Tag Archives: PEI

Taste of North Rustico, PEI – A Rustico Kitchen Party

North Rustico Harbour, PEI
North Rustico Harbour, PEI

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

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

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

North Rustico, PEI
North Rustico, PEI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taste of North Rustico 2017
Taste of North Rustico 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Seashells Tablesetting

Summer Seashells Tablesetting
Summer Seashells Tablesetting

Weather permitting, alfresco dining makes for a pleasant dining experience. On Prince Edward Island (PEI), our season for outside dining is quite short but we make the most of it. Summer lends itself to so many tablesetting options. Living on PEI, surrounded by water, it’s easy to draw inspiration from the sea which is what I have done with today’s summer seashells tablesetting.

The color theme I have chosen is very soft and pastel – the pale blue shades to represent the sea and sky complimented by shades of beige and pale salmon pink to represent the color of the sand on the beaches and sand dunes around PEI.

Greenwich National Park
The pink sand dunes of Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

We Islanders love our beaches! Many tourists visit our Island each summer to enjoy our miles and miles of pristine beaches – the pale salmon pink sand common to the north shore beaches in contrast to the deep rusty red shade of sand typically found on our south shore beaches. Our shores are bordered by the rich red-colored cliffs like those to the left in the photo below.

Darnley Beach, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Darnley Beach, Prince Edward Island, Canada

So, as you can see, it’s not hard for me to find inspiration for sea-themed tablesettings when I am so fortunate as to live in close proximity to such natural beauty.

Summer Seashell Tablesetting
Summer Seashell Tablesetting

I rarely use patterned table linens. I find they can be a bit tricky to work with because the pattern can be busy and somewhat limiting in terms of other decor items. My preference is to use the blank canvas of a solid-colored tablecloth and add color and design features through other elements like centerpieces, napkins, candles, and so forth. However, for a change (and a challenge), I have chosen a matching tablecloth and napkins that have a seashell theme.  They actually match quite well with my pale blue seashell dinnerware by Nantucket Home.

Summer Seashells Tablesetting
Summer Seashells Tablesetting

I would not use this patterned tablecloth for a formal setting but it is quite charming for a casual meal, particularly when we live near the water and when I am serving a seafood-themed dinner outside.

Nautical-themed Wine Bottle Holder
Nautical-themed Wine Bottle Holder

In terms of a centerpiece for a patterned tablecloth like this one, I recommend going with something very plain and simple, especially when this is a tablesetting for a casual dinner. What I have used here is a rustic wine holder which does double duty as a centerpiece and for actually holding the wine.  This is also a great idea if the table is not large – you still have something as a focal point in the table center but it does not overpower the setting. The nautical look of the wine holder compliments the sea theme and is a great conversation piece.

Summer Seashells Tablesetting
Summer Seashells Tablesetting

Folding patterned napkins when the tablecloth background is also patterned can be a challenge. Rather than using a formal napkin fold, I have simply knotted the napkins in the center and placed them over the soup/salad bowls. This keeps the look casual and also adds a bit of lift and color to the plain dishes.

Summer Seashells Tablesetting
Summer Seashells Tablesetting
Simple knotted napkin for a seashell-themed tablesetting
Simple knotted napkin for a seashell-themed tablesetting

I have kept the glassware quite simple using plain wine glasses complimented by my antique water glasses. The cutwork in these glasses sparkle in the sunlight.

Summer Seashells Tablesetting
Summer Seashells Tablesetting

Regardless whether you live near the sea or not, a seaside ambience can be created using seashell dinnerware and sea-themed table linens.

It’s pretty. It’s pastel. It’s summery and this tablesetting definitely has a distinctive romantic coastal feel.

Summer Seashells Tablesetting
Summer Seashells Tablesetting
This Summer Seashells Tablesetting draws its inspiration from the seashell dinnerware.
Summer Seashell Tablesetting
Summer Seashell Tablesetting

Now, it’s time to prepare the dinner! Curious as to what is on the menu for my PEI seafood dinner? I am serving PEI mussels steamed in Upstreet Craft Brewing’s “Rhuby Social” beer followed by my mussel chowder which I will serve with my homemade rolls. The main will be Island lobster in the shell accompanied by my yummy PEI potato salad. And, for dessert?  Homemade Blueberry Cheese Pie will be tonight’s finale! I think all of these foods will look great on this sea-inspired table!

