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]

 

 

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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PEI Juice Works Ltd. Produces High Quality Wild Blueberry Juice

PEI Wild Blueberries

It’s late August and wild blueberry season on PEI.  These wonderful little indigo-colored berries grow wild in certain parts of the Island – in particular, in the Tignish area in the Western part of the Province and in the Morell-St. Peter’s area in the Eastern end of PEI.  While it may be wild blueberry season for most people, for the folks at PEI Juice Works Ltd. which produce wild blueberry juice, it’s wild blueberry season year-round.  Today, I’m in Bloomfield, near Alberton, PEI, in the Western part of the Island, visiting the PEI Juice Works Ltd. production plant.  My tour guide for the day is Ryan Bradley, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing.

 

Juice Works Logo

 

Fresh PEI Wild Blueberries Arrive on PEI Juice Works Ltd.’s Loading Dock…ready to be processed into Wild Blueberry Juice

As I arrive mid-morning, a local farmer from Tignish, about a half hour away, has just arrived with a truckload of fresh wild blueberries for processing and is backed up to the loading dock unloading large containers of berries.  One taste of these sweet little wild blueberries and there is no comparison to the larger cultivated ones that, while they have great presentation, I find so often lack flavour.  No doubt about it, wild blueberries are tastier and sweeter than the cultivated high bush variety and, as an added bonus, they also have a much higher antioxidant profile.

Crate of Wild Blueberries, Fresh from the Field

 

PEI Juice Works Ltd. began producing juice from wild blueberries just two years ago when four shareholders from the agricultural sector decided to do something with the wild blueberries growing in their area to add value to them other than shipping them as raw food to be used or processed into a product elsewhere.  The production facility is located in the Bloomfield Industrial Park just outside Alberton and presently employs seven staff year-round.  The company has worked closely with Bio Food Tech in Charlottetown to develop the proprietary process PEI Juice Works Ltd. uses and Ryan tells me that Bio Food Tech set up a small scale plant in their lab to test and help PEI Juice Works Ltd. get the best wild blueberry juice product possible.   The food production industry is heavily regulated and food safety standards are strictly adhered to by PEI Juice Works Ltd.  In fact, on my visit, I could only view their production facility from a window as only authorized personnel are allowed in the room where the juice is being produced.

PEI Juice Works Ltd. Production Facility and Test Kitchen

 

 

Two Flavours of PEI Juice Works Ltd. Wild Blueberry Juice

Currently, the company produces two flavour blends of their signature wild blueberry juice – Wild Blueberry and Tart Cherry and Wild Blueberry and Rhubarb.  Ryan tells me that their most popular flavour is Wild Blueberry and Tart Cherry (and it’s my favourite, too!).  He tells me there is over one pound of wild blueberries in every 375ml bottle they produce and the product contains no preservatives – so it is the goodness of an all-natural product!  When you think of how small the low bush wild blueberries are, that’s a lot of blueberries!  Their product comes in one-size, a 375ml bottle, that has a two-year shelf life, unopened.  After opening, the product will maintain its quality for about three weeks, refrigerated.  Ryan tells me the juice can be drunk cold or at room temperature but he says the flavour will be more intense if it is consumed cold.  PEI Juice Works Ltd. recommends a daily serving size of 2 oz/60ml of the wild blueberry juice which is about ¼ cup.  Following this recommended serving, one 375 ml bottle will last you just about a week.

Wild Blueberry Juice
Recommended 2oz/60ml Serving Size of Wild Blueberry Juice Per Day
PEI Juice Works Ltd. Warehouse

To the extent possible, PEI Juice Works Ltd. uses local product.  In this way, it provides a ready market for local Island wild blueberry growers.  In the off-season, PEI Juice Works Ltd. buys its supply of wild blueberries from a sorting facility to which local growers have sold their crops and where the berries have been quick frozen.  So, how is wild blueberry juice made?  Ryan tells me PEI Juice Works Ltd. uses an ancient European process that was originally developed by Mennonites in Eastern Europe over 100 years ago.  This involves a heat process to break down the skin membrane of the wild blueberries that will release the dark, rich pigments that give the juice both its color and flavour.  The solids are then separated and filtered out and the blending of other fruits – either the cherries or rhubarb – then occurs.  For consumer safety, the product is pasteurized and bottled, hot, which gives it its two-year shelf life.

