- Asparagus Bundles and a Visit to an Island Asparagus Farm May 20, 2013
Yesterday, I paid a visit to Tim Dixon in North Tryon, PEI. Amongst other crops grown on the family farm, Tim grows a small acreage of asparagus which he markets to Island restaurants and also sells at the farm gate.
Below is a photo of an asparagus spear just about ready to be harvested.
Tim has been growing asparagus since 2000 and presently has acreage that yields between 500-700 pounds of this spring vegetable annually. I asked Tim why he decided to grow asparagus and he tells me he was looking to diversify his crop planting and was also looking for a market niche.
There are several varieties of asparagus but the bulk of Tim’s crop is the Jersey Giant variety. The asparagus is planted in springtime and is grown from crowns planted 1 foot deep in the rich red soil not far from the Tryon River. It usually takes a couple of years for the asparagus from a crown to be fully ready to be harvested.
Despite its Mediterranean origins and liking heat, Tim says asparagus is a hardy plant that only requires a light discing in the spring, a coating of manure, and some weed control. Tim says winter kill is not an issue for asparagus and a crown will generally produce spears for about 15 years.
Asparagus is one of the first vegetables of spring on PEI. Harvesting usually begins around Victoria Day in mid-May and continues until the end of June/first of July. When the spears are 6”-8” tall, Tim hand-picks them by snapping the spears off the stock, not cutting them. He tells me that the rule of thumb for harvesting asparagus is to pick for one week in the first year after planting, then 2 weeks the next, 3 weeks in year 3, up to 6 weeks of harvesting for mature asparagus.
Tim says the local community is very supportive and neighbours are amongst his best customers. On the farm, he sells both 1-pound and 2-pound bags of fresh asparagus. I asked him if he knew how his neighbours were preparing the asparagus and he says, typically, many steam or sauté the spears.
A standard-sized portion serving is 5 spears. Asparagus plates well because of its long, slender, vivid green spears and pointed flower heads that can range in color from dark green to tints of deep purple. It adds presentation, texture, and flavour to a meal. Asparagus has an earthy, unique taste and pairs well with poultry, seafood, and pasta. There are endless ways to prepare asparagus. One of my favourite ways to prepare asparagus is to mist it with a good quality olive oil, sprinkle it with freshly ground pepper, sea salt, and finely grated parmesan cheese and then barbeque it in a veggie basket over the open flame.
For maximum freshness, this vegetable is best used within 2-3 days of picking; however, asparagus will last up to near a week if stored in an open-ended plastic bag in the refrigerator. Wrap the woody ends of the spears in a damp paper towel to prolong their freshness. Be sure to trim off the woody ends before cooking.
My feature recipe today for asparagus is very simple. I tossed the spears with a light drizzle of Liquid Gold’s Arbequina extra virgin olive oil. Make sure you use a high quality olive oil for this dish.
For each serving I used a super-thin slice of prosciutto onto which I carefully spread a thin layer of spiced garlic and herb soft goat cheese. Be very gentle and careful with this step as prosciutto is very delicate and breaks apart easily.
Bundle together five spears and place them on the prosciutto slice. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and sea salt.
Gently wrap the prosciutto around the asparagus spears.
Transfer each bundle to a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake at 375F for about 15 minutes.
I served the asparagus bundles with an almond-crusted stuffed chicken breast and duchess potatoes.
The Dixon Farm is located at 140 North Tryon Cross Road in North Tryon, PEI. To make arrangements to buy fresh Island asparagus, visit the farm or contact Tim Dixon by phone at 902-432-4771 or by email at email@example.com. Be sure to visit Tim’s website to learn more about the Dixon Farm.
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- PEI Burger Love 2013 April 25, 2013
For the third consecutive year, April has represented Burger Love on Prince Edward Island. Yes, that’s right, love of beef burgers! This year, 31 restaurants across the Island paid a $600 entry fee to cover advertising and promotion costs to participate in the month-long celebration of Island beef. PEI Burger Love has certainly created a hype and brought patrons to a number of Island restaurants to sample the array of gourmet beef burgers that chefs have created specially for the event. Make no mistake about it, these are not your average hamburgers. These are gourmet burgers that require a hefty appetite to do them justice.
Partnerships Forged to Support Initiative
PEI Burger Love, created by Fresh Media, is carried out in partnership with Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers, PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry, PEI Flavours, PEI Potato Board, and the PEI Restaurant Association. The formation of this collaborative group has brought heightened awareness to PEI’s beef industry.
PEI Burger Love Grows in Popularity
In its inaugural year in 2011, a total of 14 Island restaurants participated with 5500 burgers being served in the month of April. Last year, 22 restaurants signed on and, collectively, sold over 16,000 burgers in just one month. I suspect, by the time, the event ends on April 30th, the number of beef burgers consumed on PEI in the month of April, 2013, will have surpassed 2012 figures.
For the month of April, one would be hard-pressed to go anywhere on the Island without hearing some talk about PEI Burger Love. In workplaces, on the street, and just about anywhere, one could hear Islanders enthusiastically talking about and describing the burgers they had already tried and the ones still on their list. Social media has been used extensively in this awareness campaign and burgers have suddenly become the hottest and most photographed subjects around! Servers would bring burgers to the tables and, all of a sudden, cameras and cell phones appeared and started clicking! Photographs of burgers have been everywhere, including on twitter and on Facebook. This year, for the first time, PEI Burger Love engaged nine individuals, one of whom was me, to use blogging as a platform to further advertise the Burger Love campaign.
Overall, I believe Islanders have embraced this campaign and have had a lot of fun with it. It has not been uncommon throughout the month to see groups of as many as 20 heading to the local restaurants at any day at noon to try out the burgers. Even local businesses got in on the action. Staff of Century 21 Colonial Realty in Charlottetown, for example, select one restaurant a week, call ahead with their burger order, and then their entire team of real estate agents show up en masse with a video camera in tow. Joel Ives says they have been doing this since Burger Love began and find it’s a fun activity for their team while supporting local at the same time. Says Joel, “Our business is about being local – local homes, local businesses, and being in the community. We do our best to support local initiatives. When PEI Burger Love came out, we thought we could have some fun with it by going as a group to eat lunch together, have some laughs, and make some fun videos. Since all of our agents are busy doing their own thing, it is great that we can book off one lunch a week during the [Burger Love] campaign to get together.” You can check out the Century 21 fun videos here to see how one local business has embraced PEI Burger Love.
Diners are engaged in Burger Love fever too as they head to local dining establishments to order up the creative burgers. They can rate the burgers they eat by voting online for their favorite and win great prizes in the process as well as help crown the most popular burger in the 2013 Burger Love campaign.
Timing is Everything
April is traditionally a slower month for local restaurants because the tourist season hasn’t yet started but, this year, participating restaurants are hopping busy as burger lovers converge on their establishments to sample the many burger options. Linda Dickie, Food and Beverage Director at Mavor’s Restaurant in the Confederation Centre of the Arts, says they chose to participate in PEI Burger Love because they like to support local whenever possible and it brings awareness to the restaurant. According to Linda, Mavors sold 1700 burgers in the first couple of weeks of the campaign with the highest single day servings of 210 burgers!
