War Cake – A Part of Wartime Culinary History

Remembrance Day Service at the cenotaph in front of Province House, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada [11 November 2012]
Every year on November 11th we pause to remember the sacrifices and achievements of those who valiantly and selflessly served our country in times of war and conflict, and in peacekeeping missions around the world.  We remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice – their lives for their country so future generations could have a better, more secure life.  We think about their achievements and the role they played in forming Canada’s nationhood.  We thank them for the peace, freedom, and human rights we enjoy in Canada today.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough never to have known or experienced war have opportunities to demonstrate our respect and gratitude for, and remembrance of, these acts of bravery and sacrifice.  For example, we wear a poppy on the left breast, close to the heart to signify remembrance of the lives lost.  

Poppy

Thousands of people across the country will attend Remembrance Day ceremonies in their local communities where they will respectfully observe a moment’s silence at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month to mark the time the Armistice was signed to end WWI.  Wreaths will be laid in commemoration.

Remembrance Day Wreath

One of the most well-known poems about war was written in May, 1915, by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer in WWI.  While stationed near Ypres, Belgium, where some of the most horrific and bloodiest fighting of WWI occurred, he was motivated to write about the death he saw around him and of the prolific red poppies growing amidst the devastation of war in the Flanders area of western Belgium.  His poem, “In Flanders Fields” has become synonymous with Remembrance Day in Canada and Lt. Col. McCrae is often credited with being the catalyst that led to the poppy being identified as the symbol of remembrance of the blood shed by soldiers who were casualties of battle.


“In Flanders Fields”

On this Remembrance Day, I am going to focus my food blog feature story on war cake, a wartime dessert that is still made and served in several Island households today.

War Cake

As a small child I well remember my grandmother making war cake and this was long after WWII had ended.  I loved her war cake!  It is such a simple raisin-spice cake that is characterized by the absence of eggs and milk — ingredients that would have been scarce during wartime.  This cake is sometimes referred to as “boiled raisin cake” because raisins form the main content and the majority of the ingredients are boiled, then cooled, before they are mixed with flour and baking soda and then baked in the oven.  Because of food shortages during war time, many foods were rationed. 

Ration Books, Cards, and Stickers

Born of necessity, homemakers during wartime became resourceful, frugal, adaptable, and creative in order to feed their families.  Cooking tended to be very basic.  Women were known to have saved their ration stickers so they could buy the raisins and sugar that the war cake recipe called for – thus war cake would have been a very prized commodity. 

War cake was made for consumption on the home front but many also made the cakes in tin cans and packed them in socks, mittens, and underwear they were shipping overseas for their loved ones serving in the war.  Imagine the excitement when a soldier would have received this package from home and discovered a mother’s or sister’s war cake inside!  Amazingly, with the slow mail and ship service during WWI and WWII, there is evidence these cakes were received as the soldiers would refer to them in their letters home, letters that would have looked much like the July 7, 1914, letter in the photograph below.

Letter from a soldier written from “Somewhere in France” on July 7, 1914.  In the letter, the soldier encloses two pansies as “souvenirs from France”, one flower each for the young lady he was writing to and her mother.  Over 95 years later, the pressed pansies have still retained their color and are intact.

 

Old War Cake Recipes

In my research for this story, I examined many recipes for war cake and found similarities amongst them all.  Some were very sketchy in terms of amount of ingredients to be put in the batter and many were almost totally devoid of any directions. While the amounts of the ingredients may vary slightly, all of the recipes I reviewed were essentially the same in ingredient content. All called for big, sticky raisins (you may know these as “Lexia” raisins), a variety of spices of the cook’s choice, either brown or white sugar or a combination of both, shortening or lard, boiling water, flour, and soda.  One thing I noted was the significant amount of sugar that the recipes called for – i.e., two cups per cake.  Sugar was one item that was commonly rationed during wartime and a cake taking two cups of sugar would certainly have been considered a luxurious dessert, I am sure.  Flavour may vary from cake to cake based on spices used in the batter.  The choice of spices varies but typically consisted of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, as a minimum, with ginger frequently appearing in recipes.  I added mace and cardamom to my cake  to give it a bit more flavour (recipe follows at end).