Currently, the juices are sold in all four Atlantic Provinces (check the “Where to Buy” section of the PEI Juice Works Ltd. website for locations in those areas) and the 375ml bottles retail for around $10. each.  However, no worries if you are not in the Atlantic Provinces because, through FoodiePages, you can now order PEI Juice Works Ltd. products online.  The company is currently exploring markets around the world and have participated in trade shows and trade missions at home and farther afield.  In February, 2012, they attended a food show in Japan and, in March, were at the Canadian Health Products Show in Vancouver, BC.  In September, they are travelling to China as part of the PEI Premier’s trade mission.

The farmer delivering the wild blueberry shipment to PEI Juice Works Ltd. on this day graciously agreed to allow me to follow him to his blueberry field to see how they harvest the crop because I think it is important to see where our foods come from and how they are harvested. 

Wild Blueberry Harvesting Process

I learned a fact I did not know before and that is that a wild low bush blueberry field will only yield a maximum harvest every second year so the field they are harvesting today will not be harvested again until the year after next.  Wild blueberries, of course, cannot be planted so are completely dependent on Mother Nature as to where the wild blueberry barrens are and the fruit they yield.  I asked if, this year being a very dry year on the Island with very little rain, provided good growing conditions for wild blueberries.  The farmer told me that it is not and he showed me some berries that, in fact, just dried up and did not yield useable fruit because of the dry conditions.  Using the machine in the photograph above, the farmer can harvest over one acre of fruit per day.  It is from this field that today’s production of PEI Juice Works Ltd. wild blueberry juice is being made.  It doesn’t get any fresher than that!

In recent years, there have been a number of studies conducted around the world with regards to the health benefits of wild blueberries, often dubbed a superfruit, which have steadily been gaining a reputation for their health benefits.  Wild blueberries are low in fat and sodium and provide a good source of fibre and both Vitamins C and K.  While research and testing on the health benefits of wild blueberries continue on an ongoing basis, the berries and their products, such as wild blueberry juice, are reported to have positive health benefits.  High in antioxidants, wild blueberry juice is reported to have properties that may improve cognitive function, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce inflammation, inhibit urinary tract infections, and combat diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and memory loss.  There is even some research that suggests wild blueberry juice may slow the aging process!  So, with the chances of improved memory and learning functions, slowing down the aging process, and combating a number of other diseases, what’s not to like about wild blueberry juice!

Visit the Juice Works website to find out more about their blueberry juice products.

While the wild blueberry juice is wonderful to drink on its own I decided to try some recipes using the juice as an ingredient.  The first recipe is for Steamed Mussels with Blueberry Vinaigrette.  You can find the recipe for this appetizer on the Saltscapes magazine website. Traditionally, on PEI, we serve steamed mussels with melted butter; however, this recipe sees the mussels drizzled with a blueberry vinaigrette which can also be used as a dressing on a green garden salad or on a watermelon, goat cheese, and basil salad.  For the vinaigrette, I chose PEI Juice Works’ Wild Blueberry and Rhubarb Juice and I also used PEI-produced maple syrup.  Adding the syrup gave the dressing a touch of sweetness and it paired well with the mussels in the appetizer and the watermelon in the salad.

Steamed Mussels with Blueberry Vinaigrette

 

Steamed Mussels served with Blueberry Vinaigrette

To make the watermelon, goat cheese, and basil salad, I simply cubed watermelon, added some crumbled goat cheese, red onion, and a sprinkle of fresh basil and parsley.  Since we had a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes in our garden this year, I included some of those as well.  Drizzled with a wild blueberry vinaigrette, this is a refreshing and colorful summer salad.

