Category Archives: Field Trips

Aw, Shucks! The Merroir of PEI Malpeque Oysters

PEI Malpeque Oysters
PEI Malpeque Oysters

Prince Edward Island is well-known for its variety of high quality shellfish – think lobster, mussels, and oysters, in particular.  Today, however, my blog posting is all about the world-famous PEI Malpeque oysters. According to the PEI Government website (https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/agriculture-and-fisheries/oysters ), the Island is Canada’s second largest oyster producing province and is the largest oyster producing province in the Atlantic region. It’s not uncommon in my travels to find PEI Malpeque Oysters on a restaurant menu.  No matter the variety or brand of oysters from PEI, or what part of the Island they are fished or farmed, they are generally all referred to as “Malpeques”.  How that came to be is, itself, an interesting story.

PEI oysters have a long history with the government issuing leases for oyster fishing back as far as the mid-1800s to those wishing to fish oysters from the ocean seabed.  The oysters were made famous at the 1900 Paris World Fair where, in an oyster-tasting contest, they were crowned the world’s best oysters. The oysters were simply named for Malpeque Bay on the Island’s north shore from where the winning oysters were fished.

However, the oyster industry on PEI was stricken in 1915 when disease wiped out about 90% of the Island’s oyster population. Miraculously, however, the oysters in Malpeque Bay survived.  Seed (which is basically a tiny version of an adult oyster) from these oysters was gathered and spread throughout other bodies of water around the Island and the oyster industry rebounded. To this day, over 100 years later, all oysters produced on PEI are considered to be direct descendants of oysters from Malpeque Bay. So, that’s why all PEI oysters, regardless from what part of the Island they come, or what variety or brand they are, are called “Malpeques”.  Who knew PEI oysters had lineage and a family tree! So, while there is one species – the Malpeques – there can be any number of varieties and brands. A little more about the varieties of “Malpeques” a bit later.

To find out more about the oyster industry on PEI, I paid a visit to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., one of the Island’s largest oyster growing operators, processors, and exporters.  At the company’s hub operations center in Bayview near Cavendish on PEI’s north shore, I caught up with James Power, oyster connoisseur and manager of the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.

James Power, Manager, Raspberry Point Oyster Co., PEI
James Power, Manager, Raspberry Point Oyster Co., PEI

James lives and breathes oysters and you would be hard pressed to find anyone any more passionate about the oyster industry than James.  And, with good reason.  Oyster sales are brisk for the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., growing year over year.  James tells me that more than 10M oysters are cultured annually from the company’s farming operations in New London Bay, Rustico, and Oyster Bed Bridge/Rustico Bay. While the majority (about 90%) of their sales are in North America (with Montreal, Toronto, and Boston accounting for about 75% of sales), they regularly ship internationally all over the world that includes weekly shipments to the Netherlands as well as regular shipments to places like Belgium, France, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. Small wonder, then, why it’s generally not too surprising to find PEI oysters on restaurant menus in all corners of the world!

Both oyster fishing and oyster farming exist on PEI.  The traditional method of oyster fishing is done through the use of manually-operated large wooden tongs.

Oyster Fishing on PEI
Oyster Fishing on PEI

If you travel around the shores, bays, rivers, and estuaries of PEI, a common sight from spring to fall will be dozens of little dories each manned by a lone fisher using long wooden tongs with rakes at the ends to scoop up the oysters. These are independent local oyster fishers who buy licenses from the federal government allowing them to fish wild oysters on any public fishing grounds.

Oyster Fishing
Oyster Fishing

These oysters are known as bottom culture oysters that are slow to mature taking, on average, 5-7 years to grow to the desired market size of 3” – 3½“.  Bottom culture oysters grow slowly because there is less natural food available to them. Oysters harvested by these small independent fishers are sold to oyster processing plants.

Oyster Fishing in Summerside, PEI
Oyster Fishing in Summerside, PEI

The other method of producing oysters is to raise, culture, or grow the oysters, a practice commonly known as “oyster farming” and that’s the method used by large commercial growers for mass production needed to meet demands from around the world. Growers lease ground, that is not public fishing ground, in which to grow their oysters.

There are two methods of oyster aquaculture – bottom culture and off-bottom (sometimes known as top, floating, or surface culture) and Raspberry Point Oyster Co. uses both methods. With bottom culture oysters, grown in water depth between 3’ and 8’, the grower spreads the oyster seed on the seabed. James says their top culture oysters are grown in water that is between 8’ and 15’ deep.  The oyster seed is purchased from hatcheries and from oyster farmers who catch wild spat, or larvae in collectors like the ones in the photo below. Once the oysters are big enough, they will be transferred to netted bags to grow, safe from predators like starfish and crabs.

Oyster Spat Collectors
Oyster Spat Collectors

All oysters at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. are started as top culture in floating mesh bags and then some are moved to bottom culture areas. The type of culture (bottom or top) used is often chosen on the basis of local growing conditions. Some parts of leased areas are too shallow for top culture and others might have too soft a seabed for bottom culture oysters. Using the two methods of farming, therefore, allows the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. to maximize the growing areas in their leases and also allows oysters to develop with different flavours, colors (they range from brown/white, gray to green), and appearance. Generally, the larger oyster seed is spread on the seabed because the oysters’ advanced size makes it more difficult for crabs and starfish to get at them.

Colors and Textures of PEI Oysters
Colors, Shapes, and Textures of PEI Oysters

When the bottom culture oysters have grown to market size, specialized oyster harvesters that use water pressure, scoop up the oysters.  The oysters come up from the seabed on to an escalator and those that are of the desired size are harvested while ones not quite of sufficient size are returned to the seabed bottom to allow them to continue to grow.  Bottom culture oysters usually take 5-7 years to grow to market size and this is because there is usually less water flow and food on the sea bed than is available for surface culture oysters. Oyster farmers do not need to provide special food for their oysters as the bivalves draw all the necessary nutrients from their seawater habitat along with naturally occurring plankton and plant life.  So long as the mollusks have clean water and care is taken to limit their predators access, oysters will grow naturally on their own.

The other method of growing oysters is top culture, often referred to as surface or floating culture. With advances in oyster growing technology and methods, today’s floating aquaculture speeds up the rate of maturation allowing for top culture oysters to be grown in about 3-5 years.  There is usually more constant water flow as the result of wave action during tidal changes and more natural food supplies nearer the water’s surface so oysters grown as top culture in floating bags just at or under the water surface are able to grow to market size sooner.  Top culture oyster farming involves growing the oysters in mesh bags that float in basket-like cages around the water surface level.

Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters

The baskets are constructed so that the water is able to flush through, bringing food to the mollusks and keeping them cleaner than those grown in the mud on the seabed bottom. The baskets are regularly flipped and the water flow and waves rock the baskets and chip away, or manicure, the rough edges of the oysters, giving them a more desirable looking shell. This also allows for seaweed, barnacles, and other organisms that find their way into the baskets to be exposed to sunlight and dry out and not become an infestation to the growing oysters. The bags inside the floating baskets also help to protect the oysters against predators. So, if you see rows of these floating cages in a body of water around the Island, you’ll know they’re filled with growing oysters.

Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI

Once oysters, either bottom or top cultures, have reached their market size, they are brought into the processing plant where they are culled, graded for size and shape, washed, counted, boxed, and are shipped to customers around the world.

Oysters Arriving at the Processing Plant
Oysters Arriving at the Processing Plant
Grading and Sorting Oysters
Grading and Sorting Oysters
Washing the Oysters
Washing the Oysters
Quality Controlling the Oysters Just Before They Are Boxed for Shipping
Quality Controlling the Oysters Just Before They Are Boxed for Shipping
A Box of "Lucky Limes" Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Company in PEI
A Box of “Lucky Limes” Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in PEI
Inside the Processing Plant at Raspberry Point Oyster Company, Bayview, PEI
Inside the Processing Plant at Raspberry Point Oyster Company, Bayview, PEI
Bags of Oysters at the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
Bags of Oysters at the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
Inside the Cold Storage Room at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in Bayview, PEI
Inside the Cold Storage Room at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in Bayview, PEI

Because this industry is now year-round, oysters not needed for immediate shipment are put into trays like the ones shown to the left in the photo below and placed back out into shallow water until needed.

Oyster Trays
Oyster Trays

Since they are already graded, counted, and sorted by variety, they can quickly be retrieved and shipped when orders come in year-round.

The barge in the photo below is returning to shore with a load of trays filled with graded and sorted oysters which will soon be on their way somewhere in the world to fill orders!

Barge Returning to Shore with a Load of Oysters Ready for Market
Barge Returning to Shore with a Load of Oysters Ready for Market
Offloading Oysters Ready for Market
Offloading Oysters Ready for Market

Oysters like cold water but, in PEI’s cold winters, they can’t stay up near the water’s surface where they would freeze. So, for top culture/surface grown oysters, the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. sinks aluminum cages filled with oysters into 15’ – 20’ of water each winter. At the time of writing, the company prepared upwards of 1000 aluminum cages that they filled and sunk with 7000 graded and sorted oysters per cage at the end of November. Locations of cages are marked by a metal pole and the oyster harvesters head out over the ice to retrieve the oysters to fill winter shipments, making the Island’s oyster farming a year-round industry.

Preparing to Saw Through Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages (Photo submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Preparing to Saw Through Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages (Photo submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)

Sometimes, the ice is so thick that workers have to use a high-powered saw (shown in photo above) to cut through the thick ice so that tethered divers can dive in and locate the cages and hook them up to a hydraulic lift that will pull them out of the water.

Diving Under the Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages Sunk for the Winter (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Diving Under the Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages Sunk for the Winter (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Retrieved Oyster Cage Filled with Oysters Ready for Market (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Retrieved Oyster Cage Filled with Oysters Ready for Market (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)

The oysters are then hauled on a sled towed behind a four-wheeler or, if the ice is sufficiently thick, by a truck, back to the processing and shipping plant.

The varieties of oysters on PEI are often (though not always) named for the body of water in which they are grown. The Raspberry Point Oyster Co. draws its name from a little point of land on the Homestead Trail in nearby Cavendish.  Readers from outside PEI will likely associate the Cavendish name as the setting for famed authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous Anne of Green Gables series of books. A number of years ago, Scott and Charles Linkletter, the owners of Raspberry Point’s forerunner company, The PEI Oyster Company, had a lease to fish oysters in this area so they renamed the company to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. Today, still owned and operated by the Linkletter family, Raspberry Point Oyster Co. has six varieties of Malpeque oysters on the market:

  • Raspberry Point – Bearing the company name, this variety of 3” oysters is grown as bottom culture in leases in New London Bay. The Raspberry Point variety is the company’s most popular oyster.
  • Lucky Limes – These are 3” oysters, also bottom grown in a lease along the Homestead Trail in New London Bay. The water in this area is filled with algae and that’s what turns the oyster shells green, thus the “lime” in the name.

    Box of Lucky Lime Variety of Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
    Box of Lucky Lime Variety of Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
  • Shiny Sea – At 2½“ in size, these are considered to be the “baby brother” of the larger 3” Raspberry Point variety. These bottom cultures are also grown in New London Bay.
  • Pickle Point – These are top-culture oysters as they are grown nearer the water’s surface in floating bags in New London Bay.
  • Daisy Bay – These 3” oysters are top-culture, or surface culture, grown in North Rustico.
  • Irish Point – Considered to be cocktail size oysters, these 2½“ oysters are also surface cultures and are grown in North Rustico.

Controls are in place to ensure sustainability of the Island’s oyster industry. Only so many leases are granted by the government to avoid overfishing.  The mollusks, themselves, help to ensure their species continue to survive as they act as great filters to clean the water of toxins by filtering algae and phytoplankton from the water.

According to James, the nature of the water flow and the shape of the seed oyster will basically determine the final shape of the oyster. While James will say that the perfect oyster is very much an individual’s own taste, he says the perfect shaped oyster, in his opinion, is a rounded tear-drop shape that is 3” long by 2” wide. The perfect flavour should consist of a clean, salty taste and a sweet finish.  The meat should be a little bit, but not too, fatty because nothing should interfere with the natural salty taste.

Power says oysters are like terroir is to wine – the flavour of each variety is built on the content of the bay or stream in which the oysters are grown and each oyster will look and taste a little different from the next one.  Since the oysters are coming from the sea and the French word for sea is “mer”, perhaps the term “merroir”, as some have coined it, might be the best description! Power says true oyster connoisseurs can identify the different flavour profiles in raw oysters.  Oysters grown in waters that have more of a rock base may have a mineral-rich flavour (though none of Raspberry Point oysters have this terroir/merroir) while others grown elsewhere may have a slight vegetable taste picked up from whatever vegetation or algae may be in their water habitat.

Power also says the oyster meat and flavour change with the seasons.  In summer, the oysters are thin and salty – the bivalves are more interested in reproduction than getting fat so keeping their svelte figure is obviously their concern!  In the fall (September – October), the waters are getting colder and the oysters will start building up fat for the cold winter months.  When the water temperature gets down to 5°C, the oysters shut down and hibernate inside their hard shells, living off the fat they built up in the fall. So, if you are eating oysters that come from icy waters, they’re likely to be quite plump and perhaps just a little sweeter.  In the spring, the oysters still stay fat but, as the snow melts, it dilutes the natural salt in the water so the oysters will taste less salty.

Oysters are low in fat, high in protein, and are a good source of iron and zinc.  They are also a source of, amongst others, Vitamins B12 and C along with Thiamin, Magnesium, and Phosphorus.

PEI Oysters
PEI Oysters

Oysters are most often served raw on the half shell on a bed of ice with freshly squeezed lemon or, sometimes, with a peppery shallot mignonette.  Chef Michael Smith often serves oysters with a Bloody Mary Ice seen in the photo below.

Shucked PEI Oysters Served with Bloody Mary Ice
Shucked PEI Oysters Served with Bloody Mary Ice

Oysters are shucked using a special short, blunt knife made for this purpose. Power says he believes oysters are popular, especially eaten raw, because they are an all-natural food, not processed or transformed.  Oyster bars are very popular and an emerging trend is to pair oysters with wines, beers, and whiskey. Fresh oysters are available at most fish markets on PEI as well as the larger supermarkets. On PEI, many restaurants serve raw oysters and, at many Fall Flavours Festival events each September, oysters are a staple, like they were at the 2017 “A Taste of Rustico” event where Chef Michael Smith (in photo below) was busy shucking Raspberry Point oysters.

Chef Michael Smith Shucking Raspberry Point Oysters at "Taste of Rustico" Fall Flavours event 2017
Chef Michael Smith Shucking Raspberry Point Oysters at “Taste of Rustico” Fall Flavours event 2017
Raspberry Point Oysters at Taste of Rustico Event 2017
Raspberry Point Oysters at Taste of Rustico Event 2017

So, the next time you are slurping back one of the plump briny Prince Edward Island oysters, you’ll now know a little bit more about how the Island oysters are produced, the flavour profile of an Island oyster, and you’ll be enjoying a unique terroir (or perhaps it’s “merroir”) taste from waters in and around Prince Edward Island on Canada’s East Coast.