Chef James Oja, who owns and operates The Big Orange Lunchbox restaurant in downtown Charlottetown, is a first-time participant in PEI Burger Love. He says the annual PEI Burger Love campaign “generates a busy month giving restaurants that participate a little warm-up for summer”. Chef Oja claims Island beef is the best beef in Atlantic Canada and that his “supplier, Bluefield Natural Products, provides superior beef that is richer in iron, antioxidants, flavour, and texture”.
Just How Many Burgers Can You Eat?
As I mentioned earlier, I was one of nine guest bloggers for PEI Burger Love this year and my assignment was to sample four of the burgers and blog about them. Now, I thought four burgers was a lot to consume in a little over a week. However, Connor Jay set himself the challenge to eat all 31 burgers….and he did… in just 14 days! Averaging two a day plus three on two different days, he proudly says there was one day that he ate two of these huge burgers within two hours! Asked why he decided to set out to eat all 31 burgers, Connor says he thought “it would be something fun to do and would be a great way to experience the Island“. He says he “loves the PEI Burger Love campaign and thought eating all 31 [burgers] would be a great opportunity to get other friends involved in it and that it would inspire them to go grab a burg“. I am also aware of a workplace where employees would order a couple of burgers from each of 3-4 restaurants for lunch each Friday in April, bring them back to their workplace, and cut them into quarters so that co-workers could have the opportunity to sample as many of the burgers as possible.
What’s in a Gourmet PEI Burger Love Burger?
Other than the requirement to use 100% Island beef in the burgers, chefs had unfettered licence to dress the burgers with whatever toppings they wanted and to prepare and present them as creatively as they wished. Suffice it to say that Island chefs rose to the challenge and created some mighty fine culinary creations with unique flavour combinations.
The meat in the burgers generally ranged in size from 6 oz to 9 oz and was prepared in different ways – some burgers were charred over an open flame while others were grilled or sautéed. Toppings ranged from candied bacon (yes, oh là là!) to nachos and salsa, coleslaw, bacon jam, Jalapeno peppers, various renditions of aioli, Portobello mushrooms, guacamole, and onions encased in wontons or presented as beer-battered onion rings, and just about anything else you could imagine going into these tall burgers. Then, there were the many variations of buns encasing all this goodness. One burger even had two grilled cheese sandwiches holding it in place instead of a traditional bun! And, of course, each restaurant creatively named their burger. Here are photographs of the four burgers I was assigned to sample as part of my blog assignment:
From the Gahan House in Charlottetown, PEI, comes the “Not’cha Burger” that features Tortilla chips, salsa, spicy cheese dip, and Jalapeno mayo to accessorize the beef burger.
The “Canadian Legend Burger” was created by the Lucy Maud Dining Room, a teaching restaurant in the Culinary Institute of Canada. It features a gouda-stuffed burger accessorized with smoked tomato aioli, confit cherry tomato, bacon jam, candied bacon, and the best onion rings I have ever tasted.
The Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn in Summerside, PEI, presented the “Big Kuhuna Burger” that featured smoked bacon, banana peppers, a grilled pineapple ring, and guacamole.
The Old Triangle in downtown Charlottetown created the “Mr. Miyagi Burger” that included Hoisin BBQ sauce, Asian slaw, and caramelized onion wontons.
As you can see, these are huge, well accessorized burgers! If I had one suggestion for organizers for future PEI Burger Love campaigns it would be to consider also offering smaller versions (perhaps even slider size) for those who don’t have large appetites but yet who want to try out the burgers.
The gourmet burgers, on average, are in the $12-$14 range (burger only).
PEI Burger Love Surpasses Expectations
The Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers Association reports being pleased with the campaign. The Association gets great exposure for its industry and, as representative Rinnie Bradley says, they “are a small industry compared to dairy or potatoes so it has been difficult to get our message out to the general public that we are important to the Island’s economy. From truckers, to feed mills, vets, farm machine shops, to processing facilities and meat shops, the beef industry contributes significantly to our economy directly and indirectly.” Bradley says “PEI Burger Love 2013 has surpassed our expectations to date. We are very pleased that so many restaurants have signed on and that several new participants decided to include Island beef on their menus. We hope Islanders and visitors alike will get out and enjoy the amazing burgers, and seek out Island beef for their meals at home.”
So, Islanders, only 6 days left to get out and try some of these gourmet burgers before PEI Burger Love 2013 ends. This is a great way to show support for the local beef industry as well as the many Island restaurants which have chosen to participate in this campaign to promote Island beef. There is a burger out there for everyone’s taste!
POSTCRIPT (May 8, 2013):
The statistics are in for the 2013 Burger Love Campaign. A total of 46,204 beef burgers were sold in 31 participating restaurants during the month-long event in April. This translates into 21,917 pounds of beef consumed during this time period. Sales for the burgers during the month of April are estimated at $580,008.62. Voters selected “The Smokin’ Fox” from Phinley’s Diner in Stratford, just across the bridge from Charlottetown, PEI, as their “Most Loved Burger 2013″.
Not bad, PEI, not bad at all!
- Tulip Tablescape and a Visit to Vanco Tulip Farm January 30, 2013
It’s time again for me to share another tablesetting with you. This time I was preparing for a casual dinner party for six and I was featuring Island-grown tulips in my centerpiece. I wanted to keep the tablesetting very simple and streamlined, unpretentious, and understated. But first, let’s go on a field trip to Vanco Farms to get the tulips and find out about their tulip-growing operation.
Last week was the coldest week yet on Prince Edward Island this year. On Tuesday mid-afternoon, when I headed east out of Charlottetown, across the Hillsborough Bridge, I glanced at the computer screen on my dashboard and it was reading an outside temperature of a balmy -14C (without windchill factor which some days was down around the -30C to -34C range). As I drove along, I thought this was an interesting day to be heading to a tulip garden, a huge one at that.
I have often stopped by Vanco Farms in Mount Albion, about a 15-minute drive outside of Charlottetown, to pick up some of their fabulous tulips at their onsite retail outlet. While sometimes I do purchase the tulips at a local supermarket, there is something about buying product right at source – the freshness is unbeatable. Last winter, I was rarely without their tulips throughout the house and, particularly, on my dining table. I had contacted Vanco Farms last spring about doing this story in connection with a tablescape but it was near the end of their season and they suggested I wait till January when their greenhouse operation would be in full swing.
As is the case with several stories, particularly ones where growing food or flowers are involved, the story evolves over several months so I can capture the various steps in the process. So, let’s pick up the story way back on May 10, 2012, when, in preparation for this feature, I photographed a huge field of Vanco tulips in full bloom in Pownal, PEI.
