Tag Archives: Charlottetown Farmers Market

Rustico Sheep Farm Produces Cheese and Yogurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit to Beamish Organic Apple Orchard and Deep Roots Distillery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Free Apples
Red Free Apples

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

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

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

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

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

Deeproots Distillery Products
Deeproots Distillery Products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple-Maple Bread Pudding
Apple-Maple Bread Pudding

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

Red Free Apples
Red Free Apples

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

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

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

Ingredients:

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

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

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

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yield: 12 servings

Maple Sauce

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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

Yield: Apx. 2½ cups

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

 

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Apple-Maple Bread Pudding with Maple Sauce

Yield: 12 servings

Apple and maple flavours combine to make a delectable bread pudding

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These water tanks are not your ordinary watering cans!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

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

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

Method:

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

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

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and red onion.

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

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

Dressing

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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

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Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley

If you are a regular patron of the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market and happen to be a tea drinker, chances are you are familiar with Katherine Burnett and the Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley brand of teas and tea bar at the market.

Lady Baker's Tea Trolley Tea Bar at the Charlottetown Farmers Market
Katherine Burnett, owner of Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley Tea Bar at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

I recently sat down with Katherine for brunch at the farmers’market to learn more about her tea business.

Katherine Burnett, Owner, Lady Baker's Tea Trolley
Katherine Burnett, Owner, Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley

Katherine grew up on PEI but lived off Island for many years before returning in 2006. In 2001, while living in Charlotte, NC, Katherine began hosting tea parties as a ministry for the elderly. She named her afternoon tea party business “Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley” as a tribute to the memory of a friend, Irene Baker, who enjoyed the finer things in life, like afternoon tea. Interest in the tea parties grew to the point where Katherine was soon hosting afternoon teas for corporations, churches, and even the opera.

As her tea party business grew so, too, did her interest and knowledge in all things tea-related. She pursued online courses in tea blending and attended specialty tea conferences and is now at level 3 (of 4) of the process to be designated a tea sommelier. Katherine is also a member of the Tea Association of Canada.

In the fall of 2007, with just 16 varieties of tea and 2 tea-making machines, Katherine set up a tea bar at the popular Charlottetown Farmers’ Market. The teas come from the major tea-producing countries of India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Taiwan. The imported teas follow strict guidelines, are low in pesticides, and most come from members of the Ethical Tea Partnerships.

Katherine blends some of the teas herself and now sells some 60 varieties of loose tea.

She tells me her most popular blend, which incidentally is her personal favourite, is a black tea she calls the Lady’s Slipper Blend, aptly named after PEI’s official provincial flower. Her pumpkin spice blend enjoys popularity as well with her patrons who favour it for lattes. At the Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley bar at the market, look for specialty tea blends like Abegweit Lullaby to aid sleep and Pink Lady Grey which is an eye-appealing blend featuring Earl Grey tea and pink rose petals. Who knew where a small, modest personal collection of 13 china cups and saucers would lead Katherine!

Since there are several options to brewing tea (e.g., tea bags, loose leaf with infuser or loose tea directly in the tea pot), I asked Katherine for her preference. She says she prefers to brew loose leaf tea in an infuser in the tea pot. Katherine also recommends that the water for the tea first be filtered and then brought to a boil. If brewing green tea, let the water sit until it drops to the proper temperature (85°) before adding and brewing the tea leaves.

I asked Katherine if she sees any trends emerging in tea drinking. She says she is noticing a renewed popularity in tea drinking with specialty tea shops opening and with the wide variety of tea-brewing equipment and stylish infuser mugs readily available. As well, she notices an increased interest in green teas with information and research on its health benefits becoming more widely known. Additionally, there seems to be a new market for teas – those of high school and college age. In fact, this year Katherine prepared special tea packages to be included in the UPEI student welcome kits. With the university being located just across the street from the farmers’ market, it’s likely some of the students will visit the Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley bar on Saturday mornings. Katherine also sees more tea being used in ways other than as a beverage. For example, Chai and Matcha are now often used in baked goods such as muffins and energy bars. In fact, Katherine sells yummy homemade tea energy bars at her booth. Tea lattes are also becoming very popular — ⅔ cup of a strong tea topped up with ⅓ cup of foamed milk. Iced teas remain popular in the hot summer months when many find the drink hydrating and refreshing. Fruit blends of green teas, such as Katherine’s Island Strawberry blend, have become very popular iced teas.

Tea, like coffee, is an enduring popular drink. It’s a beverage that is moving with the times. With its various varieties and blends along with new ways of drinking tea and using it in baking, it’s proof of tradition blending successfully with modern trends.