Plump PEI Oysters
Plump PEI Oysters

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Oyster Farming
Oyster Farming

Rustico Sheep Farm Produces Cheese and Yogurt

On PEI, there are a number of small-scale farmers who are producing artisan-quality food products. Produced on small-scale, it allows the producer to focus on quality and on producing products, or varieties of products, that larger-scale producers might not. I recently paid a visit to the Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico PEI.

Snack Time at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI
Snack Time at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI

Owned and operated by Deirdre and Gabriel Mercier, the new farmers bravely forged ahead in 2015 with dreams of becoming cheesemakers using sheep’s milk. When Deirdre’s family home and small hobby farm became available for sale, the couple decided the time was right to pursue their entrepreneurship dreams in Deirdre’s home community of Rustico. Gabriel attends to the day-to-day farm operations and the yogurt and cheese making while Deirdre looks after the farm’s bookkeeping.

Isle Saint-Jean Sheep Farm in Rustico, PEI
Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI

Currently, the Merciers are milking 104 sheep that produce, on average, between 1 – 1½ litres of milk each a day.  They have two breeds of sheep. The first, East Friesian dairy sheep, originate in northern Germany and are, according to Gabriel, the highest milk-producing sheep. The second breed, the Lacaune, are a dairying sheep breed originating in southern France. The Lacaunes produce less milk than the East Friesians but their milk has a higher fat and protein content.

Sheep Herd
Sheep at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy of Isle Saint-Jean Farm)

The farm’s new milking parlour allows for 24 sheep to be milked at once.

Sheep Milk Dairy Milking Parlour
Milking the Sheep at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean Sheep in Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferm Isle Saint-Jean)

Gabriel is new to a career in farming having spent nearly 10 years in military service. He spent time on a work term on a farm in Quebec followed by a month working in a cheese plant – Nouvelle France Fromagerie – and has taken a course in cheesemaking in Quebec.

Currently, the farm is producing yogurt and cheese by transporting the milk to a cheese factory in Mont Carmel, PEI, where Gabriel goes to make the products. Some cheese is made in a facility in New Brunswick that has an aging room for the cheese, some of which takes time to ripen. In addition, the farm also has lamb sausages available which are made for them by Island Taylored Meats.

Cheese and Yogurt Produced by Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy of Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Cheese and Yogurt Produced by Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy of Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

When asked what the biggest challenges are to sheep farming in PEI, Gabriel says operating costs, labour involved, and the long days and 24/7 commitment as the sheep are milked twice a day during lactation for the first 90 days after giving birth then once a day afterwards.

Baby Lambs at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Baby Lambs at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

Particularly during lambing seasons, the days can be very long as the lambs start arriving in February when it is cold on PEI and so attention is required to ensure they quickly get their first drink and are kept warm.

Young Lambs at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Young Lambs at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

I love the sentiment captured in the photo below of a mama with her baby lamb!

Mama Poses with her Baby Lamb at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Mama Poses with her Baby Lamb at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

Despite the work and commitment, the Merciers find great satisfaction in sheep farming.  Gabriel says he has a passion for cheesemaking and enjoys taking a raw product and converting it into something else like yogurt and cheese. The other bonus is he gets to see more of his young family than he would if he worked off the farm.

The three cheeses presently made from the farm’s sheep milk are Alexis Doiron, Blue d’acadie, and Patrick Mercier.  The Alexis Doiron, a firm cheese that is not ripened or aged, is made by Gabriel at the plant in Mont Carmel. Gabriel classes this as a table cheese that he particularly likes grated on eggs.  He says this cheese is grillable and is very good barbequed because it doesn’t actually melt.  He also suggests it can be grated on pizza as well.

Grillable Alexis Doiron Cheese from Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo Courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Grillable Alexis Doiron Cheese from Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo Courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

The Blue d’acadie is made in a federally-inspected plant with an aging room in New Brunswick.  It is a semi-firm ripened blue cheese that is suberb on burgers or steak, used in a sauce, or as an addition to a cheese tray.

The newest cheese, Patrick Mercier, is made with unpasteurized sheep’s milk and aged at least four months at the same plant in New Brunswick where the Blue d’acadie is made.

Gabriel produces 200 – 500ml jars of yogurt each week. This yogurt is 100% sheep’s milk plus culture and is available unflavored.  Add some pure maple syrup and toss some granola on top for a special treat or top it on your favorite cereal along with some fresh fruit.

Sheep Yogurt with Blueberries on top of Cereal (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Sheep Yogurt with Blueberries on top of Cereal (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

What about all the wool on those sheep?  The sheep are sheered once a year, in November, which allows them to grow back a wool coat before the really cold weather strikes PEI.  The wool is transported to MacAusland’s Woolen Mills in Bloomfield, PEI, where it is turned into yarn and woven into blankets.

Sheep Shearing at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI
Sheep Shearing at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI (Photo Courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

This past summer, the Merciers opened a retail shop on the farm where the cheeses, yogurt, and lamb sausages can be purchased at source and where customers can enjoy some samples of the yogurt and cheeses.  During the winter months, the shop is open by appointment only.

Gabriel Mercier in his Retail Shop at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI
Gabriel Mercier in his Retail Shop at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI

The farm’s products are currently available in several locations including Riverview Country Market, Kent Street Market, Brighton Clover Farm (all in Charlottetown), as well as at the Charlottetown Farmers Market , the Farmed Market and Craft Butchery and the Summerside Farmers Market, both in Summerside, and Gallant’s Country Market in Rustico. Several Island restaurants, including those in the Rustico area, are serving yogurt and cheeses from the farm as part of their menus.

A visit to Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI. Sheep dairy farm produces sheep cheese and yogurt.

Taste of North Rustico, PEI – A Rustico Kitchen Party

North Rustico Harbour, PEI
North Rustico Harbour, PEI

Culinary tourism is a steadily growing part of the whole worldwide tourism industry. This has evolved because today’s foodie tourists want to learn more about their chosen vacation destination through experiencing the local food, drink, and culture. Culinary Festivals are quite common in many regions around the world and are a great way for tourists to experience the local cuisine that reflects the authenticity of a destination.  Tourists who seek culinary experiences and adventures are typically looking for food that is simple and rooted with a history in the local area as opposed to gourmet fare that may, or may not, reflect a particular geographic area.

Each year, in September, PEI celebrates its authentic local foods by hosting the PEI Fall Flavours Festival. In 2017, the Festival celebrated 10 years of great gastronomic events. What started as a short 10-day festival to extend the Island tourism shoulder season has now morphed into a full month of culinary events, big and small, that feature PEI’s finest foods….and we certainly are privileged to enjoy an abundance of them.  The Festival lures some of Canada’s best chefs and local culinary stars and these, along with the great PEI food, music, and hospitality, draw thousands of visitors to the Island each September. Many take in three or four of the Fall Flavours culinary events and several return year after year, specifically planning their vacations around the Festival.

In 2017, the Festival introduced three new events – Taste of Georgetown, Taste of Tyne Valley, and Taste of North Rustico.  The idea behind these events is to get visitors out in to some of the smaller Island communities, closer to where our foods are grown, raised, fished, or produced so they can explore that region’s culture, cuisine, and heritage.  It’s also a way to engage local chefs, restaurateurs, and food producers by giving them the opportunity to showcase their products to foodies who are passionate about food and who are interested in learning more about direct food sources and methods of preparation and serving. Many of today’s foodies are looking for an experience to go along with the food.  Each of these three new events provided that experience that combined a glimpse into our local food and music cultural scene. These are the kinds of events that make for great travel memories. Are you ready to have a “Taste of North Rustico” and attend a Rustico Kitchen Party?

North Rustico, PEI
North Rustico, PEI

North Rustico, a fishing town on PEI’s north shore, is a well-known tourist destination during the summer months when the population swells.

North Rustico Beach, PEI
North Rustico Beach, PEI
North Rustico Beach, PEI
North Rustico Beach, PEI

With its beautiful sandy beach, it has long been a mecca for sunbathers as well as for artists and photographers.

Lighthouse at North Rustico, PEI
Lighthouse at North Rustico, PEI

An abundance of picture-perfect scenes abound everywhere in and around the town and it’s always fascinating to watch the fishers heading out to sea and returning with the day’s catch.

Preparing for Setting Day
Eve of Setting Day in the Fishing Village of North Rustico, PEI, Canada

And, after that perfect day of enjoying the sea, sand, and many fine attractions in the area, no doubt appetite is calling. There are a number of seasonal restaurants that operate in North Rustico and which have earned the town a deserved reputation for fine local authentic food, some of which would have been fished earlier in the day and brought to shore by one of the many local fishing boats. North Rustico has long been known, both by Islanders and tourists alike, as a good place to get a great meal. Therefore, it was a very fitting location to host a PEI Fall Flavours culinary event.

Fishing Boats at North Rustico Harbour, PEI
North Rustico Harbour, PEI

With the scenic backdrop of the fishing boats in North Rustico Harbour, the “Taste of North Rustico” event offered tastings from several local restaurants and nearby local food producers and it served up a real old-fashioned kitchen style party complete with local music. A “Taste of North Rustico” proved to be a celebration of the rich culture, authentic food, and heritage of the scenic and bountiful north shore of PEI.

Site of "Taste of North Rustico" PEI Fall Flavours Event
Site of “Taste of North Rustico” PEI Fall Flavours Event
Site of "Taste of North Rustico" PEI Fall Flavours Event
Site of “Taste of North Rustico” PEI Fall Flavours Event

A large tent was erected in a parking lot just beside the harbour and as folks made their way to the tent, their appetites were tantalized by the scent of Island beef and pork sausages cooking over an open fire.

Grilling over a Wood Fire - "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Grilling over a Wood Fire – “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Inside the tent, a stage was set up surrounded by numerous round tables.

Tables at Taste of North Rustico Event 2017
Tables at Taste of North Rustico Event 2017

At each place setting, a set of wooden spoons was included as a take-home memento of the evening. These were also put to good use later in the evening to keep time to the lively music.

Taste of North Rustico 2017
Taste of North Rustico 2017

Designed as a “roving feast”, local  chefs, restaurateurs, and food producers had their “grazing” stations set up around the perimeter of the tent where they were serving up delectable food tastings. The 125 patrons who attended were free to choose the order in which they wished to visit the various stations to sample the food options.

Mayor of North Rustico, PEI - Anne Kirk
Mayor of North Rustico, PEI – Anne Kirk

There was certainly passion and pride in place displayed by the town of North Rustico as their mayor, Anne Kirk, greeted patrons at the entrance to the tent.  She, herself, is quite entertaining and she had a lot of fun on stage with Chef Michael Smith, presenting him with bottles of her homemade pickles and beets and coaxing him to sample them to see if they’d be safe to serve to her family and friends!  I later caught her capably playing the wooden spoons to the rhythm of the music.

Chef Michael Smith with the Mayor of North Rustico, PEI - Anne Kirk ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Chef Michael Smith with the Mayor of North Rustico, PEI – Anne Kirk (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

This event was very well organized and I did not experience any long line-up at any of the grazing stations.

Raspberry Point Oysters ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Raspberry Point Oysters (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

My first stop was at the Raspberry Point Oyster station where Chef Michael Smith was busy shucking oysters.

Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

No matter how hard he coaxed (he tried at the Taste of Georgetown event, too), I just could not slurp a raw oyster!   For this, he denounced me for not being a “good Island girl” and, of course, I unwittingly made things worse by asking the unthinkable…”do you ever cook the oysters?”  Let’s just say we need to be thankful Chef Michael didn’t have a coronary on the spot!  I got the evil eye look and was quickly informed that one only cooks inferior quality oysters, never PEI oysters!

Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

But, on the upside, I gave him a good grade on his oyster shucking skills! He claims he’s shucked a few……a few thousand oysters that is!

Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

I then made my way over to the station of PEI Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant where they were serving up bowls of piping hot seafood chowder made with scallops, haddock, shrimp, and lobster in a traditional rue base.

Serving up Seafood Chowder from Fisherman's Wharf ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Serving up Seafood Chowder from Fisherman’s Wharf (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

Perhaps you have heard of Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant – they are famous for their traditional PEI lobster supper that also boasts a 60’ long salad bar. This is a very popular destination for many visitors to our Island.

Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant, North Rustico, PEI
Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant, North Rustico, PEI

I also had to try one of the yummy fish tacos from their Pier 15 restaurant. Made with crispy haddock bits wrapped in corn tortillas and topped with pico de gallo, jalapeno lime slaw, and cilantro sour cream, these were a hot ticket item!

Putting the finishing touches on the Fish Taco from Pier 15 at Fisherman's Wharf ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Putting the finishing touches on the Fish Taco from Pier 15 at Fisherman’s Wharf (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)
Fish Taco from Pier 15 at Fisherman's Wharf ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Fish Taco from Pier 15 at Fisherman’s Wharf (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

My next stop was at the Blue Mussel Café’s station where they were plating up their house-made charcuterie plates.

Preparing the Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Preparing the Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)
House Made Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
House Made Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

This was a very bountiful plate featuring roasted beet salmon gravlax, house smoked mackerel, local cheeses, apple blueberry chutney, pickled harvest vegetables, and a micro green salad.

House Made Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
House Made Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

The Blue Mussel Café is a busy and popular seasonal restaurant located near the North Rustico lighthouse and close to the Rustico beach.

Blue Mussel Café, North Rustico, PEI
Blue Mussel Café, North Rustico, PEI

From there, I made my way to the Yellow House’s station.  The Yellow House is a new restaurant in North Rustico, located right by the harbour. This restaurant has drawn great reviews.

The Yellow House Restaurant, North Rustico, PEI
The Yellow House Restaurant, North Rustico, PEI

You can see why it has quickly become a popular eating spot when you check out their mussel rolls – yes, those are tasty little PEI blue mussels with fennel, orange zest, and dill in a creamy sauce on one of the Yellow House’s signature house rolls.

Mussel Rolls from the Yellow House Restaurant in North Rustico, PEI ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Mussel Rolls from the Yellow House Restaurant in North Rustico, PEI (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

They also served mini Acadian meat pies and smoked salmon bubble and squeak with PEI quail eggs but I wasn’t quick enough to get photos!

Jordan Liantzakis from PEI Charcuterie Prepares Trays at "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Jordan Liantzakis from PEI Charcuterie Prepares Trays at “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Coming from a little distance away in Westmoreland, near Crapaud, the PEI Charcuterie station was offering all kinds of their house-made charcuterie.

Tray of locally-made Charcuterie from PEI Charcuterie ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Tray of locally-made Charcuterie from PEI Charcuterie (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

The folks from Glasgow Glen Farm, home of fine Island-made Gouda cheese, served up a tasty potato corn soup in small mason jars accompanied by buttermilk biscuits.

Homemade Potato and Corn Soup from Glasgow Glen Farm ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Homemade Potato and Corn Soup from Glasgow Glen Farm (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

While folks were enjoying the roving feast of appetizers, North Rustico’s own Olivia Blacquiere provided musical entertainment.