Ingredients for War Cake

 

I am told these cakes were often made with lard (as opposed to butter) for a couple of reasons.  First, lard has a longer shelf life than butter would have had and, for cakes being sent overseas to the soldiers, it would have been a long journey for the cakes to reach Europe so shelf life of the cakes was an important factor.  Second, butter was often scarce during wartime because there were no big herds of cattle on local farms so butter would have been used sparingly, even for those living on farms and churning their own.  Lard, on the other hand, would have been much more readily available, particularly on farms.  I found a couple of recipes that indicated either butter or shortening could be used in the recipe; however, butter was called for in a much lesser quantity than the shortening, if the latter was used instead.  For example, I found one recipe that called for 2 tablespoons of butter or 1 cup of shortening which demonstrates how judiciously butter would have been used, if at all.

While its ingredients are simple, war cake takes some time to make.  All of the ingredients, except the flour and soda, are boiled on the stove for 5 minutes.   Then it is important to let the boiled raisin mixture cool to room temperature as the mixture will thicken naturally on its own as it cools.   This will normally take 4-5 hours.  If the flour and soda are added into a mixture that is too hot, the result is likely to be a gummy cake.  When the raisin mixture is cooled, the flour and soda are stirred in and the mixture turned into the baking pan.  My grandmother made her war cake in a loaf pan; however, traditionally, war cake seems to have been made in some kind of a round pan – usually a tube pan or, in the case of overseas shipping during war time, in tin cans.  War cake is a very dense cake which makes it sometimes difficult to get the center of the cake baked without drying out the outside edges.  It is also a heavier type cake which makes it somewhat prone to falling in the center.  A tube (or Bundt pan, if you have one) removes the baking uncertainty and helps the cake to bake more evenly.  

War Cake Baked in a Bundt Pan

 

War cakes take, on average, about an hour to bake.  The old recipes I reviewed didn’t even mention baking the cake let alone at what temperature (in fact, one recipe simply said “to thicken” but didn’t elaborate on what thickening agent was to be used!).  These recipes predate our modern electronic ovens!  While some suggest baking the cake at 350F, I thought that might be a bit high so I baked my war cake at 335F for one hour.  Because there are no eggs or milk in the cake for moistness, it is very easy to overbake the cake and end up with a dry product.  Hence, it is important to time the baking carefully and to use a cake tester starting at about the 45-minute point.  If the cake starts to darken on the top or edges too quickly, simply place a piece of tin foil loosely over the top.  Adding a small pan of water to the lower shelf in the oven while baking the cake will also help to keep the cake moist. 

Including a Small Pan of Hot Water on the Bottom Shelf of the Oven Helps to Keep the Cake Moist During Baking

Because of the texture of the cake, it may seem soft on the top and not baked; however, if a cake tester comes out of the cake clean, it’s time to remove it from the oven before it dries out.

War cake is a “stick to the ribs” substantial, hearty kind of cake.  It goes particularly well with a nice cup of tea. 

War Cake and Tea

In keeping with the traditional way war cake was served, I have photographed the cake plain, just as it would have been eaten during wartime. 

Sliced War Cake

War cake was not traditionally iced.  However, it would be lovely served with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla or maple ice cream.  It could also be dressed with a brown sugar sauce or, to make a plain cake really decadent, why not serve all three – ice cream, brown sugar sauce, and whipped cream! 

War Cake on a Tea Table

 

War Cake

Regardless where you are in the world, if you have any wartime memories (either your own or those passed down to you from your ancestors) of war cake made for consumption on the home front or to send to the soldiers fighting the war, I would love to hear about them.   War cake is a part of wartime culinary history.

Here are some photographs of the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the cenotaph in downtown Charlottetown, PEI, this morning.