Watermelon, Goat Cheese, and Basil Salad Drizzled with a Wild Blueberry Vinaigrette

My third recipe is one I developed —  a Blueberry Juice Sangria (recipe follows).

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Blueberry Sangria

I hope you will try PEI Juice Works Ltd. wild blueberry juices.  They are a tasty product, good for you, and made right here in Prince Edward Island.  It’s a true flavour of the Island!

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Blueberry Sangria

By Barbara99 Published: August 29, 2012

  • Yield: (3-4 Servings)
  • Prep: 1 hr 30 mins

A refreshing drink made with PEI Juice Works' Wild Blueberry Juice

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Assemble all ingredients.
  2. Chop lime, lemon, and orange into quarters. Into medium-sized glass pitcher, hand-squeeze fruit. Drop in the fruit. Add blueberries, if using.
  3. Add sugar and a small sprinkle of fine sea salt. Let sit, at room temperature, for about 30 minutes to release juices from the fruit.
  4. Add blueberry and orange juices, wine, and brandy. Stir. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to chill.
  5. Add soda at time of serving.
  6. Serve chilled, over ice, in tall glasses and garnish with a slice of orange or lemon. Enjoy!

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Sangria on the Verandah on a Saturday Afternoon in July

“Island Sangria”

It has been some years since I have had sangria.  The last time would have been in London, England.  I have never made sangria before but the gift of a couple of bottles of a friend’s homemade Pinot Noir prompted me to make it and it has now become my 2012 signature summer drink.

Sangria is really nothing more than a wine punch.  It is typically associated with Spain, Portugal, and Mexico but is also popular now in other areas of the world as well, particularly as a summer time drink.  While it can be made with white or rosé wines, classic sangria is made with red wine.  A small amount of brandy is also a common ingredient.  Chopped fruit — often citrus —  is also a usual ingredient and what you add to it basically consists of what you have available.  Lemonade or orange juice can also be added and the addition of a sweetener, such as sugar or honey, is included in the list of ingredients, too.  These ingredients get mixed together and left for an hour or two to allow the flavours to blend.  Sangria can be drunk without the addition of a carbonated soda but adding lemon-lime soda, Sprite, 7-Up, or gingerale, certainly adds fizz and spark to the drink and I think makes it more refreshing.

Sangria – A Refreshing Summer Drink

Mix the sangria in a lovely glass pitcher so that you can enjoy the deep burgundy-red color of the drink as well as the mixture of fruits floating in the punch.  I like to serve the sangria over ice in tall pedestal flutes.

Glass of Island Sangria

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Island Sangria

By Barbara99 Published: July 14, 2012

  • Yield: 4 Servings
  • Prep: 1 hr 30 mins

A deep, rich burgundy-red wine punch

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Chop fruit. Set aside.
  2. Pour wine, orange juice, and brandy in to a glass pitcher. Add sugar and salt. Stir.
  3. Add chopped fruit. Let stand for at least an hour at room temperature to let flavours blend. Then, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes to cool. Add the carbonated soda at time of serving. Serve over ice in pedestal flutes. Enjoy!

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Cows Creamery Field Trip

 

Cows Creamery in Prince Edward Island

I recently paid a visit to Cows Creamery at its factory location on the outskirts of Charlottetown, PEI, where I was met by my two tour guides, Yvonne and Andrea.  As I soon learned, Cows is a whole lot more than its renowned premium quality ice cream.

With humble beginnings back in 1983, Cows has evolved into a large diversified operation that produces, along with its iconic ice cream, three varieties of cheddar cheese as well as its newest dairy product, creamery butter.  You’ll also find this company producing several food items such as chocolate-covered potato chips plus a line of novelty items (including its whimsical cow-inspired clothing line).   For the purposes of this field trip, however, my focus was on the dairy side of Cows’ operations.