Olivia Blacquiere Performing at "Taste of North Rustico" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Olivia Blacquiere Performing at “Taste of North Rustico” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

The main meats consisted of a wood-fired mixed grill featuring PEI beef and Heritage Breed Berkshire pork sausage served with potato bannock.

Grilling over a Wood Fire at "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Grilling over a Wood Fire at “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

This was overseen by the event’s guest chefs Connie DeSousa (a Top Chef Canada finalist) and John Jackson, co-owners of the Charcut Roast House in Calgary, Alberta.

Guest Chefs Connie DeSousa and John Jacson, Co-owners of Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB ("Taste of North Rustico" PEI 2017)
Guest Chefs Connie DeSousa and John Jacson, Co-owners of Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB (“Taste of North Rustico” PEI 2017)

It took a good trailer of wood to get the grillin’ done!

Firing up the Grill at the ""Taste of North Rustico" Event
Firing up the Grill at the “”Taste of North Rustico” Event
Sample of Grilled Beef and Pork at "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Sample of Grilled Beef and Pork at “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Upstreet Craft Brewing representatives were on hand serving up some of their famous microbrewed beer as well as their brand new line of soda pop introduced in 2017 – they currently have three flavours available – Strawberry Rhubarb Basil, Apple Ginger Elderflower, and Malt Spice Cola.

Pouring a sample of Upstreet Brewing Company's new soda - "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Pouring a sample of Upstreet Brewing Company’s new soda – “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

And, for anyone with room left for dessert, the Blue Mussel Café delighted palates with chocolate bourbon mascarpone tartlets while the Yellow House served mini sugar pies.

Chocolate Bourbon Mascarpone Tartlets from the Blue Mussel Café - "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Chocolate Bourbon Mascarpone Tartlets from the Blue Mussel Café – “Taste of North Rustico” 2017
Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Pie) from The Yellow House - "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Pie) from The Yellow House – “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Chef interaction is a big part of these types of culinary events. Unlike going to a typical restaurant where patrons would rarely, if ever, see the chef who prepared their meal, these culinary events are built around connection and direct communication with the chefs.  Not only could patrons chat with the chefs at the various grazing stations but, during the evening, Chef Michael Smith hosted an engaging question and answer period with guest chefs Connie DeSouza and John Jackson.

Chef John Jackson (left), Chef Connie DeSousa (center), and Chef MIchael Smith (right) at "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Chef John Jackson (left), Chef Connie DeSousa (center), and Chef MIchael Smith (right) at “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Folks were invited to ask them questions and some fun was had when they were asked to tell what their most embarrassing moments were as chefs and which beef they thought was best – PEI’s or Alberta’s. For the record, they capably and diplomatically handled that question very well!

Guest Chefs John Jackson and Connie DeSousa from Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB, at "Taste of North Rustico" PEI 2017
Guest Chefs John Jackson and Connie DeSousa from Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB, at “Taste of North Rustico” PEI 2017

A true North Rustico Kitchen Party would not be complete without some great local music.  Brendon Peters and friends provided lively tunes mixed in with some north shore humour.  Toes were tapping, hands were clapping, and those wooden spoons were put to good use.

Brendon Peters and Friends Performing at the Taste of North Rustico Kitchen Party (PEI Fall Flavours Festival 2017)
Brendon Peters and Friends Performing at the Taste of North Rustico Kitchen Party (PEI Fall Flavours Festival 2017)

The carefully designed and executed menu for this event reflected authentic foods local to the North Rustico and surrounding areas and it capably achieved what it intended – it gave visitors a “Taste of North Rustico” foods, culture, and heritage.

The PEI Fall Flavours Festival has grown to be one of PEI’s most anticipated events that offer visitors the opportunity to discover and experience the vast spectrum of food produced on PEI as the culinary events take them right in to the heart of food source locales, like North Rustico.

As I mentioned earlier, some visitors return each year especially to attend several PEI Fall Flavours events.  In fact, four of my tablemates at this event came from Regina, SK, and two of them have come to PEI for the past 10 years that Fall Flavours has existed.  Something I have observed this year from attending several Fall Flavours events and talking with visitors is the far distance that people travel specifically for this Festival and how many of the events they attend, and how long they vacation on the Island as a result of the Festival.  PEI has now earned its reputation as a fine authentic food destination that offers world class culinary experiences and events.

So, if you’re looking for taste bud tempting travel that will allow you to experience wonderful regional food specialities, musical culture, and a chance to explore our special little corner of the world, September is a great time to visit PEI. You’ll find endless opportunities to experience authentic local culture by indulging in our many fine foods and drinks, seeing spectacular scenery, meeting friendly and hospitable Islanders, and discovering talented local musicians.

To read stories I have written about other PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival events, follow these links:

PEI Shellfish Festival (2012)
Farm Day in the City (2012)
Savour Victoria (2012)
Toes, Taps, and Taters (2013)
Lobster Party on the Beach (2013)
Applelicious (2013)
The Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge (2013)
Feast of the Fathers (2014)
Lamb Luau at Crowbush Cove (2014)
Feast and Frolic Dinner (PEI International Shellfish Festival) (2014)
Beef and Blues (2014)
A Taste of New Glasgow (2015)
Beef ‘n Blues (2015)
Chef on Board (2015)
Cooking with Chefs Anna & Michael Olson in Brudenell, PEI (2015)
Le Festin acadien avec homard/Acadian Feast with Lobster (2016)
The Great Big Barbeque (2016)
Mussels on the Hill (2016)
Toes, Taps, & Taters (2017)
Taste of Georgetown (2017)

Mead in Wheatley River, PEI – The Island’s New Honey Wine Meadery

Island Honey Wine Company's Wildflower Mead
Island Honey Wine Company’s Wildflower Honey Mead

In the small rural community of Wheatley River, not far from Hunter River in central PEI, the Island Honey Wine Company meadery produces unique wines made with fermented honey, otherwise known as “mead”.

Island Honey Company
Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada

Charles and Laura Lipnicki opened the doors to their meadery on July 7, 2017. The couple had vacationed on the Island a few years earlier, fell in love with it and its people, and decided they wanted to become Islanders too, so five years ago, they moved to PEI, first to North Rustico then later settling on to the farm in Wheatley River.

Charles and Laura Lipnicki, Owners of Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Charles and Laura Lipnicki, Owners of Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada

Charles had been making wine as a hobby for 25 years and always had a fascination with yeast.  Laura has a love of lavender and, having seen fields of lavender in Provence, wanted to have her own lavender field. Opportunity presented itself for location amidst the gentle rolling hills in Wheatley River and Laura now has that beautiful field of 1500 lavender plants and Charles has a new career in winemaking which, interestingly enough, merges with the lavender from the couple’s field, wildflowers, and fruits grown on the farm.

Lavender Field
Section of the Lavender Field in Bloom at Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI (Photo Submitted by Island Honey Wine Company)

In addition to the meadery itself, the couple operates a small certified organic farm called “La Serena” where they have six acres of fruit production that include hascaps, elderberries, and apples and they also raise some sheep, hens, and ducks.

The "grasscutting crew" at the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI
The “grasscutting crew” at La Serena farm, home of the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI

Charles says he started the meadery because he likes making “a value-added product that originates with products produced on the farm, products like honey, lavender, and fruits such as haskaps”.

Fermentation Tank at Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI
Fermentation Tank at Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI

Now, I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of flavor of mead. I say this because, several years ago, I was served a glass of mead in a castle in Ireland and, well, the drink was not to my liking.  However, I went on my visit to Island Honey Wine meadery with an open mind and I was more than pleasantly surprised.  The honey wine from the Island meadery is quite lovely.

Island Honey Wine Company's Wildflower Mead
Island Honey Wine Company’s Wildflower Honey Mead

The Island Honey Wine Company is currently producing four different kinds of meads for sale – lavender, wildflower, haskap, and nectar sweet dessert wine.  The products are presently sold only onsite at the meadery but Charles says they will soon be carried by the PEI Liquor Commission in their retail outlets.

Island Honey Wine Company's Wildflower Honey Mead
Island Honey Wine Company’s Wildflower Honey Mead

Of the four meads, I asked Charles which is the most popular.  He says the Wildflower mead is most popular and he believes this is because a glass of this mead takes one on a journey as flavor notes can be found in each taste based on the many different wildflowers the honeybees have visited which transfers into the flavor of the honey they produce. The wildflower wine is the most food-friendly and versatile of the three meads and I’ll talk a bit more about what that means later.

The quality of the mead produced at the Island Honey Wine Company has recently been validated through the winning of  medals at an International Wine competition in Virginia especially for non-grape wines.  The Nectar Sweet wine, with its sweet and lingering taste, secured a silver medal both the Wildflower and Haskap wines attained bronze medals. I think, once you sample their honey-based wines, you’ll understand why the wines have garnered these awards.

Honey
Honey

Honey, a fermentable sugar, is the base for all the meads and only raw honey is used. While the meadery has some beehives on the farm, they don’t have enough for adequate supply for the mead making.  Therefore, they source honey from other local producers. Most of the honey wine is produced in the winter months. According to Charles, the process for making honey-based mead is not a lot different from making traditional grape-based wines and the honey mead will take about 2½ – 3 months fermentation.

Fermentation Tanks
Stainless Steel Fermentation Tanks

Charles says one of his greatest satisfactions of making mead is seeing how people enjoy something that started just as an idea and that turned into a liquid to be enjoyed. Each of the honey wines has its own benefits and uses for certain times and, as Charles says, “each one is a snapshot in time and place with regards to honey because of the different flowers the bees visit“.

each one is a snapshot in time and place with regards to honey because of the different flowers the bees visit

I asked Charles to tell me how he would suggest pairing the three meads with foods.  Here are his recommendations:

Wildflower – With the broadest notes, this is the most food-friendly of the three meads. Pair this honey wine with poultry dishes, cheese, with desserts such as apple pie, or enjoy as a sipping wine after a day at the beach.

Wildflower Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Wildflower Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Lavender
Lavender

Lavender – This one-of-a-kind mead lends itself to saltier foods. This honey wine is a lovely accompaniment to PEI lobster, brook trout, sharp cheeses, and desserts like walnut baklava.  It also pairs particularly well with charcuterie trays. Charles says this is a unique and intimate wine reminiscent of the intimate relationship the bees share with the lavender flowers.  This is a versatile wine to be shared with good company or simply enjoyed solo with a good book.

Lavender Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Lavender Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Lavender Honey Mead (Photo Submitted by Island Honey Wine Company)
Lavender Honey Mead (Photo Submitted by Island Honey Wine Company)

Nectar Sweet – Classed as a dessert wine, Nectar Sweet pairs well with Brie cheese, dairy desserts like cheesecakes, crème brulée, and German chocolate cakes and caramel desserts.

Nectar Sweet Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Nectar Sweet Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada

You will also find some local artwork in the meadery’s tasting room along with several lavender products including locally-made lavender shortbread, soap, and similar items.

Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI
Inside the Tasting Room and Retail Shop at the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI
Lavender Shortbread
Lavender Shortbread
Homemade Soaps from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Homemade Soaps from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada

Product tasting is available onsite in the newly-constructed meadery.  The wooden tasting bar is made from repurposed wood that came from one of the large old elm trees that had to be removed from the city of Charlottetown.

Charles Lipnicki pours a sample of one of his honey meads made at Island Honey Wine Company in Wheatley River, PEI
Charles Lipnicki pours a sample of one of his honey meads made at Island Honey Wine Company in Wheatley River, PEI
Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, is PEI's first meadery dedicated to making mead with fermented honey and flowers and fruits from its own farm

The Island Honey Wine Company’s meadery is located at 820 Millboro Road in Wheatley River, in central PEI. For hours of operation and more information, visit their website at https://www.islandhoneywine.ca/

PEI Foods Featured in President’s Choice “#EatTogether” Campaign for Canada 150

There are basically two common, non-controversial, safe topics that can form the basis of a conversation start with just about anyone – the weather and food! And, food is the one that will bring people together!

On Saturday, May 6, 2017, the Atlantic Superstore in Summerside, PEI, was the venue for a luncheon where 32 people sat down to lunch together. Most did not know each other and had not met before Saturday. They happened to show up at the supermarket on a Saturday morning and found themselves invited to dine at a pop-up luncheon in the midst of the produce section.

"Eat Together"
“Eat Together” Event at Atlantic Superstore in Summerside, PEI

You see, Loblaws has this cool Canada 150 project underway to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.  Six of their supermarkets across Canada have been selected to host one of these special events that features the local foods of the region in which the event is held. The locations for the cross-country tour celebrating Canada’s regional cuisines are Ottawa, Calgary, Richmond, Summerside, Wolfville, and Montreal. Summerside was the fourth stop on the tour. Known as the #EatTogether campaign, the overarching theme is to get Canadians to come together, sit down over a meal, engage in conversation, and share stories about their favorite dishes and local cuisine. Talking about PEI foods is never a problem for Islanders because we love our foods and love to talk about them! Fishing and agriculture are two of our primary industries on the Island and both generate drool-worthy foods!

Tracy Moore and Chef Tom Filippou
Cityline Show Host Tracy Moore and PC Executive Chef Tom Filippou at “Eat Together” Event at Atlantic Superstore, Summerside, PEI

President’s Choice (PC) Executive Chef, Tom Filippou, and Cityline show host, Tracy Moore, presented a PEI-themed meal. For readers who are Islanders and those who have visited PEI, you’ll know that PEI food culture revolves around the land and sea.  The Island is known for great food – think potatoes, mussels, and lobsters. I asked Chef Filippou what inspired the dishes they chose to feature for the PEI-themed meal. He said that President’s Choice surveyed Canadians about what foods resonated with them and, when it came to PEI, our potatoes, lobsters, and mussels topped the list. He says those foods are amazing as they are but he put his own stamp on them by, for example, using lobster in a traditional Mac ‘n Cheese dish and cooking the pasta for it in the stock in which the lobster was steamed, thus deepening the lobster flavor in the dish. He says Summerside was a good choice as one of the six venues because the Island has such a rich history of seafood and agriculture and has so much to offer (for a menu that is regionally inspired).

Lobster Mac 'n Cheese
Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese, “Eat Together” Event at Atlantic Superstore in Summerside, PEI

The meal started with big bowls of mussels steamed in local PEI beer, followed by breaded chicken cutlets, potato salad, garlic bread, and the lobster Mac ‘n Cheese.

Chicken
Breaded Chicken Cutlets

This rustic potato salad made with mini potatoes was amazing!

Potatoes
Potato Salad

For dessert, diners enjoyed yummy sticky date pudding with toffee sauce along with butter tarts.