Remembrance Day in Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
Lest We Forget

 

Hon. Robert W.J. Ghiz, Premier of the Province of Prince Edward Island lays a wreath on behalf of the people of the Island at the Remembrance Day Service in Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
Small Child Watches as a Veteran lays a Wreath at the Remembrance Day Service in Charlottetown, PEI ]11 November 2012]

 

Remembrance Day 2012

 

Veterans Laying Wreaths at Remembrance Day Service in Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
At the Charlottetown Cenotaph – Remembrance Day 2012

 

Flag Flies at Half-Mast on Remembrance Day, Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]

 

 

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War Cake

By Barbara99 Published: November 11, 2012

  • Yield: 1 cake (12-14 Servings)
  • Prep: 5 hrs 0 min
  • Cook: 60 mins
  • Ready In: 6 hrs 0 min

A traditional old-fashioned war cake

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Assemble ingredients.
  2. Into a large saucepan, place the shortening, brown sugar, raisins, salt, spices, and boiling water. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil mixture for five minutes. Remove from heat and set saucepan on cooling rack. Let mixture cool to room temperature (4-5 hours), stirring occasionally.
  3. In bowl, whisk the flour and baking soda together. Set aside.
  4. When raisin mixture has cooled completely, add the flour and baking soda. Stir until dry ingredients have been completely mixed into the raisin mixture.
  5. Spoon mixture into greased pan. Add a small pan of hot water to lower shelf in oven for moisture while cake is baking. Bake cake on middle rack in 335F preheated oven. If cake starts to brown on the top too quickly, loosely place a piece of tin foil on top of cake. Bake apx. 1 hour but begin to test cake for doneness, using a cake tester, at the 45-minute point as cake can dry out very quickly.
  6. Remove cake from oven and place pan on cooling rack for 10 minutes then remove from pan. Allow cake to cool completely before cutting.

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Follow the PEI Potato Farmer! From Field to Table

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. 

Filler Machine Loads Seed Potatoes Into Potato Planter in Warren Grove, PEI [19 May 2012]
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!

Preparing to Plant Russet Burbank Potatoes in Warren Grove, PEI [19 May 2012]
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. 

Planting Potatoes in Warren Grove, PEI [19 May 2012]
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. 

 

Bags of PEI Potatoes in Retail Store

On June 25th, I found the field was lined with neat rows of bright green leafy plants.  The potatoes were growing well!

Potatoes Starting to Grow – 25 June 2012

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.

Potatoes Blossoms [8 August 2012]

Russet Burbanks in Blossom [8 August 2012]
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!

Harvesting the Russet Burbank Potatoes in Warren Grove, PEI [17 October 2012]
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!

Potato Harvesting in Warren Grove [17 October 2012]
Potato Harvesting in Full Swing in PEI [17 October 2012]
 

Potato Harvesting in PEI [17 October 2012]
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.

Windrowing and Digging in the Evening [17 October 2012]
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.

Potato Harvesting at Night [17 October 2012]
 I debated what I would make to showcase the Russet Burbank potatoes that came out of the Warren Grove field.  I settled on a potato puff.  The Russets are a lovely white flesh potato with a somewhat dry texture that makes them a good choice for this dish.  This is a suitable side dish that pairs particularly well with chicken, beef, or pork.

Duchess Potatoes Made with PEI Russet Burbank Potatoes

My thanks to Smith Farms of Newton, PEI, for allowing me to follow their potato planting and harvest cycle this year.

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Roasted Marinara Sauce on Halloween Pasta

Roasted Marinara Sauce with Sun-dried Tomato Pork Sausage on Halloween Pasta

I was looking for a meal to serve that would have a Halloween theme when I came across these wonderful orange and black Italian-made farfalle pasta.  I bought them not knowing how I would prepare and serve them.  They just looked so fun and season-appropriate that I couldn’t pass them by!  Served with locally-made sun-dried tomato and pork sausage tossed in a rich and flavourful homemade marinara sauce, and topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, this pasta dish was a real hit.  Add a freshly toasted garlic and cheese roll and a glass of red wine, and this meal is easily dressed up.