This was a field of tulips that were about to be cut down so that all the plants’ energy would be generated towards their bulbs that grow and multiply underground and not directed into the pretty blooms. How heartwrenching to see a tractor and cutter mowing down all these colourful petals; however, it is for long-term gain. The bulbs that are large enough will go for bulb sales or will make their way into the greenhouse to be grown for cut flowers over the winter. The smaller bulbs will be replanted in the fall and will be given the time to mature and grow into the more desirable large bulbs. Large bulbs will produce the larger, more premium blooms with stronger stems.
Aren’t these fabulous colors!
So, fast-forward to January 22, 2013, when I visited the Vanco greenhouses and production facility. I was met by Bas Arendse who toured me through their tulip-growing operation. Seriously, on a cold January day, there is nothing more uplifting than to stroll through warm, bright greenhouses with thousands of tulips at various growth stages through to bloom.
Vanco Farms began growing tulips in 2002 with a modest experimental crop of less than one acre. That venture has grown exponentially and, today, they grow some 3 million bulbs covering 40 acres – can you imagine and picture 40 acres covered in fabulous colorful tulip blooms! I asked Bas what made Vanco Farms decide to start growing tulips on PEI (they are the only commercial tulip grower on the Island). He tells me he grew up in Holland on a tulip farm that is still run by his father and sister and, when he moved to PEI, it was natural for him to grow tulips. Yes, I think it would be fair to say that tulip-growing runs through Bas’ veins and he has it down to a science. Thus, growing tulips is second nature for Bas. He says about 50% of their bulbs still come from Holland while the other 50% come from their own fields in PEI.
So, basically, here is the process. The bulbs are planted in the fields in the fall so they have a chance to root before our harsh, cold winter arrives. In the spring, once the tulips come into full bloom, the petals are all cut off the plants. The bulbs stay in the ground for about 6 more weeks when they are then harvested. The bulbs are dried and separated with the smaller ones destined for field growth the following fall and the large ones set aside for greenhouse growing over the winter.
The larger bulbs are planted in these trays in October-November and are kept in cold storage to recreate winter-like conditions for the bulbs – in other words, to trick the bulbs into acting as though it is winter.
These are then moved into the greenhouse where the warmth will trick the bulbs into acting as though it is spring and time to grow. This process, known as tulip-forcing, means the tulips will be ready for market in about 21-28 days. Keeping a steady schedule of when these bulbs are taken out of cold storage at staggering times ensures there is always an abundance of tulips ready for market throughout the winter and early spring months.
When the tulips are ready for cutting, they are picked and loaded into these carts.
The tulips are then processed by this machine that cuts the bulbs from the stems. These bulbs will go into storage and be planted again next fall.
An assembly line of workers gather the tulips into bunches and place them on the conveyer belt.
The conveyer belt takes the tulips through the machine that wraps elastic around them to hold them in place.
At the end of the conveyer belt, a worker takes each bundle of tulips and slips it into a plastic sleeve.
The tulips are then placed in these crates which sit in water for about 30 minutes to allow the thirsty stems to soak up a drink.
From there, the drained crates of tulips move into a cool storage room where the bundles of tulips are packed in boxes ready for shipping.
While Vanco Farms does produce some tulip bulbs for sale, that accounts for only about 10% of their business with the remaining 90% coming from the sale of cut tulips that are grown in their greenhouses. In terms of best sellers, Bas says the most popular colors of tulips are yellow, orange, white, and pink followed by red and purple. I like them all!
I asked Bas what the biggest challenge is to growing tulips in PEI. He says our typically cold spring weather can pose an issue, particularly if there is a heavy frost. This can cause the stems to go hollow and the bulbs to not grow.
Tulip-farming at Vanco Farms is a year-round operation despite our relatively short growing season on the Island. January to May is their busiest time because it is when the greenhouse is in full production and so it is cutting season. During this time, they will employ between 15-25 people and have three delivery trucks on the road in eastern Canada and the New England area of the United States. The rest of the year is devoted to field work and processing tulip bulbs.
Vanco tulips are available at many places on the Island including the retail outlet at the farm in Mount Albion, major supermarkets, most flower shops, the Saturday Farmers Market in Charlottetown, and Riverview Country Market in the east end of the City. They also export a large portion of their greenhouse-grown tulips from January to May. In fact, their delivery trucks transport shipments of fresh tulips to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec twice a week and to Boston once a week.
It’s always a highlight of my winter when I discover Vanco tulips are on the market! Their colourful blooms always inject a bit of bright color into those dark, dreary winter days.
I like tulips for dining table floral arrangements. Not only do they have beautiful simplistic blooms on long elegant stems with wonderful greenery but they are also not heavily scented which means they don’t compete with food scents. There are any number of ways to arrange tulips for the dining table. Here I have selected Vanco’s Snow Lady white tulips and I simply arranged 20 of them in a fluted vase for this casually-elegant tablesetting because I was looking for something very simplistic and not fussy. I chose white because it blends in with winter and also because it matches anything. In this particular setting, I used a white tablecloth and napkins and my china pattern which is largely white. I like how the white blooms just seem to pop from the greenery! The wine glasses I chose to use are very simplistic and are actually somewhat tulip-shaped themselves. I opted to go with a plain, flat napkin fold because I didn’t want anything to detract from the tulips – I wanted them to be the focal point of the table. I also chose just a couple of small crystal votives, again so there would be nothing to compete with the floral centerpiece.
Florist Bernadette Praught of Bernadette’s Flowers in Stratford, PEI, has high praise for Vanco tulips. She says being able to go directly to their greenhouses about 10 minutes from her flower shop and pick up freshly-cut tulips means she is getting the freshest flowers possible for her customers. Bernadette says tulips are thirsty flowers and do best if arranged directly in water as opposed to in oasis arrangements. Tulips can be used in combination with other flowers and made into more elaborate arrangements. Bernadette says tulips pair well with roses and with a variety of greenery and Baby’s Breath. So, tulips are a very versatile flower. You can go with something very simple as I have done here or you can really dress them up.
For more information on Vanco tulips, visit their website. Vanco Farms Ltd. is located at 9311 TransCanada Highway, Route 1 in Mount Albion, PEI. The next time you are buying a bouquet of tulips, be sure to look at the sleeve label….you just never know, they might be ones that were quality-grown right here on Prince Edward Island!
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- Happy New Year! Touring Some of PEI’s 2013 New Year’s Day Levées and Sampling Levée Fare January 1, 2013
Happy New Year, everyone! Today, I followed a New Year’s Day tradition in Prince Edward Island — attending several levées in Charlottetown. There were many of these events across the Island today. The list below is just a partial list of those in the Charlottetown-Cornwall-Stratford, PEI areas. One man told me that he had attended as many as 23 levées on one New Year’s Day! We certainly didn’t partake in that many but we did attend six.