To view photos of another of my sea-inspired tablescapes, click here.

Setting Day on Prince Edward Island Can Only Mean One Thing

Setting Day
Setting Day, French River, PEI

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

Lobster
Lobster in the Shell

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Ropes
Colorful Ropes

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

Buoys
Colorful Buoys
Lobster Traps
Traditional Lobster Traps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lobster Boat Loaded with Traps
Trap Setting Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishing Harbour
North Lake Harbour, PEI, Canada

Unloading the day’s catch.

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

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

PEI Lobsters
Fresh Catch of the Day – PEI Lobsters

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

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

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

Potato Salad
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s PEI Potato Salad

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

Lobster Dinner
Traditional PEI Lobster Dinner

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

Lobster Cakes
PEI Lobster Cakes

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

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

Lobster Fishing
Lobster Fishing in all weather on PEI

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

Setting Day
Heading Out With a Load of Lobster Traps

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

PEI Fishing Harbour
French River, PEI

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

Lobster Supper
A PEI Lobster Feed

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

Lobster Trap Setting Day on Prince Edward Island

Twice-baked Potatoes Recipe

Twice-baked Potato
Twice-baked Potato

When you live in Prince Edward Island, Canada, where potatoes are one of the main agricultural crops, you find lots of ways to serve potatoes. Twice-baked potatoes, or stuffed baked potatoes, are one of my all-time favorites.  I make up big batches of these and freeze them so they are always on hand, ready to be popped in the oven for dinner.

These potatoes are a little bit time-consuming to make because the potatoes have to first be baked then split in half and the pulp from each half scooped out and mashed, or riced, really well and combined with other flavorful ingredients.  That’s why I make them up in quantity as part of my repertoire of batch-cooking for the freezer.  These are a standard staple, year-round, in my freezer.

Now, for these twice-baked potatoes, you’ll want to use oval-shaped, elongated “baking” potatoes such as the high-starch Russet variety.  A good average size of potato to use would be about 8 oz like the ones marked in the photo below. All of the potatoes in the photo are the Russet variety but most of them are too small to use for this purpose.

Russet Potatoes for Twice-Baked Potatoes
Best Size of Russet Potatoes for Twice-Baked Potatoes

Russets have a light and fluffy texture when mashed and, certainly, when put through a potato ricer.  Russets, by nature, are a dry potato which means they are very absorbent when adding other ingredients such as butter, sour cream, or milk.  I have found that some Russets will be drier than others which may, in the case of twice-baked potatoes, require the addition of more sour cream or milk than the recipe calls for to make them creamy enough for the filling.  Russets have a mild, delicate flavor. This makes them a good choice for twice-baked potatoes because their white-fleshed pulp mixes well with other ingredients such as sour cream, cheese, and garlic and onion flavors.

Twice-baked Potatoes
Twice-baked Potatoes

It’s difficult to give a 100% accurate amount of wet ingredients (e.g., sour cream and milk or cream) to use for the filling in these potatoes because, as mentioned above, some Russets are drier than others. I recommend starting with the amount called for in the recipe and then adding any additional liquid by the tablespoon until the desired consistency is reached.  Filling for stuffed baked potatoes should not be “soupy”.  It should hold its shape when piped or spooned into the hollowed out potato shells. If you go by the gauge that the filling could be piped, using moderate pressure, through a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip, that’s the consistency you’re aiming for.

Sometimes, I will spoon some filling in to the shells, then pipe a decorative design on the top but, most times, I just spoon the filling in, mounding it up to look full and bountiful.  In fact, I always bake two extra potatoes just for their pulp and don’t intend to stuff their shells.  Some pulp is lost from each potato because a narrow rim of potato needs to be left intact in each shell in order for it to hold its shape and allow it to be filled. This is why it’s a good idea to bake a couple of extra potatoes to ensure you have enough pulp to adequately (and abundantly) fill the shells.