Italian-made Durum Wheat Semolina Farfalle Pasta

I am very lucky as we have a great little meat shop in Charlottetown, located at the Riverview Country Market on Riverside Drive.  Using locally-produced pork from Home Town Pork in Morell, PEI, they make several varieties of wonderful sausages onsite.  The variety I chose for this dish was sun-dried tomato and I was not disappointed – it was really good!  They tell me their sausages are all natural with no additives or preservatives.  I also dropped by our local “Liquid Gold” store and picked up two new products (will soon need extra cupboards to store all these oils and balsamic vinegars in!) — a bottle of oregano white balsamic vinegar and one of organic Tuscan herb infused olive oil were added to my growing collection!  Both were used in the marinara sauce and I also cooked the sausage in a small amount of the Tuscan olive oil.  Freshness matters and I find their products are super-fresh.

My recipe for the marinara sauce is my own creation.  Don’t be put off by the number of ingredients — it takes them all to make the flavour.  I like to roast the vegetables for the sauce because it gives them a distinct and rich flavour that I would classify as “full-bodied” in any dish.  After they are roasted, I break them up loosely with a potato masher.  There is no need to worry about getting them crushed completely at this point since that will occur later during the purée stage.  All that needs to happen at this point is that they are crushed enough to allow their juices and flavours to permeate the sauce while it cooks.  I like to use the immersion blender to purée the sauce in the stock pot.  I tend to like the sauce a bit on the chunky side so I don’t purée it completely smooth but that is a matter of personal taste.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, a food processor can, of course, be used – just make sure you let the mixture cool before placing it in the processor.  The sauce takes a bit of time to make but it is good (and the house smells divine in the process!).  This recipe makes about 3 1/2 cups but it is easily doubled.  The sauce also freezes really well which makes meal preparation quick and easy on a busy evening.  I cooked the sun-dried tomato pork sausage, then sliced it into thin slices (about 1/8th inch thick) before tossing it in the sauce and serving it over the pasta.

This was a fun dish to create and even more fun to eat, particularly with the orange and black Halloween pasta!

Halloween Pasta Served with Roasted Marinara Sauce

 

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Roasted Marinara Sauce

By Barbara99 Published: October 30, 2012

  • Yield: 3 1/2 cups

A rich, thick, flavourful tomato sauce that is a great accompaniment to pasta or pizza

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut vegetables into 1/2" - 1" pieces. Slice the parsnip slightly thinner. Place in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, tossing to coat vegetables. Place on tin foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes until vegetables are slightly fork tender and edges of vegetables start to char slightly. Peel garlic. Transfer vegetables and garlic to stock pot and, with a potato masher, loosely break up the vegetable chunks.
  2. Add remainder of ingredients. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, purée sauce to desired consistency. (Alternatively, let mixture cool and transfer to food processor to purée.)
  4. Toss with pasta (and meat, if using) or use as pizza sauce. Freezes well.

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A Visit to Matos Winery & Distillery in St. Catherines, Prince Edward Island

Matos Winery & Distillery, St. Catherines, Prince Edward Island

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.

Netting the Grapes To Protect Against the Birds

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.

Matos Vineyard, St. Catherines, PEI

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.

Grapes in the Matos Winery Vineyard

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.

Bagaço and Anisette Distilled at Matos Winery and Distillery

On a beautiful warm October 17th, a small crew was assembled in the vineyard and busy hand-picking the clusters of grapes.

Harvesting the Grapes at Matos Winery, St. Catherines, PEI

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.

Grape Harvest at Matos Winery, St. Catherines, PEI

 

Harvesting the Grapes

 

Arriving at the Winery with a Load of Grapes for Processing

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.

Destemming and Crushing the Grapes

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.

Membrane Bladder Press – Pressing out the Juice from 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.

Stainless Steel Fermentation Tanks

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.

Processing the Grapes

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.

Processing Grapes to Extract the Grape Juice

 

Bottles of Wine Ready for Shipping

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.

Matos’ Gamay-Noir Wine Wins Silver Medal at 2011 Canadian Wine Awards

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.

Matos Chardonnay with Dinner

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.

Matos Winery Gift Shop and Taste-Testing Bar

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).

For more information on Matos Wines, visit their website at http://matoswinery.com/ or call the winery at 1-902-675-WINE (9463).