Cows Ice Cream

 

"Wowie Cowie" Ice Cream at Cows Creamery

Cows began producing and selling one variety of ice cream (vanilla) on the Cavendish Boardwalk in 1983.  It wasn’t long before customers soon started associating Cows with premium-quality ice cream.  A short while later, Cows opened their first ice cream shop in downtown Charlottetown and you can still find it there on the corner of Queen and Grafton Streets, just across from the Confederation Centre  of the Arts.

Cows Ice Cream Shop in Downtown Charlottetown, PEI

Over the years, Cows added and operated, on a seasonal basis, several more outlets – Peakes Wharf in Charlottetown, Gateway Village at the foot of the Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton, and on “The Confederation” ferry that runs, May-October, between PEI and NS.  Of course, their new creamery near Charlottetown also sells ice cream year-round in the retain outlet.  Cows has also added several off-Island locations that include Historic Properties in Halifax, NS; Whistler, BC; Banff, AB; and Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON.

Today, Cows produces some 32 flavours (yes, 32!) of high-end premium ice cream with catchy names like my favourite, “Wowie Cowie”.  All the ice cream is made in their PEI creamery using milk produced on PEI dairy farms and as many locally-produced ingredients (e.g., berries) as possible.

Cows Ice Cream Production Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ice cream is then shipped to their various retail outlets in PEI and across the country.

Cows Ice Cream - Prince Edward Island

 

On the day of my late afternoon March visit, the ice cream operation was not in production mode.  However, their retail outlet was selling the delectable ice cream!  Cows ice cream is served in their tasty signature waffle cones that are hand-made in each store.  One bite and you know this is no ordinary ice cream cone.  It is so good that it could almost be described as a specialized dessert crisp cookie in and of itself!  The silky smooth ice cream holds its shape in the cone and does not melt too quickly like other brands made with less premium quality ingredients.

Single scoop (waffle cone included) is competitively priced at $3.75 + tax (at time of writing in March 2012) with other high-end ice creams.

The best way I can describe Cows ice cream is that it’s an experience unto itself, right down to the tip of the cone!  For me, Cows ice cream is the benchmark against which all other ice creams get rated and I’ve found no other commercial brand to date that tops it.  Just a word of caution, though, their ice cream is downright addictive!

 

Cheddar Cheese

Cows Cheese

 

Cows Creamery expanded its production line in 2006 when it started making cheddar cheese.  Today, their cheese line includes three varieties:  Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (the strongest and most robust of the three); Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar, and Cows Creamery Applewood Smoked  2 Year Old Cheddar.

 

Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar and Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar

Just as with their ice cream, Cows makes their cheese using milk that comes from small rural local dairy farms around PEI.  Not only does this mean they are using fresh, quality ingredients but they are also supporting local dairy producers.  The cheeses are made using the English method and, in fact, my tour guides told me their recipe has its roots in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland.  The cheeses are all-natural products made from unpasteurized milk with no color added.  So, if your vision is of a bright orange cheese, you won’t find that at Cows.  What you will find, though, is a natural-colored cheese with full-bodied authentic cheese flavour.

I must admit I have never been a fan of old cheese, preferring instead the much more subtle flavours offered by mild and, on occasion, medium cheeses.  I was somewhat reluctant to try Cows cheese for the reason that other “old” cheese varieties I have tried in the past always tasted stale to me and had what I can only describe as a distasteful flavour.  However, lesson learned – never be afraid to try new things and discover how accepting your palette might be to new and different tastes.  Cows’ cheeses are indeed good.  So good, in fact, the cheeses have already won several prestigious awards in Canada and the US.  Manufactured at their Charlottetown Creamery, the 20-pound cheese wheels are shipped to distributors all over North America.  Look, or ask for, Cows cheeses in local specialty cheese shops, farm markets, or grocery deli counters in your area.  On PEI, Cows’ pre-packaged cheese can be found at local supermarkets, at the Farmers Market in Charlottetown and, of course, in the retail outlet of the Cows Creamery near Charlottetown, PEI.