In addition to being available at the farmers’ market, Lady Baker’s teas are available across PEI at specialty shops and are also found served in many of the Island’s finest restaurants and at select bed and breakfasts. The teas may also be ordered online via the Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley website at http://www.ladybakersteatrolley.com/

Now, it’s time for tea!

I decided to try the Lady’s Slipper tea blend for a late summer afternoon tea. This is a lovely, mellow tea blend with hints of vanilla.  I have some pieces of Lady’s Slipper china so it seemed only fitting to feature them with this blend of tea.

The quintessential tea time sandwiches of egg salad and cucumber were served on my Lady Slipper plate.

I used two different styles of Lady’s Slipper china cups and saucers.

The great thing about afternoon tea is that several different pieces of china can be blended and used with success.  Not everything has to match perfectly on the table.  It just needs to blend.

These dainty little pink glasses blend well with the china and are the perfect size for an afternoon tea table.

The little pottery Lady’s Slipper vase in the photo below was a gift from an elementary school teacher.  We had gone on an end of year school outing to a local theme park which had a small gift shop in a flying saucer (readers on PEI will likely guess which theme park I’m referring to).  The teacher told us each to pick out something we wanted and it was her gift to us.  Even as a small child, I liked pretty things and opted for a vase instead of a toy!  I won’t tell you how many years ago that was but let’s just say it wasn’t yesterday!  The lovely flowers in the vase are from Island Meadow Farms in York, PEI.

Fresh blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert!

I always say the sign of a true homemade pie is when some of the filling bubbles out 🙂  (Well, that’s my story anyway and I’m sticking to it!)

The blueberries for the pie came from Murray’s U-pick in North Tryon.  They grow wonderful high bush blueberries.

I hope you have enjoyed meeting the lady behind Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley and dropping by for a spot of her Lady’s Slipper tea blend.

I will be joining Sandi at Rose Chintz Cottage for Tea Time Tuesday this week.

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J.J. Stewart Foods and Soda Company – Fine Island Flavors

 

I am always thrilled when I discover products made on PEI.  I recently paid a visit to the small commercial kitchen of J.J. Stewart Foods and Soda Company in Stratford, PEI, where I met with owners and sole employees of the company, Heather and Thom MacMillan.

Under the brand label of J.J. Stewart, the MacMillans are producers and purveyors of a number of fine food products that includes preserves, flavoured mustards, sauces, pickles, salsa, lemonade, sodas and, of course, their signature artisan root beer.

While I was anxious to find out more about the products they make, I was first curious to learn about J.J. Stewart and his connection to the company.

The MacMillans tell me that the J.J. Stewart branding came about because of the root beer they were making.  They have been producing their artisan root beer since 2009.  When they were searching for a brand name for it, they discovered that Heather’s grandfather, John James Stewart, made and sold root beer in the early 1900s in his general store in Wood Islands, PEI. So, with the lineage and history, it seemed only fitting that their root beer should bear his name.

So, that explains the root beer but what prompted the production of the sauces, preserves, maple mustards, and pickles?  The MacMillans have been in the tourism business for many years.  They decided it was time to downsize and slow down so they sold their hotel business in Wood Islands and moved to Charlottetown.  However, their retirement was short-lived as their lifelong entrepreneurial spirit was still prompting them to do something else.  Both like to cook and when the Embers Company in Kinkora, PEI, became available for sale about three years ago, they bought it along with rights to the recipes for specialty food condiments that were already well-known and received on the market.  They have continued to produce those items as well as develop, test, and market new items, like Peanut Butter and Cranberry Champagne Jam with Ginger, under the J.J. Stewart label.

The dividing line between mass-produced mustards, preserves, and sauces and those produced by the MacMillans lies in the care and attention to detail that can only come with hand-producing small batch quantities, using high quality ingredients, and adhering to a strict individual quality control process.

Large Cooking Pot inside the JJ Stewart Kitchen
Large Cooking Pot inside the J.J. Stewart Kitchen

The difference can also be discerned in the taste and flavour when pure ingredients are used.  Wherever possible, the MacMillans use regionally-produced products.  Thom says he can actually pinpoint the berry field at Penny’s Farms in Belfast, PEI, where the strawberries are picked for the J.J. Stewart Strawberry Preserves!  The berries for their blueberry products come from Wyman’s near Morell and the cranberries and raspberries are locally sourced as well.  Cucumbers for their mustard pickles come from local roadside farm stands which offer the freshest of garden vegetables.  The maple syrup comes from Acadian Maple Products in nearby Nova Scotia.  J.J. Stewart products have become synonymous with quality so much so that the MacMillans tell me that people buy their preserves by the case in the summer and their freshly-made mustard pickles are a fall favourite which customers also buy by the case to have as their winter supply.

