Out and About

  • Lobster Suppers – A Time-honoured PEI Tradition July 15, 2019

    People visit Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, for all kinds of reasons but many will tell you it’s for the beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, fine golf courses, and fabulous food – ahhhhh, yes, the food and, more specifically, the seafood.  Most people, when PEI is mentioned, will immediately say that we are known for our high-quality seafood, including mussels, oysters, and lobster.

    For many years, the Island has been known for its “lobster suppers”. That is to say, they are restaurant venues that specialize in serving meals where lobster tends to be the star. As anyone who has eaten at a traditional PEI lobster supper will attest, they are the full meal deal.  For the most part, these lobster suppers are traditionally served in big community halls or large restaurant facilities.  Over the years, there have been several lobster supper enterprises come and go but, at the time of writing, two have endured for decades and they are really only about a 10-15 minute drive from each other.  With such a rich long history, I recently sat down with the general managers from both the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers and the Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers to find out how these suppers started and why they have enjoyed such enduring popularity.

    New Glasgow Lobster Suppers – New Glasgow, PEI

    Exterior of New Glasgow Lobster Suppers Building
    New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, New Glasgow, PEI, Canada

    Nestled in the heart of the rolling hills of rural New Glasgow along the scenic River Clyde and not far from North Rustico and Cavendish, the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers (NGLS) have been operating since 1958.  This makes them the longest running lobster suppers on the Island. When I asked general manager, Carl Nicholson, to explain their long success, he said it’s due to their freshness of product (lobsters are cooked daily) with all rolls, pies, and salads made daily on the premises. He also said that, since the suppers began, they have only had two managers, including himself, so there is an element of consistency in operation. With decades of experience behind them, they’ve clearly found the secret to staying in business.

    How New Glasgow Lobster Suppers happened to start is, itself, an interesting story.  A group of young farmers in the area, known as the Junior Farmers Group, decided they wanted some kind of community centre.  The group of young farmers in their twenties and thirties came together and bought a small canteen from the Covehead Racetrack for $210 and moved it to New Glasgow.  In June, 1958, to pay for this building, they held a fundraising event that happened to have lobster for supper and a dance afterward.  The princely sum of $1.50 got you supper and the dance.  The building, small and primitive by any standards, had no kitchen facilities and only had make-shift tables made from saw horses with old doors on top and there were no chairs, just benches.

    A kitchen and washrooms were added in 1962 and the group continued to serve one lobster supper per year until 1964 when they started serving the suppers once a week during July and August. They gradually increased service to two days a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. By 1967, lobster suppers were served five days per week and a cook was hired. As business grew, they expanded the kitchen and hired their first manager in 1969.  As their current manager, Carl, says, “it is a true testament to sustainability [of the lobster suppers], only growing and expanding as demand grew and they were able to pay for each expansion”.

    By 1972, six local couples bought out the shares of the other Junior Farmers who had been part of the initial enterprise and, in 1973, they added on a big extension to the building to accommodate the growing lobster supper demand. The original building is still within the walls of the current structure. A grand opening was held in 1974 when then-PEI Premier Alex Campbell brought along Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau who happened to be on the Island at the time.  Mrs. Trudeau cut the ribbon to officially open the newly-expanded New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.

    Over the years, various changes have occurred and, since 1980, two of the original six families – the MacRaes and Nicholsons – have run the suppers, now making it a third generation run family business.

    One thing that has not changed at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers is their deeply-rooted connection to the local community and their family-oriented work environment.  The operation now sees members from the third generation of families working in the restaurant. Grandchildren are now working where their grandparents got their start in the working world. A seasonal employer of over 100 people, New Glasgow has provided summer employment for many local people over its long history with many funding their education through working summers at the lobster suppers.  It is not uncommon to hear of judges, lawyers, and other professionals having had their first job washing dishes or waiting on tables at the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.

    What’s for Dinner?

    Dinners are served in a large banquet style hall that has a seating capacity of 500.

    Interior of New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, New Glasgow, PEI
    Interior of New Glasgow Lobster Suppers in New Glasgow, PEI, Canada

    Patrons order their entrée and pay for their dinners upon arrival and then are escorted to a table by a hostess.  Lobster dinners are priced based on the size of the lobster (1 lb – 4 lb lobsters are available). Tables for different sized groups are available, starting with tables for two.  Don’t expect a quiet, intimate romantic dining experience as these suppers are casual and are modeled after a church or community hall supper.

    Lobster in the shell
    Lobster in the shell at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, PEI

    Primarily, the number one entrée will be lobster served in the shell, hot or cold, with lots of melted butter for dipping that succulent lobster.

    Dipping lobster claw in melted butter
    Dipping lobster claw in melted butter at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, PEI

    However, if lobster is not your thing, a number of alternative entrée options, including chicken, steak, pasta, haddock, scallops, ham, and salmon, are available.

    Bowl of seafood chowder and homemade roll at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
    Seafood Chowder from the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers in New Glasgow, PEI

    All meals include appetizers of chowder or soup, steamed PEI mussels, and large puffy homemade rolls and sliced bread; salad plate (coleslaw, potato salad, and green garden salad); desserts consisting mainly of homemade pies; and non-alcoholic beverages. The facility is licenced and there are additional charges for alcoholic beverages.

    Basket of homemade rolls and bread at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
    Homemade rolls and bread at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, PEI

    Dinner is a plated meal brought to the table by your server and the servers are very obliging to photograph you dressed in your plastic bib and all ready to tuck into an amazing meal. Gratuity is extra and at the patron’s discretion.

    Plates of lobster and salad at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
    Plates of lobster and salads at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers in New Glasgow, PEI

    Several of the restaurant’s staff have worked with the organization for years, returning year after year, a testament to how grounded New Glasgow Lobster Suppers and their staff are in the local community. At time of writing, the same baker has been making all the pies onsite at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers since 1976, often arriving at 5am.  Pastry is homemade onsite and the Suppers are well-known for their lemon pie with the mile-high meringue. It’s not uncommon for the baker to turn out 60 lemon pies on any given day….and that’s just one kind of pie available! They make a mighty fine coconut cream pie, too.

    Slice of Coconut Cream Pie at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
    Coconut Cream Pie at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers

    The restaurant accommodates special dietary restrictions such as gluten-free and vegan diets; however, it is always advisable to call ahead of your visit to discuss your particular dietary needs. A children’s menu is available making New Glasgow Lobster Suppers a family-friendly dining experience.