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“In a Pickle” – Mustard Pickle-Making, My Island Bistro Kitchen Style

Sweet Mustard Pickles

One of the most common fall flavours in many Island households surrounds pickle, chow, and relish-making.  I love the smell of fresh mustard pickles in the house – not so much the mess, the tedious job of peeling and cutting up the cucumbers, and the “distressing” task of peeling strong pickling onions – an activity sure to bring a tear to the eye!  In many Island households, a meal of any kind is not complete unless there are mustard pickles on the table.  So, for most of us true cooks, we endure the process knowing the end result is worth the effort.

There are as many recipes for mustard pickles as there are cooks on the Island.  There are any number of sites on the Internet that will give detailed and scientific instructions on how to make pickles.  As for me, I follow the tradition of my mother and grandmother.

Here are my hints and tips for ensuring a good batch of sweet mustard pickles.  At the end of the post, you will find the recipe I have used for mustard pickles for many years.

Assemble the Necessary Ingredients

Ingredients for Mustard Pickles

Pickling Cucumbers

Just like anything, fresh is always best.  Some say only cucumbers that have been picked no longer than 24 hours should be used.  Cucumbers that have been picked for days start to get soft and “punky” and are not good for pickling because they have already started to deteriorate and lose their freshness.   So, look for firm pickling cucumbers, sometimes referred to as “field cucumbers”.  Ask for them at your local farm stand and inquire when they were picked.

Onions

Look for firm, fresh onions.  Strong, fresh onions are needed for flavouring in the pickles.  Sometimes, but not always, there are bags of “pickling onions” available on the market.  These are smaller onions and are so named because they are a stronger tasting onion – you’ll quickly know their strength when you start to peel them!

I have no secret for avoiding the “tears” when peeling the onions.  Some claim if you hold the onions underwater while peeling them, that works.  Others say to peel them outside.  No matter what method I have tried, it’s a teary job!

Onions Cut For Mustard Pickles

Cutting the Cucumbers and Onions

I always peel the cucumbers.  Some cooks like to leave a few of the cucumbers with the peeling on them but I find this makes the pickles tough and I don’t particularly care for the appearance of them in the pickles.  Once the cucumbers are peeled, slice them in half, lengthwise, then halve them again.  Remove and discard all the seeds from each cut section.

 

Cutting Up the Cucumbers

 

I am not too fussy when I cut up the cukes and onions – I don’t worry about getting the pieces all perfectly uniform sizes.  I tend to like the cukes and onions cut in about ½”-3/4” pieces – any smaller and the pickles are starting to resemble relish.  This, of course, is a personal preference.  There is no right or wrong size of pickles.

Cauliflower and Red Pepper

While certainly not necessary, cut-up cauliflower flowerets and sweet red pepper can be added to the pickles and I always do add them.  The red pepper adds color and dresses the pickles up, both in the bottle and on the table.  The cauliflower adds texture and variety to the pickles.

Pickling Salt

For both taste and preserving the pickles over the winter as well as for color of the pickles, it is very important that proper pickling salt be used in the water/salt brine that is used to soak the cut-up cucumbers and onions.  This is a coarse salt specifically made for pickling and it will be marked on the label.  Never use fine iodized table salt in pickles as this will produce a cloudy sauce that is a poor and unappetizing color (e.g., sort of a mossy-green-yellow color).  It will also make the pickles taste too salty because the vegetables absorb too much of the salt.  I can always tell when I see a bottle of discoloured pickles that someone has made them using regular table salt.  The pickling salt is a slower dissolving salt.  For this reason, make sure you stir it into the water for the soaking brine really well and that it is fully dissolved before pouring the brine over the cukes and onions.  You don’t want any salt granules sitting on the cucumber mixture for hours.