Twice-baked Potato
Twice-baked Potato

The pulp can be mashed (really well) with a potato masher to ensure the lumps are removed. However, if you have a potato ricer, push the potato pulp through the ricer as this will yield  even fluffier potatoes.

Once the potatoes are mashed or riced, it’s simply a matter of adding all the other ingredients and blending them really well into the potatoes and adding the right amount of wet ingredients to get the mixture to a piping consistency. I do not recommend using an electric beater to mix the filling as it can result in over-beating thus turning the mixture into a soupy glue.

If freezing these potatoes, freeze the stuffed potatoes, unbaked, in airtight freezer containers.  Bake from frozen state in preheated 350F oven for 45-50 minutes, or till heated through.

[Printable recipe follows at end of post]

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Ingredients:
9 medium-sized baking potatoes such as the Russet variety

3 – 4 tbsp butter
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup+ whole milk or cream
1½ tsp liquid chicken bouillon
¾ tsp puréed garlic
½ cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp onion salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp. fine sea salt

Extra grated cheddar cheese, paprika, chopped chives or parsley, green onions for garnishing tops of each potato (optional)

Method:
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Scrub potatoes well. Do not peel. Prick each potato several times with a fork.  Place potatoes directly on oven rack positioned in center of oven.  Bake until fork easily inserts into center of potato, approximately 1 hour. Reduce oven heat to 350°F.

With a sharp knife, cut each potato in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out pulp of potatoes leaving a thin rim around the edges of the potato to allow them to hold their shape.

Mash potatoes well or press pulp through a potato ricer into a large bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.  Consistency should be such that mixture could be piped through a cake decorating bag  using moderate pressure and hold its shape when spooned or piped.  If necessary, add more milk or sour cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve desired consistency. Mixture should not be soupy.

Discard four of the shells (they were just baked for extra potato pulp the two potatoes provided). Lightly brush inside of each remaining potato shell with olive oil and place on parchment-line baking sheet. Spoon, or pipe, potato mixture into shells. Sprinkle with finely grated cheese and/or paprika.  Bake for 25-30 minutes. Garnish with green onions or chopped chives or parsley at time of serving, if desired.

To make ahead and freeze: Store unbaked stuffed potatoes in airtight freezer container.  Bake from frozen state, at 350°F for 45-50 minutes, until heated through and lighted browned on top.

Yield:  14 servings, 1 stuffed potato shell per serving

Twice-Baked Potato
Twice-baked Potato

Twice-baked Potatoes Recipe

Yield: 14 servings

Serving Size: 1 stuffed potato shell per serving

Classic twice-baked potato features a creamy and cheesy filling enhanced with onion and garlic flavors. The perfect side dish to any meal.

Ingredients

  • 9 medium-sized baking potatoes such as the Russet variety
  • 3 – 4 tbsp butter
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup+ whole milk or cream
  • 1½ tsp liquid chicken bouillon
  • ¾ tsp puréed garlic
  • ½ cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp onion salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp. fine sea salt
  • Extra grated cheddar cheese, paprika, chopped chives or parsley, green onions for garnishing tops of each potato (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Scrub potatoes well. Do not peel. Prick each potato several times with a fork. Place potatoes directly on oven rack positioned in center of oven. Bake until fork easily inserts into center of potato, approximately 1 hour. Reduce oven heat to 350°F.
  3. With a sharp knife, cut each potato in half, lengthwise. Scoop out pulp of potatoes leaving a thin rim around the edges of the potato to allow them to hold their shape.
  4. Mash potatoes well or press pulp through a potato ricer into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to ensure all ingredients are incorporated. Consistency should be such that mixture could be piped through a cake decorating bag with moderate pressure and hold its shape when spooned or piped. If necessary, add more milk or sour cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve desired consistency. Mixture should not be soupy.
  5. Discard four of the shells (they were just baked for extra potato pulp the two potatoes provided). Lightly brush inside of each remaining potato shell with olive oil and place on parchment-line baking sheet. Spoon, or pipe, potato mixture into shells. Sprinkle with finely grated cheese and/or paprika. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Garnish with green onions or chopped chives or parsley at time of serving, if desired.
  6. To make ahead and freeze: Store unbaked stuffed potatoes in airtight freezer container. Bake from frozen state, at 350°F for 45-50 minutes, until heated through and lighted browned on top.
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For more about potato-growing in PEI, follow these links:

Follow the PEI Potato Farmer: From Field to Table
Potato Growing and Harvesting in Prince Edward Island

Pin The Twice-baked Potatoes Recipe To Pinterest!