    PEI has two lobster seasons with a break in between.  The first season runs from May – June and the second from August – October. To ensure a continuous supply of fresh lobster, New Glasgow Lobster Suppers has a salt-water holding tank with capacity to hold 20,000 lbs of lobster onsite at a time and is replenished throughout the season. New Glasgow Lobster Suppers buys thousands of pounds of lobster when the spring lobster season opens.  While different sizes of lobster are available, their most popular is the 1 lb lobster dinner. On average, they’ll crack open around 50,000 lbs of lobster a season.  And, of course, there are the world-famous PEI mussels that are served as an appetizer and the suppers will go through about 70,000 pounds of those in a season!

    Lobster, rolls, and salad plate at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
    Lobster, rolls, and salad plate at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers

    When asked what, in his opinion, sets New Glasgow Lobster Suppers apart from other similar suppers, Carl says it’s a combination of their focus on quality and freshness of food, consistency of product, and the local, friendly wait staff and table service they provide. And, he says, at the heart of it, it’s about two of the original six families working in business alongside their employees and everybody working together.  Everyone, regardless of their employment status, pitches in with the work that makes New Glasgow Lobster Suppers the experience it is to their patrons.

    Salad Plate at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
    Salad Plate at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers

    A visit to New Glasgow Lobster Suppers is a time-honored tradition for many Islanders and tourists alike.  Carl tells me a man was recently paying for his meal and he informed Carl that this year’s annual visit was his 40th meal at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.  Operating seasonally from mid-May until early October, the restaurant is open seven days a week from 4pm until 8pm (8:30pm in July and August). When you go, keep an eye out for spotting celebrities.  Prime ministers, famous hockey players, and movie filmmakers, actors, and directors are known to have dined at the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.

    New Glasgow Lobster Suppers is located at 605 Route 258, in New Glasgow, PEI.  For more information, visit their website

    Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers – North Rustico, PEI

    Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI
    Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

    There is something quaint and charming about a small rural PEI town that has a working fishing harbour.  North Rustico, which also has a fine beach, has long been a treasured location for tourists, artists, and Islanders.  In close proximity to the resort municipality of Cavendish, North Rustico swells in size with visitors in the summer. In the heart of the town is a large restaurant establishment known as “Fisherman’s Wharf” that sits just on the edge of the harbour. That’s where my stop today has found me chatting with general manager, Troy Howatt, and current owner, Amy MacPherson, who along with her husband, Forbes, now owns and operates the Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers.

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

    These lobster suppers began operating in 1980 when the original owner, Albert Dow, purchased a small existing restaurant on the same location as Fisherman’s Wharf sits today.  So the story goes, Mr. Dow would see the sightseeing buses from Charlottetown pass by and wondered where they were heading and, more to the point, where they would be dining on their excursion.  It wasn’t long until those big red double-decker buses were stopping at Dow’s restaurant that began serving cafeteria-style lunches for the bus tour industry. Back in the early 1980s, the buffet lunch, including lobster, cost only $9.99.

    Apart from the increase in price for the dinners, other changes have occurred at Fisherman’s Wharf over the years including an expansion of facilities to increase serving capacity. This, of course, requires a large staff which now numbers over 100 seasonal employees. The restaurant enjoys great staff loyalty as several staff members have worked at Fisherman’s Wharf for many years, including one server who has been with the restaurant since it began in 1980. Troy, himself, has worked at Fisherman’s Wharf since 1986, working his way up to become the general manager.

    What’s for Dinner?

    Dinners are served in a restaurant setting that has a seating capacity of 500 (two dining rooms).  As with New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, patrons order and pay for their meal before eating and are then seated by a host(ess).  The ambiance has a distinctive rustic, nautical theme in keeping with its close proximity to the harbour.  Individuals are seated at wooden tables that seat four or six.

    Dining table at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI
    Dining table at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

    The suppers have maintained their self-serve buffet style that was in operation when the suppers first began serving the motor coach market which is still a major part of their clientele. It is not uncommon, as was the case during my visit, to see a large motor coach pull up to the door and unload a large group of tourists for a traditional Fisherman’s Wharf lobster supper.  When you see a block of tables with bibs on the chair backs, it’s a sign that a bus tour is imminently expected.

    Lobster Bibs Awaiting Diners
    Lobster Bibs Awaiting Diners at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

     

    Obviously, lobster is the most popular entrée.

    Lobster in the shell served with melted butter at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
    Lobster in the shell served with melted butter at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI, Canada

    It’s the customer’s choice to have the lobster served, in the shell, hot or cold, and, yes, there will be lots of melted butter for dipping the juicy, plump chunks of lobster.

    Dipping lobster claw in melted butter
    Dipping Lobster Claw in Melted Butter at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

    There are plenty of alternative meal options available for those who are not lobster fans.  Steak, scallops, breaded shrimp, snow crab, haddock, and rotisserie chicken are entrée options.

    Salad bar at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
    Small Segment of the 60-foot long Salad Bar at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers in North Rustico, PEI

    All meals include access to the 60-foot salad bar that, in addition to being comprised of some 30 salads, also includes seafood chowder, and mussels.

    Bowl of Seafood Chowder at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI
    Bowl of Seafood Chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

    Yes, those tasty PEI steamed mussels are included, too!

    Steamed PEI mussels dipped in melted butter
    Steamed PEI mussels dipped in melted butter at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers

    Warm homemade rolls are delivered to your table by your server who will also serve the lobster or other entrée of choice.

    Basket of warm homemade rolls at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
    Basket of warm homemade rolls at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers

    Other than that, the meal is basically self-serve at your leisure.

    Plate of different salads at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
    Plate of different salads at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers

    A wide variety of homemade desserts is also available and non-alcoholic beverages are included in the meal price. The facility is licenced and there are additional charges for alcoholic beverages. Gratuity is not automatically included with the meal price and is at the patron’s discretion.

    Strawberry Shortcake at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
    Strawberry Shortcake at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers in North Rustico, PEI

    Fisherman’s Wharf accommodates special dietary restrictions such as gluten-free and vegan diets. To discuss specific dietary needs, it is always a good idea to call ahead of your visit. A children’s menu is available so the whole family can enjoy a meal together.