Pudding
Sticky Date Pudding
Chef Tom Filippou
PC Executive Chef Tom Filippou at Eat Together Event at Atlantic Superstore in Summerside, PEI

Asked what inspired the idea for the #EatTogether campaign, Chef Filippou says that food brings people together so the idea of a pop-up dinner party in the middle of a supermarket seemed like a great idea. People lead busy lives and many seem to spend a lot of time on their electronic devices and less time connecting with, and getting to know, each other so the aim is to get people to slow down a bit, take a deep breath, sit down at a table together, and enjoy good food and each other’s company.  What better way to set the example than on a busy Saturday morning with shoppers hurrying about to pick up groceries. Imagine whirling in with a grocery cart and the first thing you come across is a beautifully set long table alongside the produce section! I have to say it was a very impressive sight, especially from the vantage point of the store’s upper level.

Loblaws
Atlantic Superstore, Summerside, PEI

The photo below shows the area of the store where the celebrity meet and greet was held.  Have to love that backdrop of bags of PEI potatoes!

Summer Display at Summerside's Atlantic Superstore
Atlantic Superstore, Summerside, PEI

People live busy fast-paced lives with family members hurrying off to activities in different directions and many live and breathe being connected to their phones and computers/electronic devices. It seems, in many homes, the routine of regular family meal times  where family members all sit down together over a prepared meal, decompress, and discuss the happenings of their day and, well, just get to know one another, may be going by the wayside.  President’s Choice did some research on this topic and learned that only 38% of Canadians eat dinner together 4-6 times a week. 45% watch TV while eating, 15% listen to the radio, and 14% are on the Internet.

So, for the 32 people who dined at the communal table in the produce section of the Summerside Atlantic Superstore on a Saturday morning, it didn’t take long for them to connect with their fellow diners and for the storytelling to begin.  Food arrived on the table and conversations soon turned to food-related subjects and stories about the foods in their kitchens and what food means to special events like birthdays and holidays throughout the year.

Cityline Host Tracy Moore
Cityline Host Tracy Moore (right) shares a laugh with a diner at the Eat Together Event at the Atlantic Superstore in Summerside, PEI

Once the initial photos of the two celebrity hosts were taken, the electronic devices actually disappeared and, dare I say it – wait for it….. were actually forgotten about and strangers simply talked with each other over a tasty meal. Tracy Moore and Chef Tom Filippou proved to be entertaining and  engaging hosts and people easily opened up to them talking about their own culinary influences.

Tom Filippou and Tracy Moore
PC Executive Chef Tom Filippou and Cityline Show Host, Tracy Moore

This was a well executed event and a tip of the hat is due to the PC culinary team that pulled this event together to showcase PEI foods. Well done! To check out the PC #EatTogether video, click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDuA9OPyp6I

Disclosure:  I was invited to attend this event so that I could share my experience with my blog readers. My opinions and impressions of it are my own.

#EatTogether

Setting Day on Prince Edward Island Can Only Mean One Thing

Setting Day
Setting Day, French River, PEI

Setting Day on Prince Edward Island can only mean one thing…..it heralds the opening of the spring lobster fishery and a fresh feed of PEI lobster from the cold Atlantic waters will follow soon after!

Lobster
Lobster in the Shell

 

lobster traps
Lobster Traps at French River, South Landing Wharf, PEI, Canada

Lobster fishers spend many weeks in advance of Setting Day preparing their lobster traps and fishing boats for the upcoming season.

Malpeque Harbour, PEI
Lobster Boats at Malpeque Harbour, PEI, Canada

As the time grows closer to Setting Day, visits to Island wharves are an interesting activity.  Boats, looking all spiffy, are in the water, and wharves are stacked high with traps just waiting to become the deep sea inns for lobster. This year, I visited six Island wharves in the two days leading up to Setting Day.

Lobster Fishing Boats at Malpeque Harbour, PEI, Canada
Lobster Fishing Boats at Malpeque Harbour, PEI, Canada

I like to visit wharves the eve of Setting Day. The boats are heavy laden with traps, fishers are checking and double-checking their gear, and the conversations are animated with excitement and anticipation of the upcoming lobster season.  There will be claims as to who owns the fastest boat, who will sail out first, and so on. The mood is jovial and a lot of good-natured banter can be heard.

Lobster Fishing
Lobster Boats Loaded with Traps for Setting Day, North Rustico, PEI, Canada

 

Lobster Traps
Fishermen at Malpeque Harbour Check Their Lobster Traps in Preparation for Setting Day
Lobster Traps
Double-checking the Lobster Traps, Malpeque Harbour, PEI

I’m not sure I could figure out the ropes of this business but they sure are colorful!

Ropes
Colorful Ropes

So, too, are the many different colors of buoys.

Buoys
Colorful Buoys
Lobster Traps
Traditional Lobster Traps

PEI has two lobster seasons. The first runs from May until the end of June and the second from August until October.  Some claim (and I agree) that the lobster that is caught in the early season is the most tasty and tender as it comes from the colder waters.

Lobster Boats
Lobster Boats, New London Harbour, PEI, Canada

On PEI, the spring fishery tends to get the most attention because these are the boats that are first out of the gate to open the fishery season. There is a lot of hype associated with Setting Day.

Lobster Fishing
Boats Loaded with Lobster Traps for Setting Day, North Rustico, PEI, Canada

North Rustico is one of the more colorful fishing ports and draws a lot of summer tourists who enjoy watching the activity of the fishing boats.

Preparing for Setting Day
Eve of Setting Day in the Fishing Village of North Rustico, PEI, Canada

Regardless whether one is directly involved in the fishery or not, Setting Day is a big deal for many Islanders. This is the day that fishers head out with their boats for the first time in the season to lay the traps to catch the lobsters.

Lobster Boat Loaded with Traps
Trap Setting Day

There are many wharves around the Island and the same common scene plays out – friends, neighbours, and family members get up long before daybreak and head to nearby wharves or beaches to watch the parade of boats as they head out with their loads of traps. It’s a sign of support to the fishers for the work they do.

Waiting for the Lobster Boats
Waiting for the Parade of Lobster Boats on Setting Day in French River, PEI, Canada

The last couple of years, I have headed to French River which is about 45 minutes from Charlottetown.  Boats are not permitted to leave the harbour until 6:00am but spectators need to be in place by about 5:40am as boats pull away from the wharves and get in to position for take-off and they lose no time when the clock strikes 6:00am. As one fisherman told me, come 6:00am, it’s “game on” and it’s very competitive as the boats charge out to sea to the cheers and delight of the bystanders! If you have never stood on a beach on PEI at sunrise and watched dozens of lobster boats heading out to work, you have missed a magical and moving experience.

Parade of Lobster Boats
Early Morning Gathering in French River, PEI, to Watch Parade of Lobster Boats on Setting Day

In 2017, when this article is being written, Setting Day was on Saturday, April 29th. Island lobster fishers don’t fish on Sundays so the first haul from the traps will be on Monday. With the exception of Sundays, fishers check their traps daily during lobster season.  Close to 1000 boats were expected to leave the wharves on Setting Day this year.

Parade of Lobster Boats Heading out to Sea
Heading out to Drop off the Lobster Traps on Setting Day
Lobster Fishing Boats
Heading Out With a Load of Lobster Traps, French River, PEI

A few years ago, I happened to be in North Lake, in the Islander’s eastern part of the province, mid-morning, as the lobster boats were coming back in with their daily catch. It’s a beehive of activity when they all arrive back in port with crates full of lobster!

Lobster Boat
Lobster Boat Loaded with the Day’s Catch, North Lake, PEI, Canada

North Lake is a large harbour and it’s really cool to watch the boats enter the port through this narrow entrance. Sometimes, it’s almost a traffic jam on the “North Lake Freeway” as the boats converge to come into the wharf with their catch.

Lobster Boat
Lobster Boat Arriving Back in Port with the Day’s Catch, North Lake, PEI, Canada

Heading for a “parking spot” to unload the catch.

Fishing Harbour
North Lake Harbour, PEI, Canada

Unloading the day’s catch.

Daily Catch
Unloading the Day’s Catch, North Lake, PEI, Canada

Here’s a look at what’s in those crates!

PEI Lobsters
Fresh Catch of the Day – PEI Lobsters

While there are many recipes that call for lobster as an ingredient, Islanders typically eat the steamed lobster straight from the shell for their first feed of the season.

Fresh PEI Lobster
Steamed Lobster in the Shell
Steamed Lobster
Lobster in the Shell
How to Eat Lobster, PEI Style
Cracking Open the Lobster

Served hot or cold, according to one’s preference, lobster is a divine treat when dipped in melted butter.  On PEI, lobster is most commonly served with potato salad, coleslaw, sometimes other kinds of salads and, of course, homemade rolls.

Potato Salad
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s PEI Potato Salad

You can find my recipe for potato salad here and for my pan rolls here.

Lobster Dinner
Traditional PEI Lobster Dinner

Once I have had that first feed of lobster, I am ready to use it as an ingredient in other dishes. One of my more popular recipes is the one for Lobster Cakes. You can access my recipe for these tasty savory cakes here.

Lobster Cakes
PEI Lobster Cakes

Another favorite recipe for using lobster is Lobster Newburg. It is lovely served in puff pastry shells.  And, of course, there is always the perennial favorite – Lobster Rolls! A couple of great places to get lobster rolls on PEI are Richard’s Seafood Eatery on the wharf in Covehead and at Dave’s Lobster in Charlottetown.

And the great lobster that we enjoy comes thanks to the fishers who head out, sometimes in rolling seas, to fish the lobster.

Lobster Fishing
Lobster Fishing in all weather on PEI

And, other times, the fishers get to see the most amazing sunrises!

Setting Day
Heading Out With a Load of Lobster Traps

Lobster fishing is a big part of the Island culture and way of life. The seafood sector is one of PEI’s main industries. PEI has some very picturesque harbours and wharves like French River seen in the photograph below. It is so popular with photographers that a lookout has been created so that people can safely pull off the road to photograph its beauty.

PEI Fishing Harbour
French River, PEI

As I finish this posting, the first catches of the season are in…..now, where is that lobster bib…….

Lobster Supper
A PEI Lobster Feed

Setting Day marks the beginning of the PEI lobster fishing season as fishers set their lobster traps in the water

Lobster Trap Setting Day on Prince Edward Island

What’s on Tap at Upstreet Craft Brewing?

The craft beer brewing industry continues to grow thanks to consumers with a thirst for traditional hand-crafted beer and a demand for unique locally-made artisanal products. While not a huge industry on PEI, craft breweries are starting to emerge….and with remarkable success.  As Upstreet Craft Brewing in Charlottetown, PEI, celebrates its first birthday, I thought it was time I paid a visit so I recently journeyed “upstreet” to meet Joey Seaman, one of the owners, for a tour and chat about the brewery.

Upstreet Craft Brewing
Upstreet Craft Brewing Co-owner Joey Seaman

I began by asking Joey where the name “Upstreet” came from.  He says that upstreet, means “anywhere but where you are” and, colloquially, if you are downtown and someone asks where you’re going, chances are you might say “I’m heading up the street” and, since the location of the brewery is ‘just up the street’ from downtown Charlottetown, it became the name of the brewery.

Upstreet Craft Brewing began operation in June 2015 when three friends, who were long-time hobby home beer brewers, decided to take the leap, leave the security of their careers, and co-found a craft brewery in their hometown.  This trio – Joey Seaman, Mike Hogan, and Mitch Cobb — have turned their hobby and passion into a growing success story.

Owners of Upstreet Craft Brewing
Upstreet Craft Brewing Owners Joey Seaman, Mitch Cobb, and Mike Hogan

The three partners are very hands-on at the brewery.  Mike is the beer engineer who brews all the beer while Mitch looks after general management and operations and Joey takes care of sales.

Upstreet Craft Brewing
Upstreet Craft Brewing’s Brew Engineer, Mike Hogan

The brewery currently has 19 employees and is a beehive of activity.

Craft beer is brewed in the traditional way in small batches using 4 main ingredients – barley, hops, yeast, and water. One of the trademarks of a craft brewery is that it offers the opportunity to experiment with ingredients and flavors because small batches of the beer can be produced. This is in contrast to industry giants that produce huge quantities of the same beers year in and year out.  Craft breweries, on the other hand, are small enough that they can keep experimenting and come up with fresh new flavours that keeps customers returning.  They can also produce small quantities of seasonal beers that are likely only to be purchased during a short period. Upstreet is currently brewing six batches of beer, four times a week. This translates into about 10,000 litres of beer a week.  The brewery has built a strong local customer base that has meant Upstreet is presently at maximum capacity. To double their capacity and meet growing demand, the brewery just recently added two more fermentation tanks and they still can’t fully meet demand. In fact, at the time of writing, they have a wait list of 15 restaurants/bars wanting to sell their beer.

Upstreet Craft Brewing
Filling the Kegs with Beer at Upstreet Craft Brewing

The brewery produces four mainstay flagship beers – Rhuby Social (Strawberry Rhubarb Witbier), Commons Czech Style Pilsner, Do Good-er (an American pale ale), and White Noize (a white IPA).  Joey says their most popular beer is the Commons Pilsner which he describes as a clean crisp beer.

In addition, the brewery has brewed over 10 different beers, including seasonal brews, in the first year of operation.  This includes specialty flavors like Imperial Pumpkin Ale brewed last autumn and Vanilla Cranberry Stout during the Christmas holiday season.

You won’t find canned beer at Upstreet. Instead, they use tall slim brown bottles that give a classic feel to the Upstreet beer experience.

Each bottle is labeled with an eye-catching unique label that contains information to educate the consumer on the beer product and experience.  So, look for a beer profile on each bottle that will tell you the level of hoppiness and a description of the color and flavour.

Check under each bottle cap for a unique PEI colloquial saying –  great conversation pieces! The owners solicited submissions from the public of typical PEI sayings and received over 2000 suggestions in 48 hours – yes, we Islanders have lots of colloquial sayings!

As many readers will know, a growing sector of the alcoholic beverage industry is pairing foods with the different beverages. Many will be aware of food and wine pairings but there is also a burgeoning trend to pair craft beer with good food.  The label on each bottle of Upstreet beer will also give a good food pairing suggestion, the type of event in which it might be enjoyed and even a suggestion for best listening tunes by which to enjoy the beer. For example:

  • White Noize, a strong beer, would pair well with a hearty chili that might be enjoyed after a day of skiing and while listening to some chill beats.
  • Rhuby Social, a tart and refreshing beer, would compliment spicy Asian foods and is a beer that could become a patio favorite while listening to the classics. Last fall, I attended a beer and food pairing event that was part of the PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival. Celebrity chefs Anna and Michael Olson recommended Upstreet’s Rhuby Social be paired with seafood such as PEI mussels, clams, and white fish.
  • Commons Pilsner would go well at a beach day event with Island seafood while listening to acoustic campfire jams.
  • The Do Good-er, the brewery’s “go-to” house party beer, would be a good choice for a BBQ while listening to some rock.

In addition to their bottled beers, the Brewery also sells growlers at the brewery. And, of course, they also sell and deliver kegs of beer to restaurants and bars and there are over 30 venues in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia currently carrying the Upstreet products.