Like any food product produced and marketed for sale on PEI, the MacMillans are subject to food regulation and provincial inspection processes to ensure their products are safe for the market.

Bottles of Dill and Chardonnay Maple Mustard
Bottles of Dill and Chardonnay Maple Mustard Waiting to be Labeled

The artisan foods produced by the MacMillans are a perfect blend of modern and traditional fare.  Under the J.J. Stewart label that bears his picture, look for modern products like blueberry salsa and blueberry barbeque sauce and a number of flavoured mustards along with old favorites like mustard pickles and raspberry and strawberry preserves.

With distinctive flavour pairings like Dill and Chardonnay Maple Mustard and Wild Blueberry Sauce with Grand Marnier, for example, the J.J. Stewart line of products brings together the best flavour combinations.  J.J. Stewart products are both delicious and very versatile.  Whether used independently on their own as they are or incorporated as an ingredient into a recipe, these quality products are palette pleasers.

Over the next while, follow my blog postings as I use a number of their products in different recipes.

I am sure J.J. Stewart would have been happy to sell these products in his general store and he would, no doubt, be both thrilled and proud to know that his descendents are carrying on the tradition of producing artisanal root beer and other tasty products.  The J.J. Stewart speciality item products are available in select locations in the Maritimes.  For example, they can be purchased at the PEI Co. Store in Charlottetown’s Confederation Court Mall, at Riverview Country Market in Charlottetown, and at several other locations across the Island as well as at Sugar Moon Farms in Truro, Nova Scotia.

Thom MacMillan at the J.J. Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market
Thom MacMillan at the J.J. Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

Each Saturday morning, you can also find Thom at his booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market where sales are brisk and you’ll find regular customers returning week after week to pick up their favorite J.J. Stewart products.  Farmers markets are great venues for customers and producers to meet and interact.  In fact, Thom says he gets the greatest feedback and new product ideas from his regular Saturday morning customers.  Be sure to drop by the Farmers Market and taste the J.J. Stewart products at the tasting bar set up in their booth.

Tasting Bar at the JJ Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market
Tasting Bar at the J.J. Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

In the summer months, their products are also sold in their own J.J. Stewart Mercantile Store in Cavendish, PEI.  Additionally, products are also available online at www.jjstewartfoods.com and they ship across North America.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Old-fashioned Jam Squares
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Old-fashioned Jam Squares

For my feature recipe today using a J.J. Stewart product, I have chosen to use their Raspberry Preserves in old-fashioned vintage jam squares.  For this recipe, you need to use a superior quality jam or preserves because that is what gives the square its flavour.  Red jams or preserves work best because, for plate presentation purposes, they are the most showy.  I found the J.J. Stewart Raspberry Preserves to be a nice, thick consistency which is necessary in order for it to stick to the dough and not be runny when the squares are cut.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Old-fashioned Jam Squares
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Old-fashioned Jam Squares made with J.J. Stewart’s Raspberry Preserves

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s

Old-fashioned Jam Squares

These are an old-fashioned favourite that I grew up with.  They are easy to make and take common ingredients.  While any kind of jam may be used, they are most showy when red jam (preserves) is chosen.

Ingredients:

⅓ cup butter

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

½ tsp almond flavoring

½ cup white sugar

1 cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp cinnamon

⅛ tsp cardamom

Finely grated rind of 1 lemon

½ cup J.J. Stewart Raspberry Preserves

Method:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Assemble ingredients.

Ingredients for Jam Squares
Ingredients for Jam Squares

Prepare 8”x8” pan by lining with parchment paper.

With electric mixer, beat butter well.  Beat in egg, vanilla, and almond flavouring.  Mixture will appear lumpy.

Sift and mix together sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Grate the rind of one lemon.  Stir in grated lemon rind.

Add dry ingredients to butter-egg mixture and blend thoroughly.

Gather up dough and shape dough into a small oblong shape.

Cut off about ⅓ of the dough and place in freezer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, press remaining ⅔ dough into prepared pan.  Place pan in freezer.

When the reserved dough has been in the freezer for 15 minutes remove both reserved dough and the pan from the freezer.  Evenly spread the ½ cup raspberry preserves over dough in pan.

Using a grater, grate the chilled and reserved 1/3 dough evenly over the jam.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until topping on square is lightly golden in color.

Let square cool completely in pan before removing and cutting into 16 squares.

Jam Squares
Jam Squares

 

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