Levées have their origins in France. The first recorded Levée held in Canada was in 1646. Originally, these were events reserved for men but, for decades now, women also attend. The purpose of levées is to give the opportunity for citizens to pay their respects and offer well wishes for the new year to representatives of the Monarch, provincial and municipal leaders, the military and, really, any other group or organization that chooses to host a Levée. In Charlottetown today, for example, the President of the University of Prince Edward Island was hosting a levée as was the Bishop, the Women’s Institute, and some business owners. Levées are very social events and are traditionally a way for those in public office to connect with the citizens they serve and for people to mix and mingle while renewing old acquaintances as they gather.
Typically a levée lasts 1-2 hours. Calling cards or business cards are appreciated as each levée-goer is presented to the dignitaries. However, if you don’t have your own cards, blank ones are available at each venue. It is not uncommon for groups of people to sport around in mini-vans with designated drivers or hire a bus or mini-bus to transport them between the levée venues. This is a particularly good idea for those intending to “imbibe”. It also helps with parking as levées on the Island are a popular way to spend New Year’s Day and, generally, draw crowds of several hundred.
Some people actually strategize and plan out the best way for them to attend as many levées as possible. Some have it down to a science!
A big part of levées are the refreshments. In PEI, we can certainly boast of our hospitality and refreshments at events like levées! The fare and beverage offerings vary from venue to venue but, suffice it to say that you wouldn’t have to visit too many levées before your tummy would be full. I’ll talk more about the refreshment aspect as I describe the six levées I attended today. As you can imagine, as a foodie, I was particularly interested in the fare served!
Our day started out at 10:00am by visiting Fanningbank, home of the Island’s Lieutenant-Governor, Frank Lewis.
Last year, it was drizzling rain and we had a long wait outside but, this year, we were there at the start of the levée and had no wait to speak of. Good thing as it was about -7C this morning. The architecture of this fine Georgian-style home is well worth a visit. The Christmas decorations were still in place and the wood fireplaces were crackling and sending good warmth throughout the home.
The Singing Strings, a youth string orchestra, entertained and provided wonderful background music as visitors wound their way around the grand foyer to greet the Lieutenant-Governor and his wife.
After bestowing good wishes for the forthcoming year to Her Majesty’s representative on the Island, attendees were offered the choice of either hot apple cider or a cranberry and vodka cocktail.
The dining room table displayed several plates of fruit cake (which was very moist and tasty, by the way) and, what I considered to be the star of the food table, wonderful coconut macaroons, nice, soft, and chewy – just the way macaroons are supposed to be!
Aren’t these coconut macaroons resplendent in their holiday colors!
From Fanningbank, we made our way up Kent Street to City Hall where Mayor Clifford Lee and the city councillors were receiving Levée-goers. Our City’s leaders looked fine, each sporting a red rose on his lapel.
Treats at City Hall included crackers and cheese along with cookies including gingerbread men. Beverages consisted of a choice of white wine, fruit punch, tea, or Starbuck’s coffee.
PEI harpist, Jill Harris, provided wonderful background music for the event.
Leaving City Hall, we travelled down to Haviland Street to the Haviland Club. I had never been in this historic building before and found its interior design quite intriguing. Refreshments consisted of cheese, crackers, and cold cuts along with a vegetable and dip platter and the bar was open at the Club today as well.
Our next stop took us to the HMCS Queen Charlotte on Water Street Parkway. I had heard that they served great seafood chowder at their Levée and, as those of you who are regular followers of my blog and twitter will know, this foodie has a thing for seafood chowder! This version was really good served with a choice of white or whole wheat roll. Their signature beverage was Moose Milk. Yes, that’s right, Moose Milk – not quite sure on the exact ingredients but it is a concoction of rum or whiskey (not sure which), milk or eggnog, ice cream, and spices and ….. I didn’t get to try it because I was driving but I heard it was really good!
Next on the agenda was the Prince Edward Island Regiment on Haviland Street. These two lads stood at attention as levée-goers made their way inside and I’m sure these two fellas must have been frozen.
The PEI Regiment band was entertaining inside. The Regiment served chowder as well and had the packages of crackers laid out in the shape of 2013. Having just had chowder up the street, I had to pass this one by but it sure looked good, too.
After a busy morning of five levées, we took a mini break and then attended Premier Robert Ghiz‘ levée held from 3:00pm – 5:00pm at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in the city center where the Premier and his wife, Kate, along with their two wee daughters greeted Islanders.
There was a huge line-up for this levée but we arrived about 20 minutes before it began and were easily able to get inside the lobby from the cold while we waited. Each attendee was photographed with the Premier and his wife (last year, the photographs arrived in the mail 2-3 weeks into January).
The reception was held inside Memorial Hall where there were trays of fruit, cheeses, and crudités and waiters circulated with trays of bacon-wrapped scallops.
My favorite was the same as last year, a whipped garlic potato piped into small dishes and then topped with bacon bits, sundried tomatoes and chives, and/or sour cream. Simply divine!
Fruit punch, wine, tea, and coffee were also available.
A pianist provided background music.
I hope you have enjoyed this mini-tour of just a few of the New Year’s Day levées held on our beautiful Island on this cool winter day.
Best wishes to you and yours for good health, happiness, and prosperity in 2013.
- One Hot Potato – Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka November 15, 2012
PEI has long been known for growing world-class potatoes – they are, after all, our primary cash crop, injecting more than one billion dollars annually into the Island economy, directly and through spin-offs[i]. We all know potatoes as a vegetable on dinner tables and are familiar with them boiled, mashed, baked, as French fries and potato chips, and as the key ingredient in scalloped potatoes. But, would you think of potatoes as a main ingredient in a beverage? Well, there are a couple of industrious and innovative women who have figured out a new use for PEI spuds. Julie Shore and Arla Johnson own and operate Prince Edward Distillery where potato vodka is their flagship product.
Drive east from the Island’s capital city of Charlottetown along the northeastern shore of the Island and you will find Hermanville, a small rural district not far from the town of Souris in the eastern end of PEI. Late this past summer, I travelled to Hermanville to visit Prince Edward Distillery to find out about this potato vodka. In addition to learning how potato vodka is made, I learned the Distillery is diversifying its operation. They are now producing gin, rye whiskey, rum, and a bourbon-style corn whiskey that sells under the label of IC Shore and that’s in addition to the potato vodka and wild blueberry vodka. Also new this year (2012) are their decadent rum cakes made locally with the Distillery’s Merchantman 1897 rum.
The story of Julie and Arla’s arrival on PEI is similar to several others who have come to the Island and made it their home. They came to PEI on holiday in 1997, fell in love with the Island, and decided to move here. Leaving their jobs behind – Julie as a dental hygiene sales representative and Arla as a psychologist – they built an Inn (Johnson Shore Inn) in Hermanville in 1999, down a long, secluded, and narrow, unpaved lane that leads to a spectacular unobstructed view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. However, they soon discovered the tourist, and by extension the innkeeper’s, season is short in rural PEI (usually late May to the end of September). That extra time on her hands got Julie thinking about the business her ancestors had been in, pre-prohibition, in North Carolina – distilling apple brandy and bourbon. Living in the land of potatoes, Julie had the idea to set up a distillery to produce potato vodka. Thus, in 2007, Prince Edward Distillery was born with the first batch of potato vodka running from the still’s spigot in 2008.