Inside the cooler at Upstreet Craft Brewing
Inside the cooler at Upstreet Craft Brewing

Joey says that, while their patrons come from all walks of life, he finds the largest growing market for craft beer is the female population who tend to like the dark beers and those that would be classed as bold, hoppy beers.  New and creative flavours of beer may be contributors to that trend.

Upstreet Craft Brewing
Taproom at Upstreet Craft Brewing

The brewery is not only a production facility. It, like many craft breweries, has a taproom onsite. The taproom, which can accommodate about 90 people, is a mix of industrial and eclectic décor. Be sure to check out the bar counter repurposed from an old elm tree that had to be taken down in the city.

Joey Seaman pours a glass of beer in Upstreet Craft Brewing's Taproom
Joey Seaman pours a glass of beer in Upstreet Craft Brewing’s Taproom

While Upstreet does not have a full-fledged restaurant per se on site, it does have a chef as part of the team and the taproom does offer snack foods and tapas/small plates with a menu that changes according to season. However, don’t look for table service at Upstreet – in keeping with the casual atmosphere, you simply go to the bar to place both your drink and food order.

Upstreet Craft Brewing is very community minded. The brewery offers its taproom as a community space for locals to come and hang out. In fact, several groups meet at the brewery to socialize, including a group of local knitters! The brewery also hosts adult coloring nights and other community events and there is always a good selection of board games for patrons to enjoy over a glass of cold beer. In addition, the brewery offers a venue for local musicians to share their musical talents with patrons. The brewery is also a strong supporter of the local arts, music, and culture scene and, in fact, a percentage from the sale of every bottle of Do-Good-er beer goes to a “do good” fund to support local arts and culture.

The brewery, located at 41 Allen Street in Charlottetown, PEI, is open 7 days a week, noon to midnight.

Upstreet Craft Brewing, Charlottetown, PEI
Upstreet Craft Brewing, Charlottetown, PEI

As is my tradition when I visit a local producer, I develop a recipe or two using their product.

PEI Mussels
PEI Mussels Steamed in Rhuby Social Beer from Upstreet Craft Brewing

Click here for the link to my recipe for steaming PEI mussels in Upstreet Craft Brewing’s Rhuby Social beer and here for the link to my recipe for Rhubarb and Beer Barbeque Sauce, also using Rhuby Social beer.

Beer Barbeque Sauce
Rhubarb and Beer Barbeque Sauce Made with Rhuby Social Beer from Upstreet Craft Brewing

 

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Craft Brewing
Upstreet Craft Brewing, Charlottetown, PEI

Dinner at Chef Michael Smith’s New PEI Restaurant, “FireWorks”

If you are a fan of Chef Michael Smith, one of Canada’s top celebrity chefs and noted cookbook author, you probably know he and his wife, Chastity, bought The Inn at Bay Fortune in eastern Prince Edward Island late last spring.  This was the Inn where Chef Michael once worked and where his first TV show, The Inn Chef, was filmed.

The Inn at Bay Fortune, PEI, Canada
The Inn at Bay Fortune, PEI, Canada

Early in the summer, Chef Michael completely renovated and transformed the kitchen and dining experience at the Inn.  Named for its newly-constructed 25-foot brick-lined, wood-burning fire over, through, and about which the meal is cooked, FireWorks Restaurant  opened for the 2015 tourist season to rave reviews.

On Sundays this fall, the Inn celebrates the harvest season by hosting what the culinary team refers to as “Islander Day“.

Offered on a slightly different scale and lower price point than their usual evening feast (which is priced at $80 per guest + HST at time of writing), the Sunday event offers a three-course (I’d say it’s four courses, counting the salad) harvest menu that includes fresh bread baked in their wood-fired brick oven served with brown butter, turkey-vegetable soup, green salad, a choice of entree (Beef Stew, Pork Loin, or Halibut) served with garden-fresh vegetables and, as a finale, a freshly-baked harvest dessert. Reservations are not accepted for the Sunday event but the meal is served continuously, on a first come first served basis,  from 12 noon until 7pm.  The restaurant has the capacity to serve about 50 people at a time. The cost for the Sunday meal is $40 per adult guest and $20 per child under age 12 + HST.

At the beginning of this year, we made a commitment to, once a month, dine at a restaurant we’ve not eaten at before and we’ve stuck to it so, this past Sunday, my mom and I made our way to the new FireWorks Restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune which is about a 45-50 minute drive east from Charlottetown.  And, the experience did not disappoint, especially since Chef Michael himself was in the kitchen on this particular day! This is one busy guy who travels a lot so we were quite thrilled that he was on the Island in his FireWorks kitchen on the day we chose to dine at his new restaurant.

Chef Michael Smith
Chef Michael Smith

While I don’t normally write restaurant reviews per se on my food blog or write about my dining-out experiences, I felt this one is in keeping with my blog’s focus of eating local foods when possible and is sufficiently unique that it merits a blog posting so, here goes!

We arrived mid-afternoon to find a large limo and several cars in the parking lot so we weren’t the only ones who decided to head to the small country community of Bay Fortune to dine at FireWorks in the middle of a Sunday afternoon in late October.

We were greeted by a very personable and friendly hostess who explained how the meal experience would unfold and she was quick to point out that we were to be sure and take all kinds of photos if we wished and we were invited to roam freely about the kitchen which was at the end of the long closed-in sunporch dining room.

This is quite extraordinary to be offered this opportunity because this is a working kitchen and there were a number of  the team cuisine and servers busy at their work. It was a beehive of activity and no one made me feel like I was in their way as I scurried about taking photographs.

Learning from the master! I think there was a good bit of knowledge transfer and training taking place in the kitchen on Sunday and who better to learn from!

Dinner is served, family-style, at long communal block-style tables so, if you are looking for a private table for two or four, you won’t find that at FireWorks. Guests are seated as they arrive and as space is available at any of the four large tables. Two of the long tables are situated on the front of the Inn in a closed-in sunporch that overlooks Bay Fortune.

One of the tables is actually in the kitchen so you really get the feeling that dining is family style and non-pretentious.

I almost felt like I was simply dining in a friend’s home kitchen…well, except for the fact that most of us don’t have a professional culinary team catering to us nor do many of us have a brick oven or an open fire….but, other than that….

The fourth table seats eight and is in a more private dining room just off the kitchen and behind the sunporch.

I don’t mind this communal style of dining as I am quite accustomed to it as I am a regular cruiser where I’m often seated at tables for 8 or 10 with people I don’t know. On this Sunday evening, we lucked in as a group of four ladies soon joined us at one of the long tables in the sunporch and were very open to dinner conversation making for a pleasant meal and overall dining experience.

We were no sooner seated than a server brought a small loaf of fresh-baked 12-grain red fife sourdough bread and a small jar of butter. Lots of Mason jars are visible on the table as the larger ones are used as water glasses.

In keeping with FireWorks’ focus on local and regional fare, all of the vegetables used in the meal were grown onsite in the Inn’s gardens and the meat and fish locally sourced. The entire meal was cooked over an open fire or in the large brick oven.

Roasted Cauliflower Emerging from the Brick Oven
Roasted Cauliflower Emerging from the Brick Oven

The kitchen makes use of lots of heavy cast-iron pots for cooking over the open fire seen in the background in the photo below.  In keeping with the rustic theme, note the blocks of wood that are used for stationing the hot pots.  Use of natural wood in the decor is prevalent, even on the tables.

Chef Michael soon arrived at the table with bowls of piping hot turkey vegetable soup accompanied by a light and flaky biscuit hung over the soup bowl rim.

Turkey Vegetable Soup
Turkey Vegetable Soup

This was followed by a small green salad that I neglected to take a photo of but here is a list of the salad’s ingredients that was posted on the wall.

I wandered into the kitchen area just as Chef Michael was plating our meal. I just had to check up on him (lol)!

 

Satisfied he was doing a great job, I hurried back to the table in time for Chef Michael to arrive with our dinners. And, no, my dinner did not slide off the plate….it’s just the split second that I captured the photo of Chef Michael serving my dinner that makes it look like it’s about to slide off the plate!

We each chose to have the smoke house pork belly and loin with apple sauce which was served with brown butter rösti potatoes which were ever so tasty. Side vegetables included roasted cauliflower straight from the wood-fired brick oven, slightly charred cherry tomatoes, and braised red cabbage.

And, for dessert, we had a very seasonal dessert: Wood-fired apple cranberry crisp that was served with cranberry ice cream and pumpkin seed brittle.

Throughout the meal, Chef Michael’s wife, Chastity, accompanied by musicians Reg Ballagh and Jon Rehder, provided dinner music from the vantage point of the Inn’s nearby cozy sitting room.

So, I would class this experience as the full meal deal!  If you find yourself on Prince Edward Island on a Sunday between now and November 15, 2015, and are looking for a unique dining experience, I recommend a visit to FireWorks Restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune.  And, if you are planning a vacation on our lovely Island next summer, FireWorks plans to re-open in early May when they will be offering their daily full-scale feast each evening for which reservations are taken.

For more information on dining at FireWorks, visit the Inn at Bay Fortune website.

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Chef Michael Smith at his FireWorks Restaurant in Bay Fortune, PEI
Chef Michael Smith at his FireWorks Restaurant in Bay Fortune, PEI

Visit to Beamish Organic Apple Orchard and Deep Roots Distillery

Today, I’m taking you on a tour with me to Beamish Organic Apple Orchard and Deep Roots Distillery in Warren Grove, PEI. Owner, Mike Beamish, has been growing apples since 1990 when he started with 200 trees on his hobby farm near Charlottetown.

Mike Beamish Checking on his Apple Crop
Mike Beamish Checking on his Apple Crop

Mike’s goal was always to grow apples organically although he did initially grow them using conventional methods in the early years because it was difficult to find non-chemical controls for some pests. Once more research was done and non-chemical controls were available to growers, Beamish transitioned his orchard to be organic in 2003 following the standard three-year period to be certified organic. During the three-year period, no chemical applications can be used. Beamish is certified under Atlantic Certified Organics (ACO), a certification body which is accredited with the Canadian federal government. This body enforces the national organic standards such as buffer zone requirements from surrounding farms using conventional farming methods and it provides a list of approved substances that can be used in organic farming. The orchard is subject to annual audits by the ACO to ensure only approved substances and organic farming practices are used. Certified organic farmers are required to keep records of any products or substances used and the farmers must be re-certified each year.

Beamish Organic Apple Orchard, Warren Grove, PEI
Beamish Organic Apple Orchard, Warren Grove, PEI

Growing apples organically does come with its challenges since farmers don’t have access to the traditional chemical treatments non-organic apple growers can use. Beamish says the biggest challenges are dealing with pests such as bugs and rodents, disease in the trees and apples, and ensuring soil nutrition. Any products applied to the ground or trees must be certified organic products only. He counters these challenges by buying and applying organic compost around the trees, installing little ground fences around each tree to deter rodents, and hanging certified organic products in the trees to fend off pests such as moths, apple fruit flies, and railroad worms.

At one point, the Beamish Orchard had 800 apple trees; however, Island winters can be harsh and, in 1999, the orchard cut back to 500 trees in its U-pick orchard. The orchard currently has about 300 apple-producing trees. Beamish grows four varieties of apples – Red Free, Novamac, Liberty, and Freedom. The biggest seller are the Red Free, an early variety ready in mid-September.

The Red Free variety is particularly good for cooking as these apples  keep their shape and, because they are non-acidic, there is no need for a lot of sugar.

Red Free Apples
Red Free Apples

This year (2015) will mark the first year that the Beamish Orchard will not operate as a U-pick. They will still have apples for sale at the farm but, because they have reduced the number of trees in the orchard, there will not be enough apples to operate a U-pick. In addition, Beamish has also created another usage of his apple crop as he has started a distillery.

Deep Roots Distillery, Warren Grove, PEI
Deep Roots Distillery, Warren Grove, PEI

When Beamish retired three years ago from Holland College, he was looking for a retirement activity. Since he already had a ready supply of apples, he began making sweet apple cider and selling it at the Farmers Market in Charlottetown. His interest in distilling grew so he pursued a course hosted by the Bio-Food-Tech Centre in Charlottetown that focused on the science of distilling. In addition, he received some technical assistance from the New Brunswick Community College in Grand Falls. In June, 2014, Beamish obtained his license to distill and it wasn’t long before he began producing liquor, using local raw products whenever possible.

Mike Beamish at his Warren Grove, PEI, Distillery - "Deep Roots"
Mike Beamish at his Warren Grove, PEI, Distillery – “Deep Roots”

Today, Beamish has four products on the market: Island Tide (a cane-sugar spirit), Blueberry Eau de Vie, Maple Liqueur, and his newest, Camerise Haskap Liqueur.

Deeproots Distillery Products
Deeproots Distillery Products

Beamish says the Island Tide liquor moonshine, with an alcohol content of 45%, is a cross between rum and vodka and would be best suited for martinis and mojitas. Historically, much of the moonshine made in PEI was made from cane-sugar. However, with more modern distilling techniques, it is somewhat smoother than what some folks may remember!

Mike Beamish says the Blueberry Eau de Vie does not have a strong blueberry taste but rather has the essence of blueberry. It has 45% alcohol content and is best served as an after dinner beverage over ice or in a fruit-based cocktail.

The Maple Liqueur is made from New Brunswick maple syrup and, with 25% alcohol, is stronger than most liqueurs. It is also suitable as an after dinner drink or served over vanilla ice cream or in baking.

The Camerise Haskap Liqueur is a new product from the distillery and has just been released this summer.

This liqueur, with 26.5% alcohol, is made with haskap berries which come from Phyto Cultures Inc. in nearby Clyde River. This liqueur is developed using a method by which the alcohol is infused with the whole haskap berries which sit in the alcohol for four months before being crushed. The Camerise Haskap Liqueur also is an after dinner drink and is meant to be served straight over ice.

Producing liquor is government-regulated and the products have to be analyzed by a certified lab in the same way as any big brand liquors.

Boxes of product ready for shipping
Boxes of product ready for shipping

The products are labelled under the Deep Roots Distillery label and can be purchased at the Charlottetown Farmers Market and at the Distillery located at 2100 North York River Road, Route 248, in Warren Grove just outside Charlottetown. You can also find them on the shelves of many local liquor stores on the Island.

Deep Roots Distillery, Warren Grove, PEI
Sales Outlet at Deep Roots Distillery, Warren Grove, PEI

Tours of the apple orchards and the distillery are available for a nominal fee and Mike welcomes visitors to learn more about his organic apple orchard and new distillery. For more information, and hours of operation, visit the websites for Beamish Organic Apple Orchard and Deep Root Distillery.

Apple-Maple Bread Pudding
Apple-Maple Bread Pudding

As is my standard practice when I visit a local food producer, I develop a recipe using the producer’s product(s). In my Apple-Maple Bread Pudding with Maple Sauce, I have used the Red Free apples from the Beamish Orchard along with the Deep Roots Distillery Maple Liqueur.