I asked my tour guides what the primary intended uses of these cheeses would be since they only manufacture old cheese varieties – i.e., are they meant for snacking cheeses, cooking, etc.  They suggested that the cheeses can simply be eaten on their own or used in salads, soups, casseroles, on burgers, or in grilled cheese sandwiches so these are very versatile products.

As per my usual practice when I visit a local producer, I like to take their product and use it in a recipe.  I decided I’d put Cows cheeses to the real test and make “Mac ‘n Cheese” (recipe follows at end of this blog).  The reason I chose Mac ‘n Cheese is because the pasta (a rather tasteless food item on its own) would not compete in taste with the cheese.  This would allow the cheese to “star” without being masked by other strong flavours and I would find out if I liked Cows old cheddar.  What I did was use 1 cup each of Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar and Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar. Well!  Let’s just say, I can probably never be satisfied with Mac ‘n Cheese made with any other cheese in the future!  The result was a rich, full-bodied cheese-flavoured Mac ‘n Cheese experience.  As mentioned above, Cows cheeses are naturally colored which means they are a very pale neutral (yellowish) color so, if you are accustomed to seeing a rich orange-colored macaroni dish, this will not give you that.  However, I think you’ll find the robust, true cheese flavour will more than make up for any lack of deep color.

 

Creamery Butter

Cows Sea-Salted Creamery Butter

In the summer of 2011, Cows introduced their newest product — butter sold in ½-pound packages and available unsalted or sea-salted.  Just as with their ice cream and cheese products, their butter is of premium quality with 84% butter fat versus 80% found in regular butters.  I have tried the sea-salted and it is one fine butter…particularly spread on fresh buttermilk biscuits straight out of the oven!

Cows Creamery Butter can be purchased on PEI at the Cows Creamery in Charlottetown as well as at the Co-op on Walker Avenue.  Off-Island, it can be found at Pete’s Frootique in Halifax and Bedford, NS, as well as in various stores in Ontario and in the Vancouver, BC, area.

 

Novelty Items

 

Cows Whimsical T-Shirts

In 1985, Cows introduced a whimsical line of clothing for their staff to wear.  They soon discovered that customers wanted to buy the staff clothing!  As a result, Cows began selling T-shirts and sweatshirts that bore images based on puns related to cows or farming.  This line has expanded to include a whole line of souvenir items and clothing.

Cows’ logo and images are very unique and recognizable.  In fact, a few years ago, I was strolling down a very crowded street in Freeport, ME, when I came upon a couple sporting Cows T-shirts – you can identify these T-shirts in a crowd anywhere!

 

Cows Advertisement at the Charlottetown Airport

Visitors arriving on PEI by air can expect to find, as they step into the terminal at the Charlottetown Airport, a large statue of a black and white shiny cow advertising “Cows” products.  Particularly during peak tourism season, it is not uncommon to find people posing for photographs with the cow as the backdrop.  This is probably the most photographed cow on PEI (or anywhere, for that matter)!

Factory Tours

Cows opened their new creamery facility just outside Charlottetown in 2009.  They offer tours that start with a video in their theatre room, followed by a stop by the T-shirt printing shop where you can watch the Cows images being transferred on to clothing.  Your next stop on the tour will take you by the infamous ice cream making room where you can watch this delectable treat being made.  From there, you’ll see the large wheels of cheese undergoing the aging process.  The last stop on the tour would, no doubt, be a huge hit – the tasting room where you’ll sample the ice cream made on the premises.  Tour prices (as of March 2012) are:  Adults $6.00;  Children $4.00; and Children Under 2 years of age are admitted free.  The tours run May 15 – October 15 and are available off-season by appointment only.