Julie is the master distiller. In 2011, the Distillery produced 10,000 bottles of the six different liquors the Distillery produces. Apart from her ancestral history of distilling (she’ll tell you distilling is in her blood!), I asked Julie if she had to have special training to be a distiller. She tells me she has taken a distilling course at Cornell University and yeast-making courses in Montreal and France. She and Arla travel the world over visiting distilleries and learning more about the art of fine distilling. Visit their onsite retail outlet and look at the large map on the wall that points out the impressive world travels Julie and Arla have journeyed.
Julie says the best variety of potatoes for potato vodka is Russet Burbank. These spuds are the highest starch potato grown on the Island and the starch content is important for the yeast to work in the fermentation process. The Distillery buys approximately 50,000 pounds of locally-grown potatoes, on an annual basis, to use as the base for potato vodka. Julie explains that it takes about 18 pounds of potatoes to produce one 750 ml bottle of the potato vodka so, as you can imagine, it takes a lot of spuds to yield any amount of vodka. While potato vodka is not unheard of, it is more rare since 99% of vodkas on the market are grain-based. That’s probably because, as Julie says, potato vodka is difficult to distill due to the fact that potatoes are approximately 80% water, have to be cooked, and it takes such a volume of the raw ingredient (potatoes) to produce the final product.
Making potato vodka is very labour intensive. The potatoes are ground and cooked to break down their starch into fermentable sugars so that fermentation will occur with the addition of yeast (wait till you hear what is done with the leftover mash from the potatoes and who the benefactors are!). The mixture is fermented for four days in 1000-gallon tanks to form alcohol.
Using a 680-litre German-made Holstein copper vertical still that Julie had imported from Germany and capably assembled herself (since it came in parts and didn’t come with an instruction book), this fermentation mixture is distilled three times to remove impurities, achieve a neutrality of the alcohol, and to get the perfect alcohol content for the vodka. Julie tells me it takes 10-14 days to produce a batch of vodka from start to finish, raw product (potatoes) to bottling.
The Distillery has enjoyed sweet success and very early in its operation. Their products rank among the best. Just a year after producing their first vodka for market, the potato vodka won gold in the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and, in the same year, the wild blueberry vodka won silver in the UK International Spirits Challenge in London, England. Yes, our locally-produced Island wines and spirits can match any on the market!
Prince Edward Distillery supports local producers, buying and using locally-produced potatoes, grains, and blueberries in their liquor production. The Distillery employs between 4-6 full time employees and 1 part-time employee on a seasonal basis. Currently, their products are sold in PEI and Nova Scotia markets. However, they are exploring markets farther afield.
This past summer, the Distillery decided to open a spirits outlet shop at Peakes Quay on the Charlottetown waterfront, a popular tourist attraction of small shops and not far from the seaport where dozens of cruise ships dock each year. In addition to the Peakes Quay location (open seasonally), the Distillery’s products are available at the onsite retail shop in Hermanville and in PEI and Nova Scotia liquor stores.
So, about that mash I mentioned earlier – the left-over potato product after the liquid has been extracted for the vodka. Well, behind the distillery may well be what many have dubbed as the most cheerful hogs on the Island! Yes, that’s right, hogs or, more specifically, Heritage Berkshire pigs which Julie raises on the mash. She says there are lots of nutrients left in the potato mash so why throw it out when she can raise pigs on it!
The Distillery is open daily, May – October, for tours and taste-testing; from October – May, it is open by appointment or by chance. A tour of the Distillery and taste-testing of two spirits costs $10. (or, if you simply want to taste any spirit, it is $3./taste). For more information on the Prince Edward Distillery, visit their website, call them at 902-687-2586, or, better still (pun intended!), take the scenic northeastern shoreline route to Hermanville and visit the Distillery at 9985, Route 16.
True to tradition, when I visit a local producer, I bring home their product and create a recipe with it. I decided to create a Vodka Tomato Sauce for pasta using Prince Edward Distillery’s potato vodka. I find the vodka actually goes well with tomatoes and draws out the tomato flavour and makes it pop without adding a competing flavour to the dish. The key, of course, is not to over-do it – less is often more and the idea is that the vodka enhance and contribute to the taste of the sauce, not overpower it. My recipe creation follows.
[i] Source of Statistics: Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 23 October 2012
- Follow the PEI Potato Farmer! From Field to Table November 6, 2012
One crop we grow really well on this Island is potatoes. Our PEI spuds are world-class quality and often win awards on the national stage. According to statistics obtained through the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 86,500 acres of potatoes were grown on the Island in 2012. An economic impact study was completed in 2012 showing that the potato industry contributes over one billion dollars annually to the PEI economy, either directly or through spin-off effects. Now, that’s no small potatoes!!!
Last spring, I was looking for a potato operation and a potato field that I could follow from planting through to harvesting specifically for this blog post entry. It’s one thing to go into the supermarket and purchase a bag of potatoes but it is quite another to know where the potatoes come from and to watch them grow and I thought my readers would be interested to see some photographs of potato growing and harvesting on PEI. One evening in mid-May, I was heading from Summerside to Charlottetown “through the 225” as the locals refer to one of the shortcut routes between the two cities, when I came across this rather large and odd-looking black machine pulling into a huge field.Of course, curiosity got the best of me and I did a u-turn fairly quickly and drove into the field where I discovered four tractors and machines were working at preparing the soil, fertilizing, and planting the field with potatoes. Lots of John Deere equipment moving in that field on a Saturday evening in May!
Well, I thought this was just very fortuitous timing! I had found my field to follow!!! It turns out the field in Warren Grove, near North River on the outskirts of Charlottetown, PEI, was being planted by Smith Farms of Newton, near Kinkora, in the central part of the Island.
Robert, the man driving the big John Deere tractor that was hauling the rather ominous looking black machine, was very willing to explain what the machine was. I learned it is called the “filler machine” – it brings the cut potato seed from the warehouse to the field where it is then loaded into the planter. I asked if it would be okay if I took some photographs of the machine as it filled the planter. Robert explained that I’d have to be quick if I wanted to get a picture of it as it speedily fills the planter that backs in under it. Quick isn’t the word for it – it’s more like ‘in a blink of an eye’ and then the planter pulls away from the filler machine and off it goes down the field to plant the spuds.According to the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, there are over 100 varieties of potatoes grown in PEI but the majority of the acreage is made up of the top 30 varieties. The most common variety, Russet Burbank (which is what this field in Warren Grove was planted with), accounts for about 50% of the potato acreage grown on PEI. The Russet is a multipurpose variety used at local processing plants to make frozen French fries as well as for food service and retail bags of table potatoes (because of its slender shape, the Russet makes a great choice for baked potatoes, in particular). The Potato Board tells me that other common varieties grown on the Island include Superior (an early round white table variety), Goldrush (a long russet skin table variety), Yukon Gold (a yellow flesh table variety), Norland (a red skin, white flesh table variety), and Atlantic (a round white variety use to make potato chips.)
