.  We hope Islanders and visitors alike will get out and enjoy the amazing burgers, and seek out Island beef for their meals at home.”

So, Islanders, only 6 days left to get out and try some of these gourmet burgers before PEI Burger Love 2013 ends.  This is a great way to show support for the local beef industry as well as the many Island restaurants which have chosen to participate in this campaign to promote Island beef.  There is a burger out there for everyone’s taste!

POSTCRIPT (May 8, 2013):

The statistics are in for the 2013 Burger Love Campaign.  A total of 46,204 beef burgers were sold in 31 participating restaurants during the month-long event in April.  This translates into 21,917 pounds of beef consumed during this time period.  Sales for the burgers during the month of April are estimated at $580,008.62.  Voters selected “The Smokin’ Fox” from Phinley’s Diner in Stratford, just across the bridge from Charlottetown, PEI, as their “Most Loved Burger 2013″.

Not bad, PEI, not bad at all!