Red Free Apples
Red Free Apples

The Red Free apples are great in this recipe because they keep their shape and don’t go to “mush” or a sauce-like consistency in the pudding which would make it too soggy. The key is to sauté the apples enough that they are softened before adding them to the pudding batter. Adding some maple liqueur as the apples sauté provides additional flavour.

It’s a matter of opinion as to whether a bread pudding should be baked in a hot water bath or not. I have made bread puddings both in a water bath and without and, to be frank, don’t see any appreciable difference in quality of the baked pudding. So, for this recipe, I did not use the hot water bath baking method and the pudding was lovely and moist.

Apple-Maple Bread Pudding
Apple-Maple Bread Pudding
Apple-Maple Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

1 – 1 lb loaf French bread
3 cups whole milk
1 cup less 1½ tbsp Blend/cream (10%)

2½ cups thinly sliced baking apples (about 3 medium-sized apples)
½ tbsp butter
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp maple liqueur

3 extra-large eggs
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 tbsp melted butter
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
Pinch cardamom
¾ cup raisins soaked in 1½ tbsp maple liqueur

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Grease or line 9”x13” pan with greased tin foil.

In large bowl, break the French bread into small pieces, crusts and all.

Pour the milk and blend (cream) over the bread.

Cover and let sit for 30 minutes then handcrush mixture until well blended.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and thinly slice the apples.

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add the apples and sauté for about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with brown sugar and sauté apples for another minute. Remove pan from heat and add liqueur. Return to heat and sauté the apples for 5-7 minutes, or until they are softened and a golden color.

In medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs well. Add the sugar and beat again. Beat in the maple syrup, melted butter, and vanilla. Add the spices and stir well. Pour over bread-milk mixture in large bowl and mix well.

Lastly, gently fold in the sautéd apples along with the raisins.

Pour mixture into prepared pan. Smooth batter evenly in pan.

Bake for about 55-60 minutes or until it springs back to a light touch and/or a cake tester (or knife) inserted into 2-3 places in the pudding comes out clean.

Remove pudding from oven and transfer pudding pan to a cooling rack to rest for 20 minutes. Slice into 12 pieces and serve warm with maple sauce (recipe below), crème anglaise, or ice cream.

Yield: 12 servings

Maple Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
dash of salt
2 cups boiling water
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp maple liqueur
2 tsp vanilla
¼ cup butter

Method:

In saucepan, mix the brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt together well. Add the boiling water, maple syrup, maple liqueur, and vanilla together. Mix well. Add butter. Cook until sauce boils and reaches desired consistency. Serve hot over Apple-Maple Bread Pudding.

Yield: Apx. 2½ cups

Maple Sauce on Apple-Maple Bread Pudding
Maple Sauce on Apple-Maple Bread Pudding

 

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Apple-Maple Bread Pudding with Maple Sauce

Yield: 12 servings

Apple and maple flavours combine to make a delectable bread pudding

Ingredients

  • Pudding:
  • 1 – 1 lb loaf French bread
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup less 1½ tbsp Blend/cream (10%)
  • 2½ cups thinly sliced baking apples (about 3 medium-sized apples)
  • ½ tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp maple liqueur
  • 3 extra large eggs
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • Pinch cardamom
  • ¾ cup raisins soaked in 1½ tbsp maple liqueur
  • Sauce:
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • dash of salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp maple liqueur
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup butter

Instructions

  1. Assemble ingredients.
  2. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  3. Grease or line 9”x13” pan with greased tin foil.
  4. In large bowl, break the French bread into small pieces, crusts and all. Pour the milk and blend (cream) over the bread. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes then handcrush mixture until well blended.
  5. Meanwhile, peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add the apples and sauté for about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with brown sugar and sauté apples for another minute. Remove pan from heat and add liqueur. Return to heat and sauté the apples for 5-7 minutes, or until they are softened and a golden color.
  6. In medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs well. Add the sugar and beat again. Beat in the maple syrup, melted butter, and vanilla. Add the spices and stir well. Pour over bread-milk mixture in the large bowl and mix well.
  7. Lastly, gently fold in the sautéed apples along with the raisins. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Smooth batter evenly in pan.
  8. Bake for about 55-60 minutes or until it springs back to a light touch and/or a cake tester (or knife) inserted into 2-3 places in the pudding comes out clean.
  9. Remove pudding from oven and transfer pudding pan to a cooling rack to rest for 20 minutes. Slice into 12 pieces and serve warm with maple sauce, crème anglaise, or ice cream.
  10. To make the maple sauce, combine the brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in saucepan. Add the boiling water, maple syrup, maple liqueur, and vanilla together. Mix well. Add butter. Cook until sauce boils and reaches desired consistency. Serve hot over Apple-Maple Bread Pudding.
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Apple-Maple Bread Pudding with Maple Sauce
Apple-Maple Bread Pudding with Maple Sauce

 

“Scents of Summer” Afternoon Tea in London

Scent of Summer Afternoon Tea (Photo courtesy of the Intercontental Park Lane Hotel)
Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea (Photo courtesy of the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel)

I was recently in London and, of course, a visit to London for me without having afternoon tea would not be complete! On each visit, I aim to have tea at a different venue.

My travels this visit took me to the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel which occupies a prominent and historic location near London’s Hyde Park, in the heart of Mayfair. Afternoon tea at the Park Lane is served in the Wellington Lounge which occupies the former site of 145 Piccadilly that was Her Majesty the Queen’s former childhood home. This location remained her home until 1937 when the family moved to Buckingham Palace. The home itself was destroyed during war. Between 1968-1975, the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel was constructed on the site.

The Wellington Lounge of the Park Lane, in its taupe and white hues, is elegant and sophisticated, yet casual. Comfy chairs invite a time of leisure lingering over tea. Three menu options are available for afternoon tea: The Market Garden Tea, the Royal Tea, and a seasonal tea which changes regularly throughout the year. We experienced the new “Scents of Summer” Afternoon Tea that boasts a menu inspired by the beauty of British summer time. The menu had only been introduced four days prior to our arrival and will be available throughout the summer season until September 27, 2015.

Scent of Summer Afternoon Tea (Photo Courtesy of Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel)
Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea (Photo Courtesy of Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel)

Our afternoon tea was as much a treat for all the senses as it was for the palette. Unhurried, my Mom and I spent a most enjoyable three hours savoring the creativity of Executive Chef Ashley Wells and Edward Bodenham of British Family Perfumers, Floris London. We found the servers to be knowledgeable, attentive, and accommodating without being intrusive. Rather than simply delivering the customary three-tier server with all the food on it at once, the Scents of Summer was served in individual courses. For each course, Luigi, Senior Associate, Tea and Coffee Expert, explained the food, the best order in which to consume items, and suggested appropriate tea pairings to complement the food.

We first began with a palette cleanser of rose pearl wheatgrass, bushe berries, gooseberry, and citrus mist.  This grass-based starter, served on a small tuft of grass, was a tribute to the earth.

Palette Cleaser: Rose pearl wheatgrass, bushe berries, gooseberry, and citrus mist
Palette Cleanser: Rose pearl wheatgrass, bushe berries, gooseberry, and citrus mist

This was followed by a selection of four different, colourful, and tasty pinwheel/scroll sandwiches presented on the plate in a design that resembled the shape of a butterfly.

Pinwheel/Scroll Sandwiches
Pinwheel/Scroll Sandwiches

Luigi recommended the order in which to most effectively consume the pinwheels starting with a light rose-pickled cucumber and Mascarpone on Peruvian bread followed by the more hearty salmon and Bergamot served on lemon bread.

We then progressed on to a slightly spicy pink peppercorn and thyme chicken pinwheel on tomato bread and, finally, the honey roast pumpkin with crumbled feta on spinach bread.

The tea we enjoyed with this course was Second Flush Darjeeling which some claim to be the ‘champagne of tea’.

Second Flush Darjeeling Tea to Accompany Sandwich Course
Second Flush Darjeeling Tea to Accompany Sandwich Course

The server plates were deftly removed and were replaced with the elements of the course that featured scones. Dainty buttermilk scones, fresh and still warm from the oven, were brought to the table and placed on the server along with small dishes of Devon clotted cream, wild strawberry jam, lemon curd with pink peppercorn, and Bergamot-infused Earl Grey butter.

 

Scones Course
Scones Course

This was accompanied by a spritz of a citrus-based spray as a “sensory” introduction to the scones course.

The scones – two plain and two sultana — were the most tender scones I have ever tasted!

Luigi explained that the Devonshire way of serving scones is to first spread the jam on the scone half, then top it with the clotted cream. Literally, these scones melted in the mouth!

The recommendation of tea to pair with the scones was a full body Earl Grey Assam Tea. I must admit I have never been an Earl Grey tea fan and I usually put milk in my tea. However, Luigi recommended no milk and I found this tea was indeed a fine complement to the scones course.

Then came the pièce de résistance – the selection of sweet indulgences. Truly, these were nothing short of a work of art in the presentation that was only surpassed by the sublime melange of flavors, scents, and tastes.

Again, Luigi expertly explained each item on the tray, offering suggestions for the order in which to partake. He also recommended that the palette be cleansed and refreshed via the fresh summer berries or chocolate “pebbles” in between consuming each sweet so that the true flavors of each could be fully appreciated.

Everything you see on the tray in the photo above was edible, including the very realistic looking pebbles and the fresh pansies. A quick spritz of a floral spray with top notes leaning into Jasmine scents set the stage reminiscent of an English country garden in summer.

We first sampled the petite Jasmine Tea Cake which was delicately flavored and ever-so-tasty.

Jasmine Tea Cake
Jasmine Tea Cake

We next savoured the luscious Violet Cream and Grapefruit Tart.

Violet Cream and Grapefruit Tart
Violet Cream and Grapefruit Tart

Then, we moved on to the Bergamot and blackcurrant flower macarons which were ever so light, delicately chewy, and yet airy. For those who are connoisseurs of French macarons, they know that it is a skill to achieve the perfect macaron and these certainly fell within that category.

This was followed by the Peach Melba mousse encased in chocolate to create a realistic looking peach that could have just been picked from a tree.

The grand finale, the “Flower Pot”, was designed to be shared between two people. This consisted of rose water and pink peppercorn jelly with wild strawberry mousse served in a chocolate Terracotta pot and decorated with chocolate roses.

The tea recommended for this course was the #1 Park Lane Signature Tea which proved itself a wonderful accompaniment to the desserts.

A glass of Moët & Chandon berry floral Rosé was served with the dessert course.

Overall, I was highly impressed with the calibre of food and level of service and hospitality at the Intercontinental London Park Lane’s Wellington Lounge. I found the Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea included traditional tea items like the scones but also stepped it up a notch with the creativity of the choice of bread, and ingredients in, the sandwich pinwheels/scrolls and the selection of sweets that comprised the dessert course. We quite enjoyed having the food served in courses as opposed to simply having a standard three-tier server delivered to the table with sandwiches, scones, and sweets all on it. It lent an element of surprise and anticipation to the experience which was relaxing and unhurried. I was also impressed with the expert advice on tea pairing with each course which I felt added to the quality experience.

If you are in London this summer and go to only one afternoon tea, I recommend the Scents of Summer at the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel.

If you are in London this summer and go to only one afternoon tea, I recommend the Scents of Summer at the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel. Great thought and care has been taken with the creation of this afternoon tea menu. We spent a most relaxing and enjoyable afternoon over tea at the Park Lane and it was one of the highlights of our 2015 visit to London. Now, if I could just justify another trip to London, I would go in December to experience their holiday tea which Chef Wells is already designing. Based on his Scents of Summer creation, I can only imagine how extraordinary the Christmas afternoon tea will be.

The Scents of Summer afternoon tea experience costs ₤45 + gratuity (generally about 15%) which, at the time of writing totals approximately $100. (CDN) per person.

The Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel is located at One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London, England, W1J 7QY (Tel: +44(0)20 7409 3131. Reservations are required for afternoon tea which is served from 1:00pm – 5:00pm daily. For more information, visit the hotel’s website.

My thanks to the Park Lane for the opportunity to experience their Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea and for the fine hospitality. My afternoon tea at the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the new Scents of Summer offering. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the afternoon tea experience.  All opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.

 

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Growing Organic Vegetables in Winter on PEI – A Visit to the Schurman Family Farm

Rows of Beefsteak Tomatoes at the Schurman Family Farm, Spring Valley, PEI
Rows of Beefsteak Tomatoes at the Schurman Family Farm, Spring Valley, PEI

Winter 2015 has been a true old-fashioned winter for PEI. Blizzard after blizzard has left the Island buried under mountains of snow. In fact, more than 500cm has fallen – that’s over 16 feet of snow this winter!

Along a rural country road in PEI, April 2015
Along a rural country road in PEI, April 2015

As I write this posting in early April, most of the snow, unfortunately, is still around (and more keeps accumulating) so it’s going to be a long time before PEI sees any plants growing outside in the rich red soil for which our Island is known. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t vegetables growing on PEI – even in the dead of winter.

Between tunnels of snow banks (some of which were more than twice the height of my car) and sometimes through side roads barely one lane wide in places, I made my way to Spring Valley to visit the Schurmans who operate a large greenhouse where they grow organic vegetables for sale year-round. In fact, if you live in Atlantic Canada and shop at Sobeys and/or the Atlantic Superstore, you have access to their Atlantic Grown Organics brand organically-grown tomatoes and cucumbers because both stores carry produce from the Schurman greenhouse.

So, this year, while I’m not going south, I did spend an afternoon with Krista and Marc Schurman in their greenhouse which almost seemed tropical!

Krista and Marc Schurman of Schurman Family Farm, Spring Valley, PEI
Krista and Marc Schurman of Schurman Family Farm, Spring Valley, PEI

Spring Valley is a rural community that is located just outside the town of Kensington on the Island’s north side. The Schurmans, former livestock producers, built the greenhouse in 2001 when they made the decision to diversify their farming operation from livestock to vegetable growing. The Schurman greenhouse is home to close to one (1) acre of produce grown year round. Marc, a third generation farmer, has a degree in plant science from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) in Truro, Nova Scotia. From the time he was a wee lad, he has had a keen interest in growing vegetables so his career choice was a logical one. His wife, Krista, has a degree in animal science, also from NSAC. Farming is clearly in the blood of the Schurman couple and it is evident from chatting with them that farming is their passion and they are committed to producing quality food for market.

In 2006, the Schurmans, who market their produce under the label “Atlantic Grown Organics”, became a 100% organic greenhouse operation.

Farming organically is not without its challenges since it operates differently than conventional farming. One of the biggest challenges is to create a mini-ecosystem versus using chemicals to control for insect pests and plant disease. Insect packets (like those in the photograph below) are hung on the vines of the plants throughout the greenhouse. These packets release beneficial insects that, essentially, eat the bad insects that can destroy plant leaves and vegetables.

To simulate a natural environment, every six weeks, new hives of bumblebees are introduced into the greenhouse.

The bees buzz around, doing their job to pollinate the tomatoes. New hives are brought into the greenhouse every six weeks so that, as the hives age, there will always be young productive bees available to carry the load of pollinating thousands of flowers every week. Earthworms are used in the plant pots to keep the soil loose – essentially, they work and till the soil.