Twice-baked Potatoes
Twice-baked Potatoes

PEI Fall Flavors Event: Le Festin acadien avec homard

September heralds the beginning of the annual PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival and what better way to start it off than with a feast featuring lobster and Acadian fare!  Le Festin acadien avec homard  event was held on September 2, 2016, in conjunction with the annual Evangeline Area Agricultural Exhibition and Acadian Festival in Abram-Village in the western part of Prince Edward Island.

The PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival features signature events hosted by celebrity chefs and the main events feature one or more of the Island’s locally-produced foods.  If you follow the links at the bottom of this posting, you will find stories and photos from past events that featured Island beef, lamb, lobster, potatoes, etc. I especially like the events that feature both regional fare and entertainment and “Le Festin acadien avec homard” scored high on both counts.  For visitors to PEI (and many do come in September especially for the Fall Flavours Culinary Festival), it’s an opportunity to learn about local culture and sample locally-produced foods.

PEI’s Acadian population in Abram-Village sure knows how to throw a good party with great food and lively entertainment.  A quartet of talented local musicians comprised of Louise Arsenault (fiddle), Hélène Bergeron (keyboard/guitar/stepdancer), Caroline Bernard (singer/keyboard/guitar), and Rémi Arsenault (bass) provided toe-tapping Acadian music throughout the evening.

PEI Musicians Performing at Le Festin acadien avec homard event, Abram-Village, PEI, 2016
Musicians Performing at “Le Festin acadien avec homard” Fall Flavours event, Abram-Village, PEI, 2016

The event was hosted by celebrity chef, Anna Olson, who is no stranger to the PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival as she and her husband, Michael, return to the Island annually to participate in the culinary events.

Chef Anna Olson
Chef Anna Olson at “Le Festin acadien avec homard” Fall Flavours Event, Abram-Village, PEI, 2016

Anna hosts three cooking programs on Food Network Canada:  “Bake with Anna Olson“, “Fresh with Anna Olson“, and “Sugar“. Ever the good sport, Anna was put through her paces before MC Georges Arsenault declared she had passed the test to be made an honorary Acadian.  She learned some French and she was taught some stepdancing moves!

Chef Anna Olson
Chef Anna Olson

Here was the menu for the dinner:

Menu for 2016 Le Festin acadien avec homard
Menu for 2016 Le Festin acadien avec homard

Upon arrival in the dining hall, guests were greeted with a complimentary glass of Benjamin Bridge’s Nova 7 wine.

Benjamin-Bridge Wine
Benjamin Bridge Wine

Benjamin Bridge Winery from Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia, was this year’s Festival Wine Sponsor as it was in 2015 when I discovered their delightful Nova 7 wine. The Nova 7 is a beautiful light-bodied  effervescent wine with a gorgeous pinkish color, and appealing aromatics with lovely floral and fruit notes. It’s a great wine for sipping or for pairing with a wide range of foods from seafood to spicy foods to desserts. It made a fine accompaniment to the foods served at this dinner.

Benjamin Bridge Wine
Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Wine

Fresh steamed mussels were served as hors d’oeuvres. According to the Mussel Industry Council of PEI, the Island produces about 45 million pounds of mussels each year. This translates into approximately 80% of the entire mussel production in  Canada. In fact, fresh PEI mussels are shipped to the USA and as far away as Hong Kong, Japan, and Kuwait. It’s very common at PEI gatherings to serve steamed mussels.

PEI Mussels
Steamed PEI Mussels

The dinner was held in a large community hall and served, family style, at long tables.

PEI Fall Flavors Culinary Festival event
“Le Festin acadien avec homard” PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival event 2016 in Abram-Vilage, PEI

Servers, in traditional Acadian attire, brought the prepared dishes to each table.

PEI Fall Flavors Culinary Festival
“Le Festin acadien avec homard” PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival Event, Abram-Village, PEI, 2016

Guests then passed the dishes, from one to another, around the table, serving themselves.