 

PEI has no shortage of good quality locally-produced food products available.  The great thing about Cows Creamery products (apart from their obvious high quality) is that they are produced right here on Prince Edward Island.  As a home kitchen chef and food blogger, I have a lot of time and respect for companies, such as Cows, that use local products in their manufacturing and, in turn, support local producers.  As anyone who knows me well will attest, I like to use the freshest ingredients possible and premium-quality products in my cooking and baking.  It doesn’t get any fresher than buying from local producers and manufacturers.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese

By Barbara99 Published: March 21, 2012

  • Yield: 4-5 Servings
  • Prep: 25 mins
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Ready In: 55 mins

A rich, flavorful macaroni and cheese dish using Cows Creamery Cheese

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In large pot, bring water to boil. Add salt, oil, liquid bouillon, garlic, and macaroni. I like to add some garlic and chicken bouillon to the water so it will flavor the pasta when it is cooking. This provides a subtle taste without overpowering or competing with the cheese which would be the case if the ingredients were added into the cheese sauce. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent macaroni from sticking to pot. Drain in colander. Return macaroni to pot.
  2. Melt butter in saucepan. Add milk. Combine flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and dry mustard. Whisk into milk and butter mixture. Cook over medium heat until mixture starts to thicken.
  3. Add cheeses and stir until melted and blended.
  4. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and stir until well combined. Turn into a greased 2-quart casserole or divide into greased ramekin dishes for individual servings. Bake, uncovered, in 350F oven for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Serve with a fresh green salad and homemade biscuits.

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St. Patrick’s Day Dinner – 2012

Irish Coffee

So, St. Patrick’s Day 2012 has come and gone.  A belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all.   We are all a wee bit Irish on March 17th, aren’t we – either Irish by heritage or Irish at heart!

My St. Patrick’s Day Menu this year consisted of Prince Edward Island Blue Mussels steamed in Guinness, herbs, and vegetables and served with Cows Creamery Sea-Salted butter, melted; Spirited Irish Stew served with Irish Soda Bread; Irish Cream Cheesecake; and Irish Coffee as an after-dinner drink in front of a cozy fireplace.

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

PEI cultivates great mussels.  Local supermarkets sell them bulk by the pound which is good because I am the only one in the household that likes them.  The key to steaming mussels is to use very little liquid and steam them just until their shells open.  If you use too much liquid, it will dilute the flavour of the mussels and they will have a very bland taste.  I have steamed these shellfish in water, beer, and in wine in the past.  However, the Guinness I used yesterday, along with the vegetables and herbs, made the mussels a very rich and delightful treat.  The mussels were infused with the Guinness and herbs but not so much that the seafood taste of these tasty morsels was lost.

So, for one serving, this is what I used:

2 Tbsp carrots, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp celery, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped

½ tsp garlic purée

½ tsp. dried dillweed

1 – 1 ½ Tbsp butter

Melt butter in saucepan and sauté ingredients 2-3 minutes, then add:

1 cup Guinness

Bring to a boil

Add 9-10 oz. PEI mussels (about 15).

Cover pot.  Reduce heat to medium.  Steam approximately 3-5 minutes or until shells are open.  Using slotted spoon, remove mussels from liquid and transfer to plate, discarding any unopened shells.  Serve with melted butter.

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

 Irish Stew

Spirited Irish Stew

According to legend, traditional Irish Stew was made with cheap cuts of mutton or lamb and basic root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, onions, and turnips. Years ago, these would have been ingredients that were, no doubt, simply what would have been available in Ireland where sheep were raised for their wool and for food and, before the potato famine, potatoes were a primary Irish crop.