    Lobsters are purchased through Island seafood wholesalers and are held until needed in the onsite lobster holding facility that is filled with sea water piped from the harbour. This allows the lobsters to maintain their fresh sea quality and taste. Various sizes of lobster are available and the most popular size is the 1½ pound lobster though they do get requests for lobsters as large as 3-4 pounds. On average, 650-750 lobsters will be cracked a day in peak tourism season and one guy cracks open every one of them, single-handedly.  I have seen him at work and those hands just fly to make short of the work!

    Troy says, in his opinion, what sets Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers apart from others is their state-of-the-art kitchen and their 60-foot long salad bar which has such a huge variety, there is something for everyone.

    Segment of 60-foot long salad bar at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
    Segment of 60-foot long salad bar at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers

    A visit to North Rustico would not be complete without a stop for a meal at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers. Open daily from mid-May until early October, the restaurant serves meals from 12 noon until 8:30pm (note that hours may be reduced in the shoulder seasons). You never know who you will see at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers. Several celebrities including those from the film industry, the hockey fame world, and politicians have been spotted dining at the restaurant.

    Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers is located at 7230 Rustico Road in North Rustico, PEI. Visit their website for more information.

    Tips for Dining at a PEI Lobster Supper

    Dining at one of the Island’s Lobster Suppers is a unique experience.  Here are my tips for making the most of it:

        1. There is no need to dress up. These are casual dining venues. Plastic lobster bibs are available and are recommended as, even though the lobsters have been cracked open by the kitchen staff, the meat can be a bit juicy to pull out the of the shell….then there is that lovely dripping melted butter….enough said!
        2. Expect casual surroundings. You won’t be seated at tables with people you do not know but neither is it a quiet, intimate dining experience.
        3. Pace yourself and don’t over-indulge in food! This is the biggest tip of all. There is A LOT of food coming your way at an Island lobster supper. It’s easy to get carried away with the unlimited mussels, fresh rolls, and seafood chowder that start out the meal and to fill up on those.  Save room for the lobster (or alternative entrée) and the desserts.  You’ll want to sample everything.
        4. Plan to spend time at the supper and enjoy the experience. These are not fast food outlets and the meals comprise a lot of food and courses.
        5. In peak season (July and August), there may be some line-ups (especially over the 5pm – 7pm timeframe) so be patient. It gives time to work up a needed appetite for what awaits you.
        6. Don’t expect à la carte menus to be available. The meals are set menu so there is no ordering of special or particular side dishes or customizing a meal.
        7. If you have never been to a PEI lobster supper, it can be daunting when you arrive at the check-in desk and need to make a snap decision on what entrée to order or whether you want your lobster hot or cold and so forth. It’s a good idea to check out the lobster supper’s website before arrival so you have an idea of what you plan to order.
        8. While both New Glasgow Lobster Suppers and Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers can accommodate dietary restrictions, it’s always advisable to call them ahead of your visit to discuss specific dietary concerns and needs. This will help ensure a pleasant dining experience for everyone in the party.

       

      Summary

      Food at an Island lobster supper is plain, downhome hearty fare that is simply prepared.  The lobster is served straight from the shell with no additions or sauces added to it. This allows the pure authentic taste of the lobster to be enjoyed. The potato salads will be homemade and be just like most Islanders know potato salad to be and that they, themselves, make at home.

      I always recommend visitors to PEI experience an authentic and traditional lobster supper during their visit – in fact, I suggest they visit both New Glasgow Lobster Suppers and Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers.  While there are certainly similarities between them, there are some differences. The most notable is that New Glasgow Lobster Suppers offers a completely plated meal brought to your table and served to you by your server while Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers offers a 60-foot long salad-plus bar and patrons largely serve themselves with the exception of the main entrée itself. Fisherman’s Wharf serves their lobster suppers all day starting at 12 noon while New Glasgow starts their dinner service at 4:00pm.

      No matter whether you choose one or both lobster suppers, one thing is for sure, you won’t leave hungry.  Just make sure you arrive with a hearty appetite and elasticized waistbands are recommended! Then, don the plastic bib and tuck into a hearty and tasty authentic PEI lobster supper. It’s sure to be an unforgetable meal and a great memory of a PEI visit.  Once you’ve had a meal at one of our Island lobster suppers, I think it will be quite apparent why they’ve stood the test of time and have been in business for decades.

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    Lobster Suppers in PEI

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  • Breakfast Picnic on the Beach September 10, 2018
    Picnic
    Breakfast on the Beach

    When we think of picnics, we most often think of lunch time or dinner events. Rarely, do we think of a breakfast picnic and yet it’s probably one of the easiest picnic meals to pack!

    Breakfast Picnic on the Beach
    Breakfast Picnic on the Beach

    Recently, I suggested we pack up a continental breakfast and head to the beach for a morning picnic.  We had just been to a nearby blueberry U-pick so, naturally, blueberries were included in the picnic.

    Blueberries
    High Bush Blueberries

    The menu was simple.  Orange juice, Greek yogurt topped with homemade granola and fresh blueberries, homemade muffins, peaches, and coffee.

    Breakfast Picnic
    Breakfast Picnic Fare

    I love these little multi-purpose jelly jars.  They are perfect for yogurt parfaits!

    Yogurt Parfaits
    Yogurt Breakfast Parfaits

    A breadboard makes an easily transportable platform upon which to set the food. I find, with beach picnics and an uneven sand base, it can be a bit of a challenge to keep the food from tipping over and spilling. However, the breadboard provides a stable, level surface eliminating the problem.

    Breakfast Picnic
    Continental Breakfast at the Beach

    All that needs to be added is the quintessential coffee!  I have a small thermos/coffee butler that holds exactly two cups of coffee and is great for these types of events.

    Breakfast Picnic
    Breakfast Picnic at the Beach

    I love my wicker picnic baskets and this one came equipped with the plates, mugs, and cutlery.

    Picnic Basket
    Wicker Picnic Basket

    Let’s take a peek inside the picnic basket!

    Breakfast Picnic
    Breakfast in a Basket

    A good book for one and the morning newspaper for the other found their way to the picnic, too! No need to take along lawn chairs – an old blanket and a couple of comfy pillows will suffice.

    Breakfast on the Beach
    Breakfast is Read!