Pickling Salt – An Essential Ingredient in Mustard Pickle-Making

Soaking the Vegetables

Unless you are using a recipe that specifically gives directions to the contrary, plan on soaking the cukes, cauliflower, and onions in the salt and water brine overnight or at least for 8-10 hours during the day if you are making the pickles in the evening.    Cucumbers have a lot of water in them so, in order to have crisp pickles, the excess water needs to be removed from them.  Soaking them in a slow-dissolving salt/water brine draws the natural water out of the cucumbers, opens their cells, and allows the mustard pickling sauce to penetrate them.  This gives the pickles greater flavour, good color, and a longer shelf life.

Add the red pepper (if using) after the veggies have been rinsed and drained (the peppers do not need to soak in the salt water brine).

Cucumbers Soaking in Salt/Water Brine

Draining the Vegetables

After the soaking period has ended, drain the vegetables thoroughly in a colander and rinse with cold water to remove any excess salt.  Then, let them drain for about an hour or so to get as much water drained off of them as possible.  If too much water is left on them, it will dilute the mustard sauce and make the pickles too runny.

Cucumbers Draining in Colander

Pickling Spice

Of course, the right mixture of pickling spice is necessary for flavourful pickles – the wrong combination of spices or too much or too little will leave you with pickles you won’t be satisfied with.  Pickling spice, as a product, is not always available on the store shelf and sometimes I have had to create my own mixture using some or all of the following:  mustard seed, whole allspice and cloves, coriander seed, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, cinnamon stick pieces, peppercorns, and whole or coarse pieces of dried ginger.  Whole spices (as opposed to dried) are said to be better because they will not cause the pickles to darken in color.  The look you are going for is that nice, bright mustard yellow color.

Making the Pickling Spice Sachet

You don’t want whole spices and junks of cinnamon stick or bay leaves making their way into the pickle jars and on to the plate so it is necessary to contain them in a sachet.  To make a pickling spice sachet, you will need a small piece of cheesecloth (available at fabric stores).  This will have a very loose weave so I usually double or even fold it over 3-4 times and then place 1-1 1/2 tablespoons of the pickling spice mixture in the centre.  Gather up the cheesecloth around the spice and tie it with a thread.  This sachet then gets dropped into the boiling vinegar and sugar mixture and left in during the entire pickle-cooking process.  It then gets removed just before bottling the pickles.  This sachet allows the vinegar and pickles to be infused and flavoured with the spices without having the spices directly in the pickle mixture when they are bottled.

Pickling Vinegar

Be sure to use vinegar that is specially labelled for pickling – it will usually have 7% acidity, making it stronger than table vinegar and will help to preserve the pickles longer.

Boiling Vinegar and Sugar

It is important to boil the majority of the vinegar the recipe calls for along with the sugar.  This helps the sugar to dissolve before the vegetables are added.  The heat from the boiling mixture will also help the flavours from the spices in the sachet to infuse the vinegar.

Boiling the Vinegar and Sugar

Making the Mustard Sauce

Mix part of the sugar the recipe calls for with the flour, dry mustard powder and any other spices.  Then add the remaining vinegar from the recipe ingredient list to make the paste for the pickle sauce.  To this paste, add about ¾ cup of the boiling vinegar that will have already been heated.  This “tempers” the paste it so it doesn’t go lumpy when added to the boiling vinegar already in the pot.

Making the Mustard Sauce

Cook the sauce slowly to thicken it and stir often to prevent scorching.  Be patient – this process can take several minutes.  The mixture should coat a spoon and drip very slowly off the spoon when the sauce is thick enough to add the vegetables.

Sauce Should Coat a Spoon When it is Thick Enough to Add the Vegetables

It is important that the sauce gets thickened to the right consistency before adding the drained vegetables as they will still have a lot of moisture in them and the sauce will not thicken any further after they have been added.

Heating the Vegetables

Heat the vegetables in the sauce slowly, stirring periodically – you want the veggies to stay crisp and crunchy, not be cooked to mush.

Heating the Vegetables in the Mustard Sauce

Bottling the Pickles

Bottling, of course, is very important – make sure the bottles are sterilized and hot when you bottle the hot pickles.  I have a large old pot that I fill with hot water and put on the stove to sterilize the bottles.  Make sure there are no nicks in the tops of the glass Mason jars and that you use new lids each time and that the rims are not dented or rusted.