The Natural Kind of Garden Tillers
The Natural Kind of Garden Tillers

While greenhouse farming means more control can, in some respects, be exerted over growing conditions, there is a challenge to constantly balance the humidity and ventilation in the greenhouse as too much humidity can breed plant disease. The greenhouse relies on a computer system to indicate when there is too much humidity, at which time it tells the greenhouse roof to open slightly to let in some ventilation. When the humidity is once again balanced, the computer tells the roof to close.

Large pipes filled with hot water circulate throughout the entire greenhouse keeping the plants toasty warm and providing optimal temperature for plant growth.

A wood waste burner heats the water and a back-up generator provides assurance of a heat source should there be a loss of electricity. It wouldn’t take many hours without electricity in a PEI winter storm, for example, for the farm’s entire crop of producing plants and tiny seed plantings to be destroyed.

Plant seedlings started to ensure a continuous supply of fresh greenhouse produce
Plant seedlings started to ensure a continuous supply of fresh greenhouse produce

The series of hot water pipes also function as a sort of railway track for a cart and workers to move between the rows of plant pots so the plants can be pruned and harvested. The farm functions with a staff of three full-time employees and the couple’s three children help with picking the tomatoes from the vines.

Each plant pot is individually hooked up to the water sprinkling system that is triggered by readings from a weather station on the greenhouse roof as watering is measured by the amount of natural sunlight.

Watering probes inserted into each plant pot ensure the accurate amount of moisture is regularly provided to the plants
Watering probes inserted into each plant pot ensure the accurate amount of moisture is regularly provided to the plants

These water tanks are not your ordinary watering cans!

The main business of the greenhouse operation is to produce organic tomatoes and cucumbers for wholesale to Sobeys and the Atlantic Superstore in Atlantic Canada.

However, the Schurmans also direct market their produce at both the Charlottetown and Summerside Farmers Markets. Here (in addition to the tomatoes and cucumbers), you may also find special treats like fresh greenhouse-grown strawberries in winter along with lettuce, kale, herbs, peppers, beets, green onions, and even eggplant, grown especially for their Farmers Market clientele.

The Schurman Family Booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market
The Schurman Family Farm Booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

From early spring to late fall, the Schurmans also have a vegetable stand at the farm gate on Route 104 in Spring Valley.

Strawberries growing in the Schurman Family Greenhouse
Strawberries growing in the Schurman Family Greenhouse

The Schurmans find great satisfaction from their greenhouse operation. They say that producing big boxes of fresh, organically-grown, red tomatoes in the dead of winter on PEI, when there is little if any vegetation growing elsewhere, is deeply satisfying.

They also find it gratifying to connect with regular customers each Saturday at the local Farmers Markets as this opportunity provides them with feedback on their produce and appreciation from customers seeking good quality organic produce that is locally produced year round.

I believe it is always good when consumers can meet and connect with those who work hard to locally produce our food. So, if you are lucky enough to live in PEI, you can meet the Schurmans, face-to-face, on Saturdays at the Farmers Markets. Otherwise, be sure to look for the purple label “Atlantic Grown Organics” on the organic tomatoes and cucumbers when shopping at Sobeys and/or the Atlantic Superstores in Atlantic Canada. Buying these Island products not only supports local farmers and helps them to be sustainable operations but you’ll know you are buying quality, safe, fresh organic produce.

I think, if I had been working inside this greenhouse this year, I would hardly have noticed it was even winter (well, maybe not until I stepped outdoors)!

For more information on the Schurman Family Farm, visit their website.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Pasta Salad
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Pasta Salad

The recipe in which I have chosen to feature tomatoes and cucumbers from the Schurman Family Farm is a colorful pasta salad with herb dressing.  While it is always important to use quality fresh ingredients in any recipe, it is doubly important when making salads because this is where the raw veggies star and you really taste their flavour.

I couldn’t have gotten vegetables any more fresh than these that were just picked off the vines in the greenhouse.

The quality and flavour of olive oil and balsamic vinegar is also important in the salad dressing. For this reason, I have used products from the Liquid Gold and All Things Olive store here in Charlottetown, PEI.  You can use any olive oil and balsamic vinegar – either flavored or plain – that you wish; however, it will obviously change the flavour of the dressing.  For this recipe, I chose to use the Wild Mushroom and Sage Olive Oil which I paired with a Honey Ginger Balsamic Vinegar.

You can use any kind of bow tie pasta for this recipe.

I’ve chosen to use colored Durum wheat semolina from Italy because I love the tri-colored pasta which makes a colorful salad!

Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

8.8 oz (250g) bowtie pasta
salt
1½ tsp cooking oil
2 tbsp onion soup mix
boiling water

2 cups coarsely chopped English cucumber
1 cup diced tomatoes or halved cherry/grape tomatoes
½ cup chopped red onion
2 tbsp sliced black olives (optional)
3½ oz cubed feta cheese
1½ – 2 tbsp shredded Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago cheese mix
Fresh parsley (optional)

Method:

Cook pasta, for length of time and in amount of boiling water and salt indicated on package, adding the oil and onion soup mix to the cooking process. Drain pasta, rinse in cold water, and allow to cool completely.

Cut ends off small cucumber and slice in half, horizontally. Cut cucumber into ¼ inch pieces.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and red onion.

Place pasta into large bowl and add the cucumber, tomatoes, and onion. Toss to mix, being careful not to tear pasta. Drizzle with just enough dressing to coat all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to allow flavours to mix.

At time of serving, mix in olives and add more dressing if needed/desired. Transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with cheeses and fresh parsley.

Dressing

Ingredients:

6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tsp Dijon mustard
1½ tbsp sugar
½ tsp Italian seasoning
½ tsp celery seed
Pinch dried dillweed
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

Mix all ingredients in glass jar. Cover jar tightly with lid and shake jar vigorously to fully mix and incorporate all ingredients. Refrigerate until use. Remove from refrigerator to allow dressing to come to room temperature (5-7 minutes). Shake jar to mix dressing, then drizzle over salad.

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Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffins

Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffin
Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffin

Early last October, I traveled to Farmington, near Souris, PEI, to watch the wet harvesting of cranberries at Mikita Farms.  With other commitments, I did not have a chance to get this posting published to my food blog until now.

One of the recipes I developed with the Mikita Farm cranberries is for Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffins.  With eggnog now being available locally year-round (at least on PEI), there is no need to save these tasty muffins just for the Christmas holiday season.  If you can’t find eggnog in your locale, homemade eggnog can also be used in the recipe that follows this post.

Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffin
Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffin

But, first, let’s take a look at where the cranberries came from.

Here, before it was flooded with water, is a photo of the cranberry bog where the berries grow.

Cranberry Bog

We continued on to Souris for lunch and, when we came back a few hours later, the bog had been flooded and this is what it looked like.

Flooded Cranberry Bog
Flooded Cranberry Bog

We didn’t see the machine (in the photo below) at work churning up water and dislodging the cranberries from their vine so they could float to the top of the water but it certainly is an interesting looking machine.

The cranberries grow with little pockets of air in them that allows them to float when a bog is flooded.

The photo below shows cranberries dislodged from their vines floating on top of the flooded bog.

Floating Cranberries
Floating Cranberries

Workers prepare the booms around the perimeter of the bog.  These will be used to gather up the floating cranberries.

Preparing the Booms to Corral the Cranberries
Preparing the Booms to Corral the Cranberries

In the photo below, you can see the boom is in place around the perimeter of the bog.

Drivers on four-wheelers slowly pull the booms along the bog, moving the cranberries with them.

Corralling the Cranberries
Corralling the Cranberries

A worker guides the booms along the route.

Coralled, crimson cranberries!

Corralled Cranberries
Corralled Cranberries

The pump truck in the photo below sucks up the corralled berries from the bog.

Workers make adjustments to the booms so that as many cranberries as possible are ready for transfer to the waiting truck.

Just as we were leaving the farm, a load of freshly-harvested cranberries arrived at the farm gate stand which was particularly busy on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend when we visited.

From here, the cranberries are bagged and ready for sale.

In addition to selling the raw product, Mikita Farms also produces cold-pressed cranberry juice from cranberries grown on their farm.

I love cranberries and always have a big bag of them frozen for use over the winter.  I also make and freeze a lot of cranberry sauce.

Cranberries and bananas are a great flavour combination.  Eggnog also goes particularly well with cranberries so I combined all three flavours in muffins and covered them with a tasty streusel topping.

Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffins
Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffins

These bistro-style muffins pack a rich flavour punch and are a treat for sure!  They also freeze very well.

Cranberry-Banana and Eggnog Muffin
Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffin
Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffins

Ingredients:

1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen), coarsely chopped
1½ tbsp sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup rolled oats
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
⅛ tsp allspice
1 tbsp grated orange rind
⅔ cup brown sugar, lightly packed

1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup eggnog
½ cup + 1 tbsp cooking oil
¼ cup orange juice
1½ tsp vanilla
2 tbsp maple syrup
⅓ cup mashed banana

Streusel

Ingredients:

¼ cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp chopped pecans
½ tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp butter

Method:

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Coarsely chop the cranberries, leaving some of the tiny ones whole.

In small bowl, sprinkle cranberries with 1½ tbsp sugar. Toss lightly to coat cranberries with the sugar. Set aside.

In medium-sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the streusel. Mix well.

Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Stir in chopped pecans. Set aside.

Prepare muffin tins by greasing or spraying with cooking oil, ensuring the top of the muffin tins are also well-greased.

In large bowl, combine dry ingredients and orange rind and mix well.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Set aside.

In separate bowl or large mixing cup, add the lightly beaten egg, oil, banana, eggnog, maple syrup, orange juice, and vanilla. Whisk together well.

Pour wet ingredients into well in dry ingredients.

Combine just until dry ingredients are barely incorporated. Do not overmix.  It’s okay to still see a little bit of flour in the batter.

Gently fold in the sugared cranberries.

Ladle or spoon batter into prepared muffin tins filling almost to the muffin tin rim.

Sprinkle with streusel mixture.

Transfer muffins to oven and immediately reduce heat to 400ºF. Bake 20-22 minutes or until muffins are just firm to the touch and a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Let muffins rest in muffin tins for about 5 minutes then carefully  transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.

Yield: 12-14 standard-sized muffins

Cranberry-Banana and Eggnog Muffin
Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffin

The photo below shows the texture of the muffins.

Texture of Cranberry-Banana and Eggnog Muffins
Texture of Cranberry-Banana Eggnog Muffins

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Green Island Catering Company

It’s the time of the year when people are busy with holiday preparations which often brings a host of events and a shortage of time to prepare for them. I recently met with a couple of Island chefs to chat about canapés and to find out what’s trendy these days in finger foods.

Canapé of potato base, topped with sour cream and tender beef
Canapé of potato base, topped with sour cream and tender beef

Jennifer & Mike Levy, from Rusticoville, PEI, operate Green Island Catering Company. Yes, there is help for your holiday events! The couple, both originally from Ontario, took a rather roundabout way to find their way to the Island. Both have university degrees and worked in the corporate world in Calgary before heading off to the sunny Caribbean to spend three years living and working in Grand Cayman. While soaking up the southern sun, they found themselves working in the food industry and becoming more interested in cooking. They came across some Prince Edward Islanders living in Grand Cayman who kept telling them about the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI, suggesting they check it out. But, first, they returned to their native Ontario where they spent a few months during which time Mike took a hobby cooking course at George Brown College which really sealed his interest in pursuing a career in culinary arts. Soon, they were on their way to PEI to study at the Culinary Institute from which both graduated from the two-year program in 2012.

While they have worked in various restaurants since graduating from culinary school, they have started a successful catering business and will cater any event of any size. In fact, they have catered the PEI Legislature’s “Speaker’s Tartan Tea” for the past three years.

I began by asking the chefs how many canapés should be prepared per person for an event. As a general rule, they suggest 3-5 per person if the time of the event is not a regular meal time or if it is at a time that guests most likely would have already eaten. However, if the event is between the hours of 11am – 1 pm or 5pm – 7pm, then 5-7 canapés should be prepared per guest.

We then discussed what’s trendy in canapés these days. Canapés generally consist of three parts: a base, some kind of sauce, and a garnish. The base can consist of a variety of items – for example, small biscuits, phyllo pastry, spring roll wrappers, or wonton cups.

Braised beef and pulled pork tend to be popular in canapés, just as they are in main meal menu items.

Braised beef atop a stack of potato slices
Braised beef atop a stack of cheesy potato slices

Foods that are easy to prepare and canapés that include comfort foods are also popular. For example, tiny tea biscuits topped with braised beef or turkey/chicken are quite popular. Cookie dough shot glasses are also quite a trendy novelty item – they consist of cookie dough formed into a container shape, baked, and filled with a favourite liqueur or, for the younger crowd, milk.

Making Cookie Shot Glasses
Making Cookie Shot Glasses

Cookie Shot Glass
Cookie Shot Glass

Or, make the cookie shot containers even larger and line them with melted chocolate (yum!)

Lining a larger cookie shot glass with melted chocolate
Lining a larger cookie shot glass with melted chocolate

During my visit, the chefs demonstrated how to make a base from thinly sliced potatoes, seasoned with a mixture of herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano), grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese, and a bit of cream (yes, the real stuff!). Layered into greased muffin tins and baked for 20 minutes at 400°F, these make a tasty canapé base with a dob of sour cream or herbed cream cheese added and topped with braised beef or pulled pork.

Making Potato Base for Canapés
Making Potato Base for Canapés
Making Potato Base for Canapés
Making Potato Base for Canapés
Making Potato Base for Canapés
Baked Potato Base for Canapés

These canapés are tasty with, or without, the addition of sour cream.

Potato Base Canapé topped with Sour Cream and Braised Beef
Potato Base Canapé topped with Sour Cream and Braised Beef

Jennifer also demonstrated how to make a sweet treat that consists of grapes, caramel popcorn, chopped nut clusters, and Cambozolo cheese, all held together with a caramel sauce made with corn syrup, sugar, and water.

Grape and Caramel Clusters
Grape and Caramel Clusters
Grape and Caramel Clusters
Grape and Caramel Clusters
Grape and Caramel Clusters
Grape and Caramel Clusters
Mike gets ready to remove the Grape Cluster Canapés from the pan
Mike gets ready to remove the Grape Cluster Canapés from the pan
Grape and Caramel Clusters
Grape and Caramel Clusters

So, if you are short on time this holiday season and want to take the stress out of preparing for a cocktail party or other holiday event, you may want to consider having the event catered. Jennifer and Mike run a full service catering company and can be reached by phone at 902-963-2176, by email at greenislcatering@gmail.com, or through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Green-Island-Catering-Company/

Rossignol Winery — PEI’s First Winery Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI
Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI

There are three wineries on Prince Edward Island and the oldest of them, Rossignol Winery, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. To find out more about Rossignol wines and products, I visited the winery and vineyards in Little Sands where I met owner and vintner, John Rossignol.