    Our summers are short here in Prince Edward Island so we make the most of the lovely fine days and our close proximity to the beach. What better way to savour the last days of summer than to pack a breakfast picnic and head to the beach to enjoy breakfast with a view like this! Self-imposed time-outs can be a good thing!

    Beach
    PEI Beach

     

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  • Chill Out with Great Ice Cream in PEI September 8, 2018

    Strawberry Rhubarb Ice Cream

    It’s hard to think of summer without thinking of ice cream.  Those hot, sultry summer days just seem to beg for an ice cream fix.

    Here, on PEI, we have no shortage of ice cream venues to choose from.  Whether you are a soft-serve ice cream fan or a hard ice cream aficionado, you’ll find lots to choose from.  After a summer of research (full disclosure – the waistline may have been harmed by this initiative!), here’s the scoop on my favorite places on the Island for hard ice cream and for soft-serve ice cream. Readers will note that opinions expressed are my own based on personal experience at all venues mentioned below.  None of the establishments knew I was sampling their products for this review. This is not a sponsored post and I received no compensation in any form for my reviews.

    My review is broken down into two parts – hard ice cream and soft-serve ice cream. Readers will note that I was not reviewing every product sold by dairy bars and ice cream parlours. Rather I was reviewing two very specific products – hard ice cream and soft-serve ice cream. This to say that, for example, a dairy bar that specializes in, or is most known for, its soft-serve ice cream, may also serve other frozen products such as hard ice cream, too. In that example, if I was reviewing their soft-serve product, that’s all I was reviewing from that particular dairy bar.  Likewise, if a business is known primarily for its hard ice cream but also sells, for example, frozen yogurt or sherbet, I only reviewed their hard ice cream product(s). Of those I sampled in 2018, what follows were my top favorites.

    For Best Hard Ice Cream

    Two locations that specialize in the production of the traditional hard ice cream stood out for me:

    COWS Inc.

    Creamery Location: 12 Milky Way (397 Capital Drive), Charlottetown, PEI
    (11 Canadian locations + 1 in Beijing, China)

    COWS Creamery, PEI
    COWS Creamery, PEI

    Churning out delectable flavours since 1983, the flagship creamery is located on the aptly-named “Milky Way” just off of one of the famous roundabouts outside Charlottetown.  This venue is open year-round so locals do not have to go through withdrawal due to seasonal closures (phew!).  Other COWS locations, however, may be seasonal.

    The Truck That Says It All!
    The Truck That Says It All!

    Apart from the high-quality ice cream (yup, 16% butter fat), COWS is legendary for its creative and unique ice cream flavour names often involving a play on words related to anything “cow” – like Cownadian Maple, Fluff ‘n Udder, Messie Bessie, and Moo Crunch, for example.

    COWS Ice Cream Flavours
    COWS Ice Cream Flavours

    When I visit a COWS location, I go in with the best intentions to try a new flavour but, once I’m standing in front of the display case, I inevitably choose “Wowie Cowie”, a delectable concoction of vanilla ice cream, English toffee marble, chocolate flakes, and Moo Crunch.  Ice cream is available in dishes or cones but their handmade waffle cones are hard to pass up! In my view, the cones are part of the “udderly” wonderful COWS ice cream experience!

    COWS' Wowie Cowie Ice Cream
    COWS’ Wowie Cowie Ice Cream

    There is no indoor seating at this COWS location though there are some nearby picnic tables outside.  Some COWS locations may have indoor seating available. Tours of the creamery at this location are also available.

    Scooping COWS Ice Cream
    Scooping COWS Ice Cream

    One of the things that makes COWS ice cream extra special is that it is available exclusively at COWS stores so heading to a COWS outlet just makes the experience that much extra special because you know you can’t buy it at the local supermarket.  You can check out the story I earlier wrote on COWS here.

    Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour

    286 Fitzroy Street, Summerside, PEI

    Holman's Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI
    Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

    The newbies on the Island ice cream scene, this family-owned and operated ice cream parlour opened its doors in 2016 and is quickly earning a reputation for high quality homemade ice cream.

    Located in a heritage home, known as the Holman Homestead, in Summerside, this ice cream parlour has fast become a favorite stop for ice cream aficionados.  Much of the charm of the historical property has been maintained and gives an air of stepping back in time to a vintage ice cream parlour.

    Holman's Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI
    Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

    The premium homemade hard ice cream, manufactured on the premises, is made with all-natural ingredients.  Several flavours of ice cream are available – my favorite is the Salted Caramel though I have heard rave reviews of their Cookies and Cream variety.

    Ice Cream
    “Salted Caramel” Ice Cream – Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

    Ice cream is available in cones or dishes but, as you walk up the sidewalk toward the house, you can catch the tantalizing waft of the waffle cones being made – it’s hard not have one of those cones and they don’t disappoint!

    At Holman's Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI
    At Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

    The parlour also offers sundaes, banana splits, and soda fountain floats made with their homemade ice cream.

    Ice Cream Sundae at Holman's Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI
    Ice Cream Sundae at Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

    They also make sherbets and have at least one variety of ice cream made with sheep’s milk.  Service is provided by friendly staff.  Eat inside or, on lovely weather days, enjoy the ice cream in the garden.  The ice cream from Holman’s is made all the more special because it is only available at their Ice Cream Parlour and you won’t find it in the frozen dairy section of any supermarket.  Open seasonally.  (Hint – In my view, it’s worth the drive to Summerside just to have an ice cream at Holman’s!  Just sayin’, this might have happened on more than one occasion….for research purposes, of course, you know….just sayin’…..)

    For Best Soft-Serve Ice Cream

    Two locations that are known primarily for their soft-serve ice cream particularly caught my attention.

    Sunny’s Dairy Bar – New Discovery 2018

    559 Water Street, Summerside, PEI

    Ice Cream Dairy Bar
    Sunny’s Dairy Bar, Summerside, PEI

    This dairy bar came recommended to me by a couple of folks who thought I should check it out.  Can soft-serve ice cream really be all that different from one place to another? Yes, it can and Sunny’s proves it!

    Opened in 2011, in the west end of Summerside, this is a traditional style dairy bar in that you place your order at the window and take your ice cream back to your vehicle or to the Green Shore Park across the street.  There is no indoor seating.

    This dairy bar was a new discovery for me this year and I will be back!  I opted for a Hot Fudge Sundae, my all-time favorite. The ice cream was the creamiest and richest I have ever had and the hot fudge topping was, well …. sublime!