The Potato Board says, over the past three years, PEI seed and table potatoes have been shipped to over 30 countries besides Canada and the United States. No matter where you are, chances are you may have sampled PEI potatoes! The next time you are in your local supermarket, be sure to check the bags of potatoes to see if they may have come from the rich and fertile red soil of PEI, Canada.
On June 25th, I found the field was lined with neat rows of bright green leafy plants. The potatoes were growing well!
Over the next several weeks I would periodically drive by the field to see if the delicate white potato blossoms would appear. Sure enough, on August 8th, I found they were out in blossom.In mid-October, it was time to harvest the potatoes. I followed the windrowers and potato harvester in the field and spoke with Andrew Smith who told me these potatoes are destined for Cavendish Farms, a processing plant in New Annan, PEI, which makes frozen French Fries. As you can see by the long slender length of these Russets, they are well-suited for French Fries! There were literally dozens and dozens of seagulls following the harvester, looking for “left-over” potatoes in the field!
How many workplaces have a gorgeous backdrop of fall foliage like this one does! And, I was lucky enough to spend part of an afternoon in this workplace, following the harvesting equipment. There is nothing like the smell of fresh PEI soil turning up spuds on a crisp, sunny October afternoon!The windrowers dig several rows of potatoes at once and move the potatoes over into one row. This field had two windrowers working in it. The harvester then comes along, also digging several rows at the same time, and picks up all the potatoes left by the windrowers. This process speeds up the harvesting. Andrew told me that when he moves the harvester down the length of the field after the two windrowers have first gone through, he is picking up potatoes from 11 drills, transferring them to the truck that drives alongside the harvester! The truck then transports the potatoes to the warehouse. PEI weather is often unpredictable in fall (sometimes quite rainy) so potato farmers have to work with the weather which often means they dig potatoes late into the evening to ensure the crop gets out of the ground.
I debated what recipe I would make to showcase the Russet Burbank potatoes that came out of the Warren Grove field. I settled on one of my favorite potato dishes – Duchess Potatoes. This method of preparing potatoes has its origins in French cuisine where it is referred to as Pommes de terre duchesse. The Russets are a lovely white flesh potato with a somewhat dry texture that makes them a good choice for whipping into Duchess Potatoes (recipe follows). This recipe, which is somewhat like a souffle, is a suitable side dish to any menu and goes particularly well with chicken, beef, or pork.
My thanks to Smith Farms of Newton, PEI, for allowing me to follow their potato production this past season. It was grand fun watching this field of potatoes grow and be harvested.
- A Visit to Matos Winery & Distillery in St. Catherines, Prince Edward Island October 22, 2012
The farmers on PEI are busy with their various harvests these days and taking full advantage of the great weather we have been having. I stopped by Matos Winery in St. Catherines, PEI, last Wednesday as they were picking the grapes. I had visited the winery in early September and toured the vineyards but delayed posting the story until harvest time because I wanted to visit the winery when the grapes were being picked and processed.
When I first met Jim and Heather Matos on an early September Saturday afternoon, Jim had just finished the painstaking work of netting all the grapevines in an effort to keep the birds at bay. Despite Jim’s best efforts and the addition of noise maker squawkers, the birds did pose a problem this fall as they figured out a way to still get at the grapes despite the netting. This meant a loss of some of the grape crop.
Matos is a new winery in its second year having opened for business on June 24, 2011. The Matos’ bought the St. Catherines property near Cornwall and prepared the soil in 2006. They then did their first vine planting in 2007 followed by three years of labour-intensive work that culminated in their first grape harvest in October, 2010.
I asked Heather what brought them to PEI to open their winery as the Island is not known as a wine-making region (we currently have only three wineries operating on the Island). She tells me they came to PEI on a holiday in 2004 and fell in love with the Island. When they decided to open a winery, they looked at locations as far away as Europe and the United States but were still drawn back to PEI. In fact, after hearing about the harsh, cold winters (often with a lot of snow) on the Island, Jim came to PEI for a visit in the dead of winter to see if the conditions would be conducive to grape-growing. Finding them suitable, the couple settled on a property in St. Catherines that had a certain slope, angle, and close proximity to a waterway – all conditions Jim was looking for in a location for a vineyard. Jim says grapes require good sandy soil and they do well in hot, dry summer conditions like we had in 2012.
The vineyard itself covers 11 acres and is home to 16,000 grapevines imported from France. The species of grapevines are vitis vinifera which means they are not as hardy as hybrid vines. Vinifera vines are more susceptible to disease and require more care but Jim maintains they produce a better quality of wine than hybrids.
Two varieties of grapes are grown in the vineyard – Chardonnay and Gamay.
From these grapes, Matos produces five kinds of wine – Chardonnay, Gamay-Noir, Rosé, Wildberry Gamay, and Strawberry Chardonnay. The Matos tell me they produced approximately 18,000 bottles of wine last year.
Jim is no stranger to winemaking. He comes from a long history of vintners. His family had a vineyard and made wine in the Acores, Portugal. After coming to Canada, the Matos ran a U-brew business importing wine-making supplies in Ontario for 20 years before deciding to start their own winery.
Walk with Jim through the precise, neat, and meticulously cared for rows of grapevines in the vineyard and it is easy to see and hear his passion for winemaking and dedication to high quality. A perfectionist, he is more concerned about producing quality products versus quantity. The Matos also have a keen eye for different products so much so that they are also distilling a couple of unique spirits, too. Using the skins of the grapes left over from winemaking, Matos is producing Bagaço which is a Portuguese version of Italian Grappa, sometimes referred to as moonshine. They are also producing Anisette, a licorice-flavoured liqueur that is a popular drink in France.
On a beautiful warm October 17th, a small crew was assembled in the vineyard and busy hand-picking the clusters of grapes.
Large blue bins of the grapes were seen throughout the vineyard before being gathered up by the tractor and trailer moving carefully amongst the rows of carefully-tended vines.
After transport to the winery, the grapes were put through the grape crusher destemmer, a machine that uses an auger to remove and discard the stems from the grapes then drops the fruit into the crusher where the grapes are crushed.
Using a peristaltic pump, the crushed fruit is then pumped through a hose into a membrane bladder press which extracts the juice but doesn’t harm the seeds or break the skins of the grapes.
The juice is then transported via hose into the large unoaked stainless steel fermentation tanks and the fermentation process starts with Jim controlling the temperature in the tanks and monitoring the sugar content and status and progress of the fermentation.
Jim tells me the white wine will ferment for 14 days and the red for 7 days but the entire processing and filtering of his white wines take 4-5 months before they are ready for bottling and the red wines take about 6-8 months.
Wine-making is a lengthy process that takes a lot of time, patience, labour, and attention to detail and that’s only after all the painstaking pampering and pruning that has gone into the growing and care of the grapevines and grapes.