Bottling the Pickles

 

Sweet mustard pickles are a fine addition to many entrées from “meat and potato” meals to casseroles to baked beans and fishcakes.  Pickles do take some time and know-how to make but nothing beats homemade mustard pickles that no store-bought version can match.

Mustard Pickles – The Finished Product

Do you make mustard pickles or have recollections of your mother or grandmother making mustard pickles?

 Mustard Pickles – My Island Bistro Kitchen Style

Ingredients:

• 8 cups pickling cucumbers, chopped
• 4 cups onions, chopped
• 2 cups cauliflower flowerets (apx. 1 small cauliflower head)
• 4 cups white pickling vinegar
• 3 1/2 cups sugar
• 1/2 – 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, depending on how juicy or thick you like pickles
• 1 1/2 tbsp tumeric
• 1 1/2 tbsp celery seed
• 1 tbsp mixed pickling spice, tied in a cheesecloth sachet
• 1/2 cup dry mustard
• 1/4 tsp ginger powder
• Pinch cayenne
• 1 small red pepper, chopped
• Coarse pickling salt

Method:

1. Peel the cucumbers. Slice in half, lengthwise. Slice in half again. Remove and discard the seeds. Cut cucumbers to desired size, apx. 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces.
2. Peel the onions and cut into pieces similar in size to cucumbers.
3. Separate the cauliflower into individual flowerets.
4. Place cucumbers, onions, and cauliflower flowerets into a large bowl.
5. Make a brine of pickling salt and water using 1/2 cup coarse pickling salt to 4 cups of water. Pour over the vegetables, ensuring they are completely covered. (I use apx. 6 cups water and 3/4 cup pickling salt.) Let stand overnight or 8-10 hours.
6. Drain vegetables in a colander and rinse with cold water to remove any excess salt. Let vegetables drain for apx. 45-60 minutes. Add cup-up red pepper.
7. In a large stock pot, bring to a boil 3 cups of the vinegar and 3 cups of the sugar along with the pickling sachet made of pickling spice tied in cheesecloth. Boil 2-3 minutes.
8. Mix remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with the flour, tumeric, celery seed, dry mustard, ginger, and cayenne.
9. Add the remaining 1 cup of vinegar to the dry ingredients and whisk till smooth. Add apx. 3/4 cup of the hot vinegar-sugar mixture to this sauce. This will “temper” it and keep it from going lumpy when added to the hot liquid mixture in the pot. Stir and pour into the vinegar-sugar mixture in pot. Cook sauce over medium heat until thickened, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. When sauce coats a spoon and drips off slowly, it is thick enough to add the vegetables. (This could take 25-30 minutes.)
10. Add the drained vegetables to the thickened mustard sauce and cook over medium-low heat just until vegetables are heated through, apx. 12-15 minutes.

11. Bottle pickles while hot into hot sterilized bottles. Heat bottle lids and apply to bottle tops. Place rims on bottles, finger-tip tightening only. Listen for the “pop” sounds as the bottles seal over the next few hours. Store in cool area.

Yield: Apx. 7½  pint bottles

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope everyone enjoyed this Canadian holiday today.

PEI Colored Leaves

Thanksgiving in Canada is the second Monday in October and is a time set aside in the calendar year to celebrate and gives thanks for the season’s harvest bounty.  Historical records indicate that the first Thanksgiving in Canada was in 1872 to celebrate the recovery of The Prince of Wales from a serious illness.  Thanksgiving became an official Canadian holiday on January 31, 1957, when the Parliament of Canada proclaimed:  “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the second Monday in October”.

While thanksgiving is officially on Monday, many Islanders have their Thanksgiving Dinner the day before, on Sunday.  The traditional Island Thanksgiving Dinner in our home focuses on roast turkey, dressing, and gravy accompanied by mashed potatoes, carrots, turnip, peas and, of course, cranberry sauce.  Pumpkin pie is also the most favoured of seasonal desserts.  While some chefs may vary the menu and composition of a turkey dinner somewhat, there is nothing, in my view, any better than the plain traditional dinner with all the “fixings” as we call them.  Pure comfort food!