    Hot Fudge Sundae at Sunny's Dairy Bar, Summerside, PEI
    Hot Fudge Sundae at Sunny’s Dairy Bar, Summerside, PEI

    Sunny’s has a long list of ice cream treats on its menu, too numerous to mention here.  Portion sizes are very generous.  I ordered a small sundae and, as can be seen in the photo, it is a very generous helping! Open seasonally, this is definitely a place to check out for ice cream in Summerside!

    Frosty Treat Dairy Bar

    Two (2) locations – Original at 109 Victoria Street West and new one in 2018 at 25010 Veteran’s Memorial Highway, both in Kensington, PEI

    Frosty Treat Dairy Bar #1 in Kensington, PEI
    Frosty Treat Dairy Bar #1 in Kensington, PEI

    A long-time favorite with Islanders, this traditional-style dairy bar is well known for its catchy TV ads “Don’t Drive By! Drive In!” For many Islanders, it will come as no surprise as to why Frosty Treat made my list of “go-to” places for yummy ice cream in PEI.  Frosty Treat has been synonymous with great soft-serve ice cream for many years and the frequent line-ups at the dairy bar window on hot summer days and evenings attest to this.

    This popular ice cream bar serves up creamy soft-serve ice cream that will satisfy any craving for soft swirly ice cream.  Other ice cream treats are also available on Frosty’s menu.

    Frosty Treat has been a summer tradition for us for many years.  Their Hot Fudge Sundae, in particular, is a perennial favorite. Open seasonally.

    Hot Fudge Sundae from Frosty Treat Dairy Bar, Kensington, PEI
    Hot Fudge Sundae from Frosty Treat Dairy Bar, Kensington, PEI

    If you are in the Kensington area, “don’t drive by, drive in” to one of the Frosty Treat locations for a cool ice cream treat.

    Frosty Treat #2 Location in Kensington, PEI
    Frosty Treat #2 Location in Kensington, PEI

    Special Mention

    Somerset Ice Cream Bar – New Discovery 2018

    2 Somerset Street, Kinkora, PEI

    Somerset Dairy Bar, Kinkora, PEI
    Somerset Dairy Bar, Kinkora, PEI

    Located in the small rural village of Kinkora, midway between Charlottetown and Summerside, the Somerset Ice Cream Bar opened for business in summer 2018.  What makes this ice cream bar unique, and what earned it a special mention in this article, is that its owner and operator is a young entrepreneur, still in high school (yes, you read that right)!

    Soft-serve Ice Cream
    Ice Cream from Somerset Dairy Bar, Kinkora, PEI

    Many cones of generous-sized portions of creamy swirled soft-serve ice cream were served out of this new dairy bar this past summer.  In traditional dairy bar style, orders are placed at the window.  There is no indoor seating but there are benches on the deck around the dairy bar and limited picnic table seating. Open seasonally.

    If you are traveling Rte 225 between Summerside and Charlottetown, make it a plan to stop for a tasty treat at this ice cream bar.

    So, this is what the waistline could handle this summer!  Again readers will note that some of these establishments also serve other types of ice cream and ice cream related treats.  However, the purpose of my exercise this summer was to simply find great establishments that specialized in, or were best known for, either hard ice cream or soft-serve ice cream.  Others may have differing opinions on my choices but, based on my personal experience on the days I visited the venues, I had great ice cream and service at each of these five (5) venues this year.  In my view, you can’t go wrong with an ice cream treat from any of these five (5) venues. All establishments have active social media accounts (and some have websites) that you can check out for more information and hours and season of operation.

    Strawberry Rhubarb Ripple Ice Cream

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  • Picnic Lunch in the Gazebo in St. Peter’s Bay, PEI August 29, 2018
    Picnic in the Gazebo at St. Peter's Bay, PEI
    Picnic in the Gazebo at St. Peter’s Bay, PEI

    We thoroughly enjoy our home province of Prince Edward Island! Our special Island is small enough that we can get to know all parts of it quite well.  In summer, especially, we do a lot of day trips all around the Island.  Most times, for our day excursions, I pack a picnic lunch and we head off for the day.  Sometimes, I have a particular picnic destination in mind and have a good idea if there will be a park nearby that would be suitable for a picnic and, other times, it’s totally by chance where we land at picnic time. Apart from the opportunity to dine outdoors in our all-too-short summer season here on Canada’s Atlantic Coast, transporting our own meal means we can eat wherever we are whenever we are hungry without having to try and be at a certain location where there is a restaurant which may, or may not, be able to accommodate dietary needs.

    Our recent day trip took us to the north shore area of the eastern part of the Island.  I love PEI lighthouses – the iconic red and white structures are dotted here and there all around the coast of the Island.  I had been searching to find the St. Peter’s Bay Lighthouse for some time and was determined to find it this year.  So, this was our primary destination on this particular day trip.

    St. Peter's Harbour Lighthouse, PEI
    St. Peter’s Harbour Lighthouse, PEI

    It wasn’t particularly easy to find this elusive lighthouse  but, with assistance of an acquaintance who provided directions, I was able to locate it.  Access is via a single lane red clay road with a canopy of trees.  The adventure was indeed worth it!

    After we enjoyed the vista surrounding the lighthouse, not to mention the beautiful beach, we decided it was time to find a place to set out our picnic.

    PEI North Shore Beach
    Beach by St. Peter’s Bay Lighthouse, Morell, PEI

    I knew of the small park by the water in nearby St. Peter’s Bay where I had had a picnic before (click here to view those photos).  What I didn’t recall was the lovely gazebo at this site. This find was a blessing since the temperature had soared to 28C by this time and it was way too hot to eat out in the open with no shelter!

    When we arrived, we found the large gazebo unoccupied so immediately went about setting out our picnic lunch.  Someone had planted beautiful flowers in boxes around the gazebo and that formed a ready backdrop that I could not have planned or hoped for. Bonus! See how gorgeous the flowers look in the photo below and how they fortuitously match my color scheme and complement the color of the lemonade!

    Picnic in a Gazebo
    Picnic in a Gazebo

    The color theme of my picnic was turquoise, always a summery color. The burst of hot pink in the drink certainly adds a punch of color!

    Picnic Salad Bowls
    Picnic Salad Bowls

    I found the bowls, matching small salad dressing containers, and rectangular dishes at Walmart.  Not only are they all color-coordinated in turquoise blue but the dishes come with the needed cutlery built in, a real bonus because there is no need to remember to bring cutlery separately.