Lobster Dinner
Serving lobster at “Le Festin acadien avec homard” in Abram-Village, PEI

The four-course dinner began with a bowl of Chicken Fricot, also known as chicken soup. This is a very popular Acadian dish.

Chicken Soup
Chicken Fricot, a popular Acadian soup

The Fricot contains very few ingredients and I believe it is the summer savory that gives this brothy soup its wonderful tasty flavor.  Made only with chicken, onion, potatoes, water, summer savory, salt, and pepper, it’s hard to believe just how tasty this soup really is! It was especially good with the French biscuits that were in baskets on the tables! French biscuits (Galettes blanches) are a cross between a yeast roll and a traditional tea biscuit.

Biscuits
French Biscuits

The second course consisted of two long-time Acadian favorites: Râpure and Acadian Meat Pie.

Acadian Meat Pie and Râpure
Acadian Meat Pie (left) and Râpure (right)

Both are made with simple easy-to-come-by ingredients.  The Râpure is made with pork and/or chicken, onions, potatoes (both mashed and raw grated), eggs, summer savory, coriander, salt and pepper.  The ingredients are mixed together, placed in a greased baking dish and baked in the oven.

Traditionally,  Acadian meat pie was made with pork. Today, however, it is common to have a mixture of meats in the pie – pork, beef, chicken, and/or hare, for example. Again, the ingredients for the pie filling are very basic – the meat, onion, summer savory, cloves, salt and pepper, and some flour for thickening.  The filling is encased in pie pastry and baked in the oven. Molasses is often served with the meat pie. Meat pies are common fare for Acadians on Christmas Eve although, on PEI, the pies are commonly now eaten throughout the year as well.

The third course was Island lobster in the shell served with homemade potato salad.

Shellfish
PEI Lobster

It’s very traditional on PEI to serve potato salad with lobster and this salad was a true old-fashioned homemade PEI potato salad full of flavor.

Salad
Potato Salad

And, for dessert, fresh blueberry pie made with in-season local berries.

Pie
Blueberry Pie

This was a fantastic evening of fabulous food and lively music. I thoroughly enjoyed this event and it was an opportunity for me to try some Acadian foods I had not had before.

Follow these links for other stories I have written on previous Fall Flavours Culinary Festival events:

PEI Shellfish Festival (2012)
Farm Day in the City (2012)
Savour Victoria (2012)
Toes, Taps, and Taters (2013)
Lobster Party on the Beach (2013)
Applelicious (2013)
The Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge (2013)
Feast of the Fathers (2014)
Lamb Luau at Crowbush Cove (2014)
Feast and Frolic Dinner (PEI Int’l Shellfish Festival) (2014)
Beef and Blues (2014)
A Taste of New Glasgow (2015)
Beef ‘n Blues (2015)
Chef on Board (2015)
Cooking with Chefs Anna & Michael Olson in Brudenell, PEI (2015)

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Lobster
PEI Lobster served at “Le Festin acadien avec homard” PEI Fall Flavors Culinary Festival

Food Day Canada 2015: A Tribute to PEI’s Great Foods

The Bistro's Food Day Canada 2015 Menu
The Bistro’s Food Day Canada 2015 Menu

With its beginnings in 2003, Food Day Canada has grown and evolved.  Today, it is a country-wide initiative designed to showcase how a delectable entire meal can be made using Canadian-produced food.  It’s a tangible and visible way to celebrate the wonderful variety of foods produced in Canada and recognize our farmers, fishers, other food producers, chefs and, indeed, those of us who are home cooks bringing locally-produced food to our tables on a regular basis.  I like to use fresh locally-produced food products which have not traveled days to reach us and, at the same time, it gives me the opportunity to put dollars into the hands of local food producers to keep the local food movement alive and sustainable.

Preparing a meal using Canadian food items is no great challenge for me since I use local food products every day of the year.  In summer, our garden is the source of much of the food we eat.  Off season, I patronize my local farmers market in Charlottetown.  We have a number of farmers who grow produce year-round in their greenhouses so it’s great to have that ready source of local, fresh produce.  If you follow my blog regularly, you will have read stories I have written on several PEI food producers.