There are so many things I am grateful for – family, health, employment, freedom and peace, and good food from the rich red soil on the beautiful Island on which I am fortunate enough to live.

 

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Thanksgiving Day Menu

 

Soup 

Butternut Squash

with

Homemade Biscuits

 

Salad 

Fall Harvest Salad

with

Cranberry-Pear Balsamic Vinaigrette

 

Traditional Turkey Dinner

~ Roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed PEI potatoes, carrots, turnip, sweet peas, cranberry sauce ~

 

Dessert

  Pumpkin Pie

I hope you enjoy the following photographs of my traditional Prince Edward Island Thanksgiving Dinner.

Seasonal butternut squash soup, served with hot biscuits from the oven, is a wonderful start to any autumn meal!

Butternut Squash Soup

 

We have still been able to get some “greens” from the garden though this is the end of them for this season.  This simple salad was made with one-half pear, red onion rings, green grapes, dried cranberries, and pecans, then drizzled with a cranberry-pear balsamic vinaigrette.

Fall Harvest Salad with Cranberry-Pear Vinaigrette

Roast turkey dinner is one of my all-time favorite meals!

Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner

 

Traditional PEI Thanksgiving Dinner

A fine finale to a great meal – pumpkin pie!  I make my own pie crusts because I love making pastry.  The recipe I used for this pie filling was the one from E.D. Smith.  Just be sure to use pure pumpkin purée, not pumpkin pie filling, for this recipe.

Pumpkin Pie – A Traditional Favorite Thanksgiving Dinner Dessert

 

Our Island farmers are busy on the land these days, harvesting potatoes, our primary agricultural crop.  The photograph of potato digging was taken in Westmoreland, the one of the cows in Freetown, and the turkeys (found wandering along the roadside) in Shamrock, all on October 6th.  (Yes, the soil really is that red in PEI!)

Farming on PEI

 

Pumpkins Abound at Thanksgiving Time on PEI

 

Sunflowers

 

Fall Pumpkins, Gourds, and Corn

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

Join My Island Bistro Kitchen on Facebook
Follow the Bistro’s tweets on twitter @PEIBistro
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“Savour Victoria” – A Fitting Signature Event for PEI’s Fall Flavours Culinary Festival 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!).

The Victoria Wharf on a Rainy and Windy September 29, 2012

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.

“Savour Victoria” in Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI – 29 September 2012

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. 

Coach House Antiques, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI – Appetizers: Smoked Ham from Island Taylored Meats & COWS Creamery Cheese

 

By-The-Sea Kayaking, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI. Appetizers – Raspberry Point Oysters served with Matos Winery’s “Bagaço”, Portuguese Moonshine.

 

Red Sand Jewelry, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI. Appetizer – Cajun-seared Atlantic Scallops, Carmelized Onions and Cream Cheese on Baguette

 

Island Chocolates, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI. Appetizer – Roasted Sweet Peppers on Chocolate Crostini with Goat Cheese and a Dusting of Cocoa

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.

Victoria Village Inn, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

Landmark Cafe, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

Lobster Barn Pub and Eatery, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

Orient Hotel, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

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.

By-the-sea Kayaking:
Raspberry Point Oysters.
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.

Red Sand Jewelry:
Cajun-seared Atlantic Scallops, Carmelized Onions & Cream Cheese on Baguette
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.

Island Chocolates:
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!  

Orient Hotel Dining Room, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 1: Kim Dormaar’s Medallion Smoked Salmon

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 2: Bob Blumer’s Fire-roasted Corn Chowder

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 3: Bob Blumer’s Savory Lobster-Filled Cupcake topped with creamy, buttery Superior Organic Potatoes

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 4: Panna cotta made with white and dark chocolate from Island Chocolates, served with an Almond Lace Cookie

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!

Celebrity Chef Bob Blumer at “Savour Victoria”, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI (Love the inscription he wrote on the cookbook!)

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!

 

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(Mostly) PEI and Maritime Food – Good Food for a Good Life!