Over the years, Irish Stew recipes have changed according to the locale and what was available in the cook’s local area.  For example, beef is often used in North America today instead of lamb in Irish Stew and other ingredients are added to make a more flavourful, hearty stew as opposed to a broth-like dish.  Purists might argue that these changes result in a new stew recipe altogether and is something entirely different than the original Irish Stew.  Regardless what it is called, I like my version of a Spirited Irish Stew.  It has a nice rich, robust flavour and a splendid reddish-brown color that comes from the addition of tomato paste.  Using Guinness and red wine helps to tenderize the meat and also adds to the flavour of the stew.  I don’t add huge amounts of either as the intent is not to “drown” the natural flavours of the beef and veggies but rather to blend and enhance flavours.  The nice thing about Irish Stew (once you have all the veggies cut up) is that it is an all-encompassing meal with all the vegetables in one dish (no worries about getting different pots of vegetables all cooked at the same time and a real bonus of only having one pot to wash).  It really needs nothing more than a slice of warm Irish Soda Bread, fresh from the oven and slathered with butter and perhaps some homemade mustard pickles on the side.

I like to slow-cook this stew in the oven at 325ºF for a couple of hours as opposed to cooking it on the cooktop.  I find oven-cooking allows the flavours to slowly blend and the stew to become nice and thick.  Recipe follows at end of this blog posting.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread is a quick bread in which baking soda, and often baking powder, are used as the leavening agents as opposed to yeast.  My research revealed that ingredients for a basic Irish Soda Bread would include flour (often both all-purpose and whole wheat), baking soda, baking powder, salt, buttermilk, and molasses.  More elaborate breads might include raisins, currants, or nuts.  I also learned that it was not uncommon for the soda bread to be cooked on a griddle although I am not sure how the bread would have gotten baked all the way through without first getting burned on the bottom!

Soda bread dough is not kneaded like yeast breads and, in fact, it is recommended that the dough not be handled any more than is necessary for the dough to stick together.  In this respect, it is somewhat like tea biscuit dough except that it is a heavier, denser texture.

Irish Soda Bread Dough

Some recipes suggest that Irish Soda Bread should be baked in a pan or casserole dish for a softer crust or, for a more crispy hide, baked on a parchment-lined baking sheet which is how I baked mine.

Irish Soda Bread Ready for the Oven

The Irish Soda Bread recipe I used comes from Tea Time Magazine.  I found the bread was a good accompaniment for the Irish Stew but it is a dense, heavy bread and one that is probably best eaten fresh, warm from the oven, and on the day it is made.

Irish Soda Bread

 Irish Cream Cheesecake

I figured if I was going Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day, I might as well go all out and make a cheesecake that had Irish Cream Liquor in it.  I have often relied on recipes from Company’s Coming Cookbooks because I find them quite reliable, not containing ingredients I either wouldn’t have in my pantry or be able to readily source locally, and the directions are presented in a clear, easy-to-understand format.  That’s why I turned to Company’s Coming for the recipe for the Irish Cream Cheesecake.  I didn’t want a large cheesecake so I halved the recipe and used a 7” springform pan.

Irish Cream Cheesecake

I could not have been more pleased with the result.  The cheesecake had a lovely smooth texture, not over-powered by the Irish Cream Liquor but yet with a pleasing taste.  I served it simply with a dob of whipped cream, a drizzle of rich chocolate syrup, and a chocolate.  A superb and fitting finish to my St. Patrick’s Day meal!

Slice of Irish Cream Cheesecake Drizzled with Chocolate Sauce

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Spirited Irish Stew

By Barbara99 Published: March 18, 2012

  • Yield: (5-7 Servings)
  • Prep: 30 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs 0 min
  • Ready In: 2 hrs 30 mins

A rich hearty stew with beef, a variety of vegetables, and flavoured with Guinness and red wine

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Assemble ingredients.
  2. Chop stew meat and vegetables into bite-size pieces
  3. Brown meat in 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil.
  4. Place vegetables and meat in roaster.
  5. In large bowl, combine sugar, herbs, garlic, tomato paste, beef consommé, Worcestershire Sauce, red wine, Guinness, and water. Whisk in flour until smooth. Pour over vegetables in roaster. With large spoon, stir mixture to combine. Add bayleaf.
  6. Cover roaster and place in pre-heated 325F oven. Cook for approximately 2 hours or until vegetables are fork-tender when tested.
  7. Serve with Irish Soda Bread, rolls, or French Bread.

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