    Turquoise-themed Picnic
    Turquoise-themed Picnic

    The bowls match my insulated picnic basket.  A blue-checked tablecloth and checkered napkins, already part of my picnic arsenal, were found to match as well.

    Turquoise and Blueberry Blue Details
    Turquoise and Blueberry Blue Details

    A small model sailboat in matching colors and a collection of shells formed the centerpiece for my tablescape. I figure if I am going to dine outside, I might as well go all the way and set the table attractively! It makes for a more fun and memorable picnic.

    Sailboat and Shells Tablescape
    Sailboat and Shells Tablescape

    For lunch, I prepared my version of a picnic buddha bowl, ensuring it contained contents that would travel.  There is no one right way to make a buddha bowl but, typically, they contain some kind of grain (preferably high fibre), veggies and fruit, a protein source, and greens.  I began by layering the bowl with lettuce from our garden. Our garden has been a good producer this year so the cherry tomatoes, celery (it’s there but it’s hiding in the photo), and carrots are garden-fresh. The grain I chose to use was a tri-colored quinoa. To make the meal more substantial and to add some protein, I included a half hard boiled egg in each bowl. The addition of the red onion gives a flavor and color boost. I love how colorful and healthy this salad is!

    Main Meal Picnic Salad
    Main Meal Picnic Salad

    I often brine and roast boneless skinless chicken breasts for various uses and they are perfect sliced for a main meal salad or as added protein in a buddah bowl.

    Picnic Salad
    Picnic Salad

    Some freshly picked blueberries from the Tryon Blueberries U-pick added a bit of color, texture, and sweetness to the salad.  A simple balsamic dressing was all that was needed to finish the salad.  This type of meal is great for a picnic.  The meal is completely prepped at home and contained in a bowl with the dressing added at the time of serving.  The meal travels well – I use several ice packs in my insulated picnic basket to keep the food good and cold.  At meal time, it is simply a matter of removing the cover from each diner’s bowl and the meal is ready to go. Clean-up is super easy because the covers pop back on to the bowls and the utensils fit inside the bowls so there are no messy plates and utensils.

    These high bush blueberries are great snacking berries and I often pack them in my picnic basket when the berries are in season.  Today, their blue color matches my color scheme, too!

    High Bush Blueberries
    High Bush Blueberries

    Peanut butter cookies are always a great stand-by picnic treat.  They are easy to make, easy to transport, and satisfy the sweet tooth.  For my recipe, click here.

    Peanut Butter Cookies
    Peanut Butter Cookies

    Peaches are also a great fruit to take along on picnics. I love to incorporate the flavors of summer into my picnic menus.

    Peaches and Cookies
    Peaches and Cookies

     

    I love the little bottles in the photo below.  When I made the rhubarb lemonade earlier in the summer, I froze some in these bottles to have it ready for picnics.  The bottles help to keep the food cool as we travel and they quickly finish thawing completely when removed from the cooler as the picnic is being laid out. This is a super tasty (and colorful) summer drink – you can access my recipe by clicking here.

    Picnic in St. Peter's Bay, PEI
    Picnic in St. Peter’s Bay, PEI

    I hope you have enjoyed a peek into my picnic in the gazebo in St. Peter’s Bay, PEI! The Island has many picturesque places suitable for picnics and each comes with its own unique view.

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    Picnic in St. Peter's Bay
    Picnic in St. Peter’s Bay

    For other picnic inspiration from My Island Bistro Kitchen, check out these:

    Picnic by the Confederation Bridge in PEI
    Sliders and Salad Sunday Picnic
    A PEI Picnic in the Park
    Casual Summer Picnic
    A Canada Day Picnic in St. Peter’s Bay, PEI
    A Casual Summer Afternoon Picnic
    A Beach-Themed Picnic
    A Pretty Pink Picnic
    Canada Day Picnic
    Oh Canada! A Picnic to Celebrate Canada Day
    Labour Day Picnic by the PEI Seaside with Lobster Croissants on the Menu
    A Plaid Picnic on the Verandah
    Locovore’s Picnic – Food Day Canada 2016
    Late Summer Charcuterie Picnic
    Sunday Afternoon Wine and Cheese Picnic
    Old Country Rose Afternoon Tea Picnic

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  • Cooking Classes at The Table Culinary Studio in PEI August 26, 2018
    "Bounty of the Sea" Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    “Bounty of the Sea” Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    Tucked away on the Graham’s Road (Route 8), in the picturesque rural community of New London, Prince Edward Island, you will find The Table Culinary Studio that offers short (between 3.5 and 4.5 hours) cooking classes that focus primarily on cooking with fresh, local Island foods.  This experience is a great way to learn about the Island food culture.

    The Gently Rolling Hills of New London, PEI
    The Gently Rolling Hills of New London, PEI

    The rural setting is quintessential PEI. Fields in shades of green contrasted with the Island’s iconic red soil take visitors to the heart of some of the Island’s most fertile farm land.

    Field of Potatoes in PEI's Red Soil
    Field of Potatoes in PEI’s Red Soil

    Just down the road is New London Harbour, home to a small lobster fishing fleet and the grounds for other seafood like oysters, quahogs, and mussels.  Not far away, quality food can be sourced from dairy and beef farms, organic farmers, beekeepers, cheesemakers, and garlic growers. Could there be a more authentic location for a PEI culinary studio!

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

    While it is no secret that PEI has lovely scenery to enjoy, spectacular beaches and golf courses, and many attractions to keep visitors busy exploring our Island, many come to the Island knowing that PEI offers great food from the land and sea.

    Cavendish Beach, PEI
    Cavendish Beach, PEI

    Our potatoes, oysters, mussels, and lobster, in particular, are shipped all over the world and these Island products are well known, respected, and sought after for their high quality.

    PEI Potatoes
    PEI Potatoes

    So, what better way to experience the Island foods first hand than to take a short cooking class to learn more about them and how they can be prepared.

    The Table Culinary Studio (formerly Annie’s Table) has been in operation since 2012, offering an array of short cooking classes on a myriad of topics.  Under new ownership in 2016, The Table, with owner/chef Derrick Hoare at the helm, continues with the tradition of engaging culinary aficionados in ways to prepare local Island foods such as lobster, oysters, mussels, scallops, beef, cheese, and so forth.  The focus is very much on using fresh local ingredients that are in season and, by extension, acquainting participants with the rich Island food culture.