Living in PEI, I have lots of choices of foods that are representative of the Island.  For my 2015 Food Day Canada menu, I have chosen items from both land and sea and, as a tribute to our Island potato industry, am featuring potato salad, an all-time favorite summertime dish on PEI.  Potato salad is often found at backyard barbeques, picnics, and other summer get-togethers across the Island. You can get my recipe here.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's PEI Potato Salad
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s PEI Potato Salad

So, today, I am happy to share with you the menu I have prepared and photographs of the PEI foods that are on my table for Food Day Canada 2015 along with the sources of the products. This is my version of a typical down home PEI lobster supper.

Food Day Canada Menu 2015
Starter
PEI Mussels steamed in apple juice, garlic, and a medley of fresh herbs
and dipped in melted butter
Fresh Homemade Rolls

Main
PEI Lobster in the Shell
PEI Potato Salad
Green Garden Salad with Cranberry-Pear Vinaigrette

Dessert
Glazed Strawberry Pie with Whipped Cream

Wine Pairing
Little Sands White Wine, Rossignol Estate Winery, Little Sands, PEI

Pre-dinner Beverage:
Product and Source: Rhubarb Slush made with rhubarb from our garden

Rhubarb Slush is my latest drink creation and it is my signature drink for summer 2015.  It’s very tasty and refreshing on a hot summer day.  We have a large rhubarb patch and it’s another way to use the rhubarb.

Rhubarb Slush
Rhubarb Slush

Starter
Products & Sources:
Mussels – Prince Edward Aqua Farms Inc., Springbrook, PEI
Butter – Amalgamated Dairies Limited (ADL), Summerside, PEI

Mussels are one of the main products harvested from PEI waters.  While they are used in different ways such as in chowders and even salads, they are most often steamed and eaten right out of the shell, dipped in good PEI hot melted butter.

PEI Mussels
PEI Mussels

Today, I simply steamed the mussels in a small amount of apple juice, some garlic, and a small handful of mixed herbs from my herb garden.  The key to good steamed mussels is to use as little liquid as possible to steam them as too much liquid dilutes their flavor.

PEI Mussels
PEI Mussels

I made a fresh batch of rolls this morning and, with a good slather or ADL butter, they make a lovely accompaniment to the mussels.

Main
Products & Sources:
Lobster – Fished off of Tignish, PEI, and sourced through MR Seafood in Charlottetown, PEI

Butter – Amalgamated Dairies Limited (ADL), Summerside, PEI
Potatoes – Jewell Produce, York, PEI
Lettuce – From my own garden
Tomatoes – Vankampen Greenhouse, Charlottetown, PEI
English Cucumber – Schurman Family Farm, Spring Valley, PEI (these are the absolute best flavored cucumbers I have ever tasted!)

We are truly blessed on PEI to have fine quality lobster.  The lobsters on my table today were fished off the shores of Tignish in the western part of the province.  One of my favorite places to buy fresh seafood is at MR Seafood on Thompson Drive in Charlottetown and that’s where these were purchased. Lobster may be eaten hot or cold. My preference is to eat the lobster meat cold but dipped in melted butter.

PEI Lobster
PEI Lobster

The potatoes that I used to make the potato salad came from Jewell’s Produce in York, PEI, just outside Charlottetown.

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

Our lettuce has been very slow to grow this year but I was able to get enough from the garden to make a green salad for our dinner.


Dessert
Product and Source: Strawberries from the Schofield Farm in Lady Fane, PEI

Strawberries are nearing the end of their season here on PEI but, as a finale to the strawberry season, I am including my glazed strawberry pie for dessert.

Glazed Strawberry Pie
Glazed Strawberry Pie

Wine Pairing
My wine of choice for today is Little Sands White Wine that comes from Rossignol Estate Winery in Little Sands in the Eastern part of PEI. Rossignol is PEI’s oldest winery.  Click here to read the story I previously wrote about my visit to this winery.

So, this is how I am celebrating Food Day Canada 2015.  What Canadian-produced foods are on your table today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These water tanks are not your ordinary watering cans!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

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

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

Method:

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

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

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and red onion.

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

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

Dressing

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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

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