John Rossignol, owner, Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI
John Rossignol, owner, Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI

In the early 1990s, John was looking for a new career and one which he could pursue while living in a rural environment. He had developed an interest in wine making and in a special place called Prince Edward Island (PEI) where there were no established wineries. Hence, he saw a potential niche market. However, his dream was not without some challenges, chief amongst them being that there were no existing laws in PEI governing and regulating commercial wine making. Working with the provincial government for over two years, John pursued his dream and, in 1995, the Liquor Control Act and Regulations were enacted which allowed for commercial wine production in PEI.

Grapevines at Rossingol Winery
Grapevines at Rossingol Winery

In the meantime, while the process to develop and enact legislation was underway, John was optimistic so he planted grapevines to get a vineyard established so he’d have grapes available should the Province give permission for commercial wine making. The winery was built in 1994 and the first wine produced in 1995, upon enactment of the enabling legislation.

Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI
Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI

Currently, there are about ten acres of grapevines grown onsite at the winery. The remainder of the grapes needed for production are sourced from other Island vineyards.

John grows four varieties of grapes. Two of the most common are Marechal Foch, a French hybrid grape that is successfully proven to grow well in the Maritime climates and l’acadie blanc that was developed in Nova Scotia.

John Rossignol checks the status of the grapes on the grapevines at his winery in Little Sands, PEI
John Rossignol checks the status of the grapes on the grapevines in his vineyard at the winery in Little Sands, PEI

The grapes below were photographed in mid-August.  They will be ready for harvesting in October.

The winery also has an onsite apple orchard to produce apples for its iced apple cider, “Liberty Blossom”.

Apple Orchard at Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI
Apple Orchard at Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI

The wonderful sand sculptures at the winery are the artistic work of sand sculpter, Abe Waterman.

Sand Sculpture by Abe Waterman - at the Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI
Sand Sculpture by Abe Waterman – at the Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI

The detail in these works of art at the edge of the vineyard at the winery is incredible.

Since its beginnings, the winery has made a number of fruit wines (e.g., strawberry, wild blueberry, rhubarb). In the winery’s early years, John says this was a necessity as there weren’t enough grapes available to make the traditional wines as we think of them. Supportive of local products, John sources raw products such as Island strawberries, raspberries, and black currants from local farmers.

Fruit Wines Produced by Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI
Fruit Wines Produced by Rossignol Winery, Little Sands, PEI

The fruit wines are especially popular in summer and are generally consumed as an aperitif. John likes the Strawberry Wine paired with cheese and says the blueberry wine can also be a table wine. This medium-sweet red wine is especially good paired with spicy, curried food. In total, the winery now produces 16 varieties of products under the Rossignol label.

When asked what the winery’s most popular wines are, John says the Little Sands White and the High Bank Red top the list. The winery also produces some specialty liqueurs, including their iced apple cider, maple liqueur, and cassis which they bottle in special Italian bottles. The cassis is a relatively new product for the winery which began the process four years ago to get this product ready for market. The cassis has been on the market for two years now and is particularly popular with chefs.

The winery also makes a wild rose liqueur from the hips of locally grown roses. These products are suitable as after-dinner drinks.

John indicates he experiences no great challenge to running a winery in rural PEI. He says PEI has good growing conditions for quality fruit which, in turn, means good quality wine.

“PEI has good growing conditions for quality fruit which, in turn, means good quality wine.” – John Rossignol

I asked John what his greatest satisfaction is from producing wine. He says, when he started in the business 20 years ago, it was always intended to be a lifestyle business which it remains today. He tells me he enjoys getting to work from his nearby home without going through city rush hour traffic. He also derives satisfaction from looking for new markets that keep the business interesting and different. But, perhaps most of all, John says he enjoys a business that actually allows him to be involved in all stages of the production of the finished product. That means he farms the grapes, makes the wine, and bottles, markets, and sells it so he gets to see the entire process of production from start to finish.

After our chat about the Rossignol products, John toured me through the winery.

The wine is sterilized by filtration and passes through three large tanks.

Tanks Containing Wine in Progress
Tanks Containing Wine in Progress

Some products, such as the maple liqueur, are aged in traditional oak barrels.

Traditional Oak Barrels for Aging Wine
Traditional Oak Barrels for Aging Wine

The barrels in the photo below contain red wine which has been aging for two years.

Oak Barrels of Red Wine Aging for Two Years
Oak Barrels of Red Wine Aging for Two Years

During my visit, the winery staff was busy bottling wine.

Bottling Wine
Bottling Wine
Corking and Labeling the Bottles
Corking and Labeling the Bottles

 

Freshly Bottled Wine
Freshly Bottled Wine
Boxes of Wine Ready for Shipment
Boxes of Wine Ready for Shipment

Rossignol wines are presented in uniquely-labelled bottles. Labels feature the work of local painters, including John’s wife Dagny, as well as some of John’s own artwork.

Wine Bottle Label Designed by Dagny Rossignol
Wine Bottle Label Designed by Dagny Rossignol

 

Wine Bottle Label Designed by John Rossignol
Wine Bottle Label Designed by John Rossignol

One of the earliest artists involved with producing artwork for Rossignol bottles is Nancy Perkins who happened to drop by the winery during my visit.

Nancy Perkins, Designer of Wine Bottle Labels at Rossignol Winery
Nancy Perkins, One of the Designers of Wine Bottle Labels at Rossignol Winery

Rossignol wines and liqueurs are available at the winery located at 11147 Shore Road, in Little Sands, PEI, as well as at Island liquor stores. The winery has at times shipped their products to Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Alberta Liquor Commissions. Recently, the winery has sent four shipments of wines to China which has shown a special interest in PEI wines.

The winery regularly sends samples of their wines to wine competitions and, as you can see from the photo below, they have garnered many medals attesting to the fine quality of wine being produced at Rossignol Winery.

Rossignol was recently awarded the gold medal for the best fruit wine in Canada at the All Canadian Wine Championships in Ontario. That’s great recognition and validation for a winery that was the pioneer in wine making in PEI and is still going strong, producing on average about 40,000 bottles of wine annually.

For more information on Rossignol Winery, visit their website at http://www.rossignolwinery.com/Rossignol-Winery.html

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Just A Little Farm: Growing Produce the Natural Way

This being national organic week in Canada, I thought it was timely to pay a visit to a farmer who grows vegetables the natural way without chemicals. So, our visit today takes us to Just A Little Farm on the Green Road, near Bonshaw, PEI, where we meet farmer Jessica Vos.

Jessica Vos of Just A Little Farm in Bonshaw, PEI
Jessica Vos of Just A Little Farm, Green Road, PEI

When asked why she chose life as a farmer, Jessica explains that she grew up on a farm, worked in community gardens while in university, owned a landscaping business in Western Canada, is genuinely interested in food, and is happiest when outside working in the soil. Jessica has a degree in Human Ecology with a minor in nutrition and she is currently studying holistic nutrition.

View of part of the gardens at Just A Little Farm
View of part of the gardens at Just A Little Farm

It’s amazing how many varieties of vegetables and herbs Jessica grows. It would be a shorter list if you ask her what she doesn’t grow than what she does! In particular, Jessica grows a lot of lettuce and, by a lot, I mean a small field!

The Lettuce Field
The Lettuce Field at Just A Little Farm

All the lettuce plants are started in Jessica’s small greenhouse and then transplanted.

New Lettuce Plants
New Lettuce Plants

Throughout the growing season, she has an ongoing planting cycle of seedling plants one week and transplanting the next.

Lettuce Plants Ready for Transplanting Outside
Lettuce Plants Ready for Transplanting Outside

Jessica grows 5-6 varieties that have proven successful in PEI’s climate and she has fresh lettuce available until November.  How I wish we had access to this on PEI all winter!!!

Because she does not use any chemicals, I asked Jessica how she controls for weeds. She says she uses the old-fashioned method of weeding by hand and hoe. The other method she has found success with is planting the vegetables close to each other to suffocate the weeds.

There are challenges to any kind of farming, especially in the control of pests that also find the produce tasty. In particular, the cucumber beetle, cabbage moth, and slugs pose problems. Jessica has had success using netting to cover vegetables most often attacked by the pests.

Netting to control for pests
Netting to control for pests

This year, she is also using crushed up crab shell meal as a way to control for slugs.

Crushed Crab Shells
Crushed Crab Shells

Placed in proximity to the plants slugs like to attack (such as basil, for example), the rough shells are a deterrent for slugs which don’t find them very comfortable to crawl over.

Crushed Crab Shells to Control Slugs
Crushed Crab Shells to Control Slugs

Despite the challenges which Jessica jovially refers to as “part of the fun”, there are also sources of satisfaction she finds in her farming. As she says, when her produce grows well and her customers are happy, Jessica is happy knowing she has produced and supplied them with chemical-free, healthy and nutritious produce.

Look at these gorgeous, healthy basil plants!  I can attest they made some mighty fine basil pesto!

Love the dragon tongue beans on the right in the photo below!

A dragon tongue bean, anyone?

Jessica with her dragon tongue beans
Jessica with her dragon tongue beans

All of Jessica’s produce is hand-washed before leaving the farm.  Her new cooler storage unit is to the right in the photo below.

Jessica's Washing Station and Cooler Unit
Jessica’s Washing Station and Cooler Unit

Throughout the growing season, you can find Jessica’s produce in nearby local stores like Gasses General Store in New Haven and Harvey’s in Crapaud.

Every Saturday morning in July and August, Jessica can be found direct-marketing her produce at the small farmers’ market in the  seaside village of Victoria-by-the-Sea. She also supplies several local restaurants with fresh produce as well.

Jessica Vos at the Victoria-by-the-Sea Farmers' Market
Jessica Vos at the Victoria-by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market
At the Victoria-by-the-Sea Farmers' Market
At the Victoria-by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market

 

Like many organic farmers, Jessica also sells her produce through Community Shared Agriculture Boxes (CSA Boxes). This is where individuals (known as CSA members and sometimes referred to as shareholders) buy shares in her farm – i.e., at the beginning of the season, they sign a contract with Jessica and pay a certain sum of money upfront. In return, Jessica commits to do the best job she can to provide them with high-quality vegetables. Then, once harvest season begins, CSA members get a regular share of the vegetables from the farm as they are available. Currently, Jessica has about 15 CSA members who either receive a share of veggies weekly or bi-weekly. Jessica first tested the CSA method in the fall of 2013 and found a demand for it so this year, once a week, she fills her share boxes with whatever produce and herbs are currently available and heads to Victoria-by-the-Sea where her CSA members meet her to pick up their supply of fresh farm produce.

To contact Jessica and find out more about her chemical-free produce, visit Just A Little Farm’s website at http://www.justalittlefarm.com/

Earlier, I shared a recipe for Basil Pesto using fresh basil from Just A Little Farm. Today, I am featuring my recipe using pattypan squash from Jessica’s farm. This is a tasty side dish that combines pork sausage, mushrooms, basil pesto, and cheese with the pattypan squash.

Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole
Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole

Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole

Ingredients:

1 large sausage (e.g., Italian Sweet, Chorizo, Sun-dried Tomato)
2 tsp olive oil
½ cup chopped mushrooms

Apx. ¾ lb of small pattypan squash
2 tsp olive oil
2 – 3 tbsp basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
2 – 3 tbsp grated mozzarella cheese
¾ cup fine bread crumbs
1½ tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1½ – 2 tbsp melted butter

Method:

Heat oil in frying pan. Remove sausage from casing and discard casing. Crumble sausage into frying pan and scramble fry over medium low heat for about 5 minutes. Add chopped mushrooms. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

page 1 - Sausage

Slice pattypans about ⅛” thick . Toss in a bowl with apx. 2 tsp olive oil.

In greased 8½“ x 6½“ pan, lay a layer of pattypan slices, overlapping slightly to cover bottom of pan.

Loosely dob about 2 tbsp basil pesto over the squash.

Spread the sausage and mushroom mixture over the squash.

Sprinkle with Mozzarella cheese.  Add another layer of squash, again, overlapping the slices to cover casserole.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter. Stir with a fork to mix. Sprinkle over squash.

Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes, until squash is fork-tender when tested.

Yield: 4 servings

Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole
Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole
Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole
Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole

 

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today. There are lots of ways to connect with “the Bistro” through social media:

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A Visit to The Fifth Ingredient Bakery in Cape Traverse, PEI

Today, I’m taking you with me to visit a new bakery in Cape Traverse, PEI, just a stone’s throw from the Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton.

Artisan Bakers and Owners of The Fifth Ingredient Bakery, Rémi Boucher and Stéphanie St-Aubin
Artisan Bakers and Owners of The Fifth Ingredient Bakery, Rémi Boucher and Stéphanie St-Aubin, standing in front of their  wood-fired brick oven

Artisan bakers Rémi Boucher and Stéphanie St-Aubin have been regular vendors at the Summerside Farmers’ Market for the past year. They’ve now taken the leap of constructing an extension on to their home on the  Wharf Road. But, it’s not just an ordinary extension to house a bakery. Rather, it takes “bricks and mortar” to a whole new level as this bakery features a wood-fired brick oven. So, let’s meet Rémi and Stéphanie and find out about their bakery.

Rémi was born in Summerside when his father was stationed at the now closed military base. While the family moved away when Rémi was about two years old and he grew up in Southern Ontario, Rémi has visited the Island over the years. Recently, the call of his birthplace drew him, his wife, Stéphanie, and their three children ages 15, 12, and 7, to the Island to live. Rémi, who has a degree in aircraft mechanics and a Masters in English literature has worked in various jobs throughout his varied career but says his passion is baking, a passion he has held since childhood. As Rémi says, he’s good at several things but passionate about only a few, one of which is his love of artisan baking. This is a passion shared by Stéphanie who grew up in Quebec and who has a bachelor’s degree in French literature. She, too, has had a passion for baking since early childhood.

Six years ago, after losing close family members to cancer, the couple began questioning ingredient content in foods and started taking a closer look at the relationship between food and health. As they looked at lists of ingredients in commercially-produced breads, they decided it was time to start making their own bread. Their bread making began with a cookbook, La leçon de boulangerie, written by French chef and baker Richard Bertinet who runs a cookery school in Bath, England. The couple started making bread using Bertinet’s method. To see if there was interest in their bread, they started first by baking and giving the bread away. Then they started selling it via taking orders for home delivery as a way to test out baking on a high volume basis.

Three years ago, realizing they were on to something with their artisan bread, the family travelled across Canada from one coast to the other looking for a new place to call home and for the perfect place to start a bakery business. The lure of PEI was strong so one and half years later they embarked on a house-hunting trip to PEI which led them to the property in Cape Traverse. Rémi says the nearby beach was a selling point but so too was the convenient location between Charlottetown and Summerside and its close proximity to the weekly Farmers’ Market which would be their first place at which to sell their bread and other baked goods on PEI. In addition, Rémi says there is a year-round market of local clientele in proximity to Cape Traverse which is located in the middle of the Island along the South shore.

From the outse