    The Table offers a number of hands-on cooking classes that include (at the time of writing) Bounty of the Sea, Black Gold (cured garlic), Farm to Table, Marilla’s Table, Hive to Table, Let Them Eat Beef, Oyster Obsession, Say Cheese, Vivacious Vegan, Applelicious, Artisan Bread, Gluten Free Gourmet, and Helping Hands.  The Table operates seasonally from May to October to coincide with the Island’s tourism season.  Several of the cooking classes involve field trips to farms and other local food producers to see, first-hand, how food is grown or produced and to pick up some local ingredients to bring back to The Table to be used in the class that follows.  This form of experiential tourism provides the opportunity for the learners to create wonderful memories of their vacation time in PEI, connect directly with PEI food producers, and to learn more about the Island’s food culture and the role that farming, fishing, and other food production play in the Island’s economy and way of life.

    I recently participated in the “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class at The Table which is located within walking distance to the house in which famed Island authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery was born and not far by vehicle to the resort municipality of Cavendish.

    Birthplace of authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery, New London, PEI
    Birthplace of authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery, New London, PEI

    But, before I take you on the adventure with me, here is a brief description of the venue and what a cooking class is like at The Table.

    The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    What makes this culinary studio unique is its venue.  It is located in a small white repurposed country church, very typical of so many seen in several Island communities.  Inside the church, the pews have been removed and, in their place, is a large harvest table where, in a few hours time, class participants will gather to enjoy the lavish spread of the morning’s cooking. The church’s altar has been elevated to a loft setting and the building is tastefully furnished.

    Students Gather at the Harvest Table Following a Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Students Gather at the Harvest Table Following a Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    The original altar and choir loft locations have been transformed into an open teaching kitchen.

    The Kitchen at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    The Kitchen at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    Class size is small and intimate – only a maximum of 10 participants per cooking class.  This ensures that each person has a front row view as the culinary team teaches the cooking or baking techniques in the open-style kitchen. It also allows for participants to be actively engaged and participating in the cooking or baking activities.

    The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    The culinary team consists of owner/chef Derrick Hoare, Executive Chef Michael Bradley, and Events Coordinator Christine Morgan. The atmosphere is unhurried and very sociable. Strangers become friends over the commonality of food. With a growing hunger for knowledge about where one’s food comes from and how it is grown, produced, or harvested, cooking classes appeal to most age demographics and skill levels. No need to worry if you are not an experienced or accomplished cook – the classes offer something for everyone, including a scrumptious meal after the class in the beautifully appointed old country church.

    So, now on to my adventure as a participant in The Table’s “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class.  After morning coffee upon arrival, everyone got suited up with their aprons and side towels.

    At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    The class began with Chef Derrick giving a brief talk on lobster fishing on PEI, recounting his own experiences going out on a fishing boat to learn, first-hand, about lobster fishing on the Island.  Chef Michael then gave a short biology lesson on how to identify the gender of a lobster.

    Executive Chef Michael Bradley at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Executive Chef Michael Bradley at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    It’s a good thing those lobsters were banded because, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having a finger caught in the claws of one, you are likely to end up with a broken finger – they’re strong!

    Lobsters
    Fiesty Lobsters

    Everyone was given a lobster and instructed on how to carefully de-band them before placing them in hot water to be cooked.

    Chef Derrick kept a watchful eye on the lobsters so they were removed from the pot at just the right time.

    Derrick Hoare, Owner/Chef at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Derrick Hoare, Owner/Chef at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    Next came the lesson on how to crack open a lobster.

    Cooked Lobster
    Cooked Lobster

    Chef Michael capably gave instructions as each student cracked open a lobster to reveal the succulent meat inside.

    Meat from the Lobster
    Meat from the Lobster

    Yes, a basic table knife will do the trick!

    Cracking Open Lobsters
    Cracking Open Lobsters

    Having never made homemade pasta before, I was particularly interested in the procedure.

    Making Homemade Pasta at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Making Homemade Pasta at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    The Table is very accommodating to class participants who have dietary restrictions.  On this day, there were two participants who were gluten-intolerant so a separate station on an adjacent workspace was set up for them to make the gluten-free pasta and Chef Michael alternated between the two groups giving information and instruction on pasta making.

    Making Gluten-Free Pasta at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Making Gluten-Free Pasta at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    Black garlic from nearby Eureka Garlic, not far from Kensington, was used in the pasta to give a unique flavour.  If you have never tasted black garlic, it’s not nearly as garlicky as you might think – I personally think it tastes like a cross between a fig and a prune.  You can check out my story here on Eureka Garlic. The chopped black garlic was kneaded into the pasta dough.

    Black Garlic from Eureka Garlic near Kensington, PEI
    Black Garlic from Eureka Garlic near Kensington, PEI

     

    The pasta dough was cut and gathered into circles ready to be dropped into the cooking pot.

    Cutting the Pasta Dough
    Cutting the Pasta Dough
    Homemade Pasta Ready for Cooking
    Homemade Pasta Ready for Cooking

    With the pasta made, we took a brief break from the food prep to listen to Christine explain how mussels are grown and harvested on PEI.

    Christine Morgan Explains How PEI Mussels are Grown and Harvested
    Christine Morgan Explains How PEI Mussels are Grown and Harvested

    PEI mussels are world famous and they are shipped all over the world.   Mussels are a common food to serve at many events, year-round, on PEI. They are easy to prepare and ever-so-tasty dipped in melted butter!

    Steamed PEI Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Christine Morgan Serves Up Steamed PEI Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    Chef Michael then guided the group in making Lobster Bisque.  Once the Mirepoix started cooking, you can only imagine how tantalizing the scent was as it wafted through the old church building.

    Stirring the Mirepoix for the Lobster Bisque at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Stirring the Mirepoix for the Lobster Bisque at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    Ohhhh, that lobster is going to make a dandy lunch – can’t you just taste it!

    Lobster Bisque in the Making at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Lobster Bisque in the Making at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    The third seafood that we learned to cook was scallops, those tasty little morsels!

    Cooking Scallops at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Cooking Scallops at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    The morning went super fast and, before we knew it, it was time for lunch to be served by the culinary team.