Matos wines are fine quality products. After only one year in production, Matos’ Gamay-Noir won the prestigious silver medal at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards, chosen second from among 1117 entries. Most recently, in October 2012, the Gamay-Noir won bronze at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards, ranking third out of 1260 entries. Matos Winery was competing with wineries from all across Canada, including the well-known Canadian wine-producing regions of Niagara, ON, and several in BC. That’s not only impressive but a validation of the high quality product the winery is producing in its young days.
The Matos wines were also recently featured at the “Savour Victoria” event which was part of the PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival (see my blog entry of October 4, 2012, on this event).
Matos’ Chardonnay is a very versatile wine that pairs well with chicken, seafood like PEI lobster, pastas with cream sauces, or vegetarian dishes. The Gamay-Noir goes well with steak and tomato-based dishes, including pizza. The Rosé is a lovely compliment to either turkey or chicken and the Wildberry pairs particularly well with dark chocolate.
The Matos wines are competitively priced between $14.95 – $16.95 and are sold onsite in the winery’s gift shop, in Island liquor stores, and are served in many PEI restaurants.
Tours and wine-tasting are available at the winery which is located at 3156 West River Road, St. Catherines PE, C0A 1H0. Cost is $5.00 per person. In the summer months, the winery gift shop is open seven days a week. During the fall months, the gift shop is open on Saturdays from 10am-5pm and Sundays 1pm-5pm (Oct – Dec).
- “Savour Victoria” – A Fitting Signature Event for PEI’s Fall Flavours Culinary Festival 2012 October 4, 2012
While the heavens opened and poured rain on Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, on Saturday, September 29th, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm that was evident at “Savour Victoria” or the great local food that diners enjoyed throughout the evening. As Richard LaGrange of the Orient Hotel says, “Victoria hospitality really can make up for a little rain” (well, okay, it really was a LOT of rain!).
This was the last signature event of “Fall Flavours”, PEI’s annual Culinary Festival. The small seaside village of Victoria on the Island’s south shore proved to be an ideal venue for the event. Pam Beck, Tourism Development Manager for Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, says Victoria was chosen because of its special qualities and quaintness. In the summer, Victoria swells with tourists who leisurely stroll around the tiny village of less than 200 year-round inhabitants, visiting local shops and restaurants and watching the lobster fishing boats unloading their day’s catch. Pam says organizers wanted to make the event “a celebration of Victoria, our Island, and all its beauty and bounty”. I’d say mission accomplished on that front!
The village is small and neatly laid out in a square shape. Everything is within easy walking distance and that is a good thing given the inclement weather and the fact that there were five venues for diners to visit during the evening – four for appetizers and drinks and one for dinner. Victoria does not have any really large restaurants and the ones it does have only operate seasonally. Some of the Fall Flavours events elsewhere on the Island have used big tents on location but organizers of “Savour Victoria” devised a plan that would use and promote establishments that already exist so that, when people come back to Victoria in the future, the venues will still be there for them to return to.
“Savour Victoria” was produced by Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, a new (2011) organization dedicated to promoting tourism development in the central part of the Island. Because “Savour Victoria” was classed as a signature event, it meant a celebrity chef was part of the activities. Bob Blumer, cookbook author (several times over) and creator and host of his own TV shows on the Food Network “Glutton for Punishment”, “Surreal Gourmet”, and “World’s Weirdest Restaurants”, spent the weekend in Victoria overseeing and participating in the Savour Victoria event. Bob was actively engaged in the preparations for the dinner which featured as much locally produced food as possible and was presented in unique and creative ways that Bob is known for.
Here is how the evening worked. Everyone first checked in at the Victoria Playhouse where they picked up a gift bag that contained an engraved “Savour Victoria” souvenir wine glass and a map of the Village. From there, people headed out, donned in raincoats and carrying umbrellas, to the different venues that were serving appetizers and pre-dinner drinks.
Four venues opened for the “Wandering Appetizers with Wine & Beer Tastings” portion of the evening which began at 6:00pm. These included Coach House Antiques, By-The-Sea Kayaking, Red Sand Jewelry, and Island Chocolates.
Four local eating establishments then opened to serve a sit-down dinner at 7:30pm. These were the Victoria Village Inn, Landmark Café, Lobster Barn Pub & Eatery, and the Orient Hotel. When diners purchased their ticket, they selected which of the four venues they wished to go to for the sit-down dinner.
Each of the restaurants served exactly the same meal. Local chefs from the restaurants prepared the meal and were assisted by chef support from the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI. The featured wines of the evening were all local and came from nearby Matos Winery in St. Catherine’s, PEI. Just take a look at this great menu that was collaboratively chosen by the local chefs and Bob Blumer:
Wandering Appetizers with Wine & Beer Tastings
Coach House Antiques:
Smoked Ham from Island Taylored Meats & COWS Creamery Cheese.
PEI Brewing Company Beer Tastings.
Raspberry Point Oysters.
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.
Red Sand Jewelry:
Cajun-seared Atlantic Scallops, Carmelized Onions & Cream Cheese on Baguette
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.
Roasted sweet peppers on chocolate crostini with goat cheese and a dusting of cocoa .
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.
Seated Dining Menu
Course 1: Kim Dormaar’s Medallion Smoked Salmon
Course 2 – Bob Blumer’s Fire-roasted Corn Chowder with sweet corn and garlic from nearby fields, local cream, and Island Taylored Meats double-smoked bacon. Fresh-baked bread.
Matos Vineyards wine pairing.
Course 3 – Bob Blumer’s Lobster-Filled Cupcake topped with creamy, buttery superior organic potatoes, seasoned with fresh local herbs and served with a medley of greens from Just a Little Farm on the Appin Rd, and dressed with balsamic and black truffle oil vinaigrette.
Matos Vineyard wine pairing.
Course 4 – Panna cotta made with white and dark chocolate from Island Chocolates, served with an almond lace cookie.
Matos Vineyard wine pairing.
After sampling the appetizers, it was off to the venue of choice for the sit-down dinner. I dined at the Orient Hotel. The Hotel does not operate a restaurant but does open a tea room in the summer months. In fact, the Orient Hotel had closed its tearoom doors for the season and re-opened especially for this event. Just look how elegantly this cozy dining room was dressed!
Throughout the evening, Bob circulated amongst the venues, chatting with patrons, and signing copies of his cookbook. He says he hasn’t been on the Island since a memorable bike trip in his teens so he jumped at the opportunity to come back. Says Bob, “During my too-short stay, I fell in love with Victoria-by-the-Sea, and with all of the incredible/eccentric/gregarious people who live there. Dinner was a real community effort (with some imported talent from Charlottetown) – and the community really rocked it.” Asked what the most memorable thing is that he will take away from his Island experience, Bob tells me, “the camaraderie, the lobster and, of course, the incredible beauty of the land.” Great endorsement, Bob!
Pam Beck says organizers aimed for a reasonably-priced event ($85/pp) for sampling four appetizers, drinks, a four-course sit-down dinner, and wine. The event was sold out – all 150 tickets — and Pam says it was about 50/50 split between Islanders and tourists.
This was a very enjoyable evening and it really makes me appreciate the wonderful foods we produce right here on PEI. I asked Richard LaGrange what, from the perspective of a host restaurant, he thought made the event so successful – it was, after all, a huge undertaking to carry out this kind of event using eight small venues, none of which have large kitchens. Richard says, in his view, the event’s success was due to the team effort that went into it, the entire community coming together, and the attitude and professionalism shown by members of the Culinary Institute of Canada. Richard says the most memorable aspect of the “Savour Victoria” experience for him was watching the chefs and the other food staff working together so seamlessly and guiding the rest toward a common goal.
I think this event may be a catalyst for Victoria to consider hosting similar events in the future. They proved they can do it! Richard LaGrange sums it up best when he says: I would hope that the Islanders who attended and who hadn’t been to our village for a while will have been reminded of all the reasons people flock to Victoria, and that those who were visiting us for the first time had their appetites whetted and will be back for seconds.” Hmmmm, “seconds” are good – yes, I’ll have another one of those yummy, savory lobster cupcakes, please!
- Farm Day in the City 2012 October 1, 2012
Sunday, September 30, 2012, dawned dull and rainy and the rain only got worse as the day wore on. However, that didn’t stop hardy Islanders from making their way to downtown Charlottetown to visit the annual “Farm Day in the City”.
Local farmers brought their bountiful produce into the City and joined crafters, artists, and musicians from across the province in PEI’s largest outdoor market. For the Foodie, this was a mecca because it provided the opportunity to buy produce and flowers fresh picked from Island farms.
Here are some photographs from this year’s Farm Day in the City, part of the Fall Flavours Culinary Festival.
September 30th was also the “Run for the Cure” event in the City so this vendor dressed his scarecrow in the signature pink.
Love the color of these plum tomatoes and the way the rain glistened on them. They are now in the form of homemade tomato soup!
There were even some llamas, goats, and miniature ponies on hand to delight crowds, too!
Local musicians entertained shoppers throughout the day.
Love these creative and colorful scarecrows that, no doubt, kept the notorious crows of Charlottetown away from the market!
Local artisans also displayed and sold their crafts at the market, as well.
- Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival 2012 September 26, 2012
I love how PEI is embracing its foods from its land and the sea that surrounds it! The Island has long been known for its great seafood and what better way to celebrate it than by hosting a large Shellfish Festival! The best way I can describe this annual PEI event is that it is one gigantic Island kitchen party with lots of local musical entertainment and great seafood – always a winning combo!
Now in its 16th year, the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival has grown substantially from its beginnings drawing, according to organizers, a crowd of over 8000 this year at its new venue at the Charlottetown Events Grounds near the City’s waterfront. From September 13-16, attendees were treated to everything seafood in this signature event of the Island’s “Fall Flavours” Culinary Festival. Visitors to the Festival came from afar. In fact, organizers say over 50% of attendees were tourists to the Island coming mostly from the Maritimes, Ontario and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. This attests to the popularity this event enjoys.
Jennifer Caseley, Marketing and Sponsorship Manager for the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival, tells me the event began in 1996 by Liam Dolan, a Charlottetown restaurateur, as a means to extend the PEI tourism season. Up until that point, tourism all but stopped after Labour Day and tourist operators basically closed shop.
Asked what the main objectives of the PEI Shellfish Festival are, Jennifer says there are five: 1) To promote PEI’s high quality shellfish; 2) to generate off-Island visitors; 3) to increase the profile of PEI shellfish worldwide; 4) to create new export opportunities; and 5) to increase consumer trial and consumption.
This year’s schedule of events was jam-packed. The weekend started with a “Feast and Frolic” gala dinner hosted by Chefs Michael Smith and Mark McEwan. Over the next three days, there were lots of cooking demonstrations featuring PEI shellfish and agricultural products and hosted by headliner celebrity chefs. These included two of the Island’s finest: Chef Michael Smith, author of six cookbooks and TV chef personality with his own show “Chef Michael’s Kitchen” on the Food Network, and Gordon Bailey, owner of the trendy and upscale Lot 30 restaurant in downtown Charlottetown and judge on the TV show “Cake Walk Wedding Cake Edition”.
Inside the super large white tent, there were lots of food vendors set up selling local fare and, of course, primarily featuring seafood. Oyster shuckers were kept busy keeping up with demand and, yes, they even had an oyster shucking championship as one of the many events of the Festival! One of the busiest booths had to be where Chef Michael Smith was signing his new cookbook, a real hot item over the 4-day festival!
Outside the tent, the Tie One On Competition provided entertainment for onlookers as teams of two competed in typing buoys and hanging mussel socks over the side of an actual mussel farming boat brought onsite to simulate mussel farming.
Offsite, at the Red Shores Racetrack & Casino, a private function featured a meet-and-greet event on Saturday afternoon with Chef Michael Smith. I was fortunate enough to be invited to this event where approximately 30 lucky people got to personally meet and speak with Chef Michael who, to the delight of those attending, took his time and unhurriedly talked with people, answered questions, posed for photographs, and signed yet more copies of his new cookbook.
It was at this event that I met two ladies vacationing from British Columbia. They did not come to the Island specifically for the Festival but they were certainly enjoying both the Shellfish Festival and several of the other Fall Flavours events!
One of the perennial favourite highlights of the Shellfish Festival was the chef competition for the best seafood chowder championships. In fact, there were two championships: 1) PEI Potato Seafood Chowder Championship, and 2) International Seafood Chowder Championship. Below are some photos from Heat 2 of the PEI Potato Seafood Chowder competition.
How fabulous and appetizing do these chowders look!
An event of this magnitude takes a phenomenal amount of planning and requires a large team of volunteers to keep the event moving smoothly. Jennifer tells me that, over the weekend, 80 volunteers were on board.
From humble beginnings in 1996, this event has definitely evolved into a signature culinary event that highlights both local and visiting chefs and compliments the food with great local entertainment. This means visitors not only get to sample our great Island seafood but they also get to experience our PEI culture at the same time. What a great blend! The Shellfish Festival is the anchor event of Fall Flavours and certainly the biggest draw for tourism in the fall. As Jennifer says, “The event just keeps getting better. This year was the biggest and best yet with a 40% increase in visitation over 2011. As PEI’s largest culinary event, it creates value and awareness for our superior quality shellfish as we continue to put PEI shellfish on the worldwide map”.
If you are a foodie considering a visit to PEI, there is no better time than September to visit our Island. There are many culinary events that comprise the Fall Flavours Culinary Festival and planning a visit to coincide with the Prince Edward Island Shellfish Festival in the middle of September would make PEI a great holiday destination. For more information on this event, visit the Festival’s website at http://peishellfish.com/ where you will see they are already counting down the days until the 2013 Shellfish Festival begins!