    Chef Michael Bradley of The Table Culinary Studio Preparing the Lobster Bisque for Serving
    Chef Michael Bradley of The Table Culinary Studio Preparing the Bowls of Lobster Bisque for Serving

    The table was beautifully set (those of you who follow my food blog regularly know how I love well-set tables).  The napkin at each place setting had either a small lobster trap or lobster napkin ring.

    Place Setting at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Place Setting at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    These napkin rings tied in well with the theme of the morning’s class – “Bounty of the Sea”.

    Place Setting at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Place Setting at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    How inviting does this look! Wouldn’t you love to sit in at this table!

    At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    Fresh homemade sourdough bread was on the table.

    Homemade Sourdough Bread
    Homemade Sourdough Bread

    The landing at the top of the spiral staircase in the church provided a great vantage point for photography.

    Spiral Staircase at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Spiral Staircase at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    The group assembled at the big harvest table which is the focal point in the middle of the studio. This 12’ table was hand-crafted from old attic boards extracted from the house which The Table’s former owner restored just up the road at New London corner.

    Class Lunch at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Class Lunch at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    How great does this lobster bisque look with that succulent lobster claw!  It tasted even better!

    Lobster Bisque
    Lobster Bisque

    We were very anxious to taste the homemade pasta and it did not disappoint! The pasta in the photo below is gluten-free.

    Homemade Pasta Topped with Lobster and Scallops at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Homemade Pasta Topped with Lobster and Scallops at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    This was accompanied by big bowls of PEI mussels with squeaky cheese topping melting down through the mussels.  If you are a mussel lover, these are hard to resist!

    PEI Mussels with Butter at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    PEI Mussels with Butter at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    And as if we weren’t stuffed enough, out came dessert. The dessert in the photo below is a chocolate beet cake.

    Chocolate Beet Cake at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Chocolate Beet Cake at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    And, for the gluten-free dessert, it was a deconstructed blueberry pie which I can attest was simply yummy!

    Gluten-free Deconstructed Blueberry Pie - The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Gluten-free Deconstructed Blueberry Pie – The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    The Table is set with the right ingredients – small class size, fresh local Island foods, quality instruction, hands-on cooking, a shared meal, and a charming venue with a history of its own.  If you are looking for an authentic and affordable cooking experience to allow you to more deeply engage with the local food scene and pick up some cooking tips and skills, check out course offerings at The Table.  With the short half-day classes, visitors can have the best of both worlds – a cooking experience to learn more about local PEI foods in the morning followed by a delicious lunch and then the rest of the day free to explore other Island adventures and sights. For more information on cooking classes and prices, visit The Table Culinary Studio website at: http://www.thetablepei.ca/classes

    The Table also offers fine dining in the evening (reservations required).  Click here to read my recent story on The Table’s North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner.

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    Cooking Classes in PEI
    Cooking Classes at The Table Culinary Studio in PEI
    Cooking Classes in PEI
    Cooking Classes at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Cooking Classes in Prince Edward Island
    Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    Connect with My Island Bistro Kitchen through the following social media channels:

    Facebook – “My Island Bistro Kitchen”
    Twitter – “PEIBistro”
    Instagram – “peibistro”

     

     

    My thanks to The Table Culinary Studio for the opportunity to experience their “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class and for the fine hospitality. My participation in the class was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the class experience. All opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.

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  • Feasting at The Table in New London, PEI August 4, 2018

      At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    One of the things most of us enjoy about travel is the opportunity to sample foods local to a region.  It’s part of the charm of a place and makes for great vacation memories.  At one time, vacationers went to a destination, did some sightseeing, took in some typical tourist attractions (amusement parks, museums, beaches, etc.), and ate at whatever restaurant they happened upon at meal time. Today’s travelers, generally speaking, are more interested in diversified travel experiences than they are simply going to a place so they can check it off their bucket list of places they have been.  Many seek out adventures that allow them to participate in activities, experience the uniqueness and authenticity of a place, mingle with the locals, and learn more about local foods and ways to prepare them.

    Grilled PEI Oysters Topped With A Black Garlic Cream Sauce and Bacon Jam (at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI)
    Grilled PEI Oysters Topped With A Black Garlic Cream Sauce and Bacon Jam (at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI)

    One of the best ways to learn about a place and its culture is through its local food.  In fact, many travelers choose destinations based on the local food scene, food festivals and events, unique dining experiences, and opportunities to participate in culinary classes. Many, therefore, seek out experiences that allow them to connect more fully with a region and what better way to do that than through food, especially if it is experiential cuisine where you learn something about the foods you are eating.

    I was recently a guest at the North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio which hosts themed communal-style dinners featuring Prince Edward Island foods throughout the summer months.  Today, I am going to share my dining experience at The Table with you.

    The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    The Table Culinary Studio is the successor of Annie’s Table Culinary Studio which was started by Annie Leroux in 2012.  You can click here for my story on Annie’s Table Culinary Studio.  Current owner, Derrick Hoare (himself a trained chef), had been a long-time summer resident on PEI for many years, was retiring from his career in the health care profession, and was looking for his next adventure.  He contemplated buying a traditional restaurant in PEI but decided that was not his style.  When Annie’s Table became available for sale, Derrick liked the concept Annie had begun so he bought the business which he began operating in 2016. In addition to keeping the tradition of offering short culinary courses, he added themed evening dining to the menu and renamed the business to The Table Culinary Studio.

    Derrick Hoare, Owner/Chef at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Derrick Hoare, Owner/Chef at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    Set in the small rural community of New London, not far from the resort municipality of Cavendish (the hometown of the fictional Anne of Green Gables – you may have heard of her!), you will find The Table on Route 8 or, as the locals would simply say, the Grahams Road.

    At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    With a backdrop of green fertile rolling countryside, The Table is located in a repurposed former United Church that is tastefully furnished with quality antiques.  Several of the elements of the decommissioned church have been incorporated into the décor, including the pulpit that now occupies a prominent position overlooking the dining hall.

    Interior of the re-purposed country church that is now The Table Culinary Studio
    Interior of the Re-purposed Country Church that is now The Table Culinary Studio

    The entire venue is open concept so diners can watch the culinary team prepare the meal.  This unique dining experience will make you feel like you are more at an intimate dinner party with a private chef catering than at a restaurant.

    People sitting at table watching chef at work in open concept kitchen
    At The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    Open seasonally, seven nights a week, for themed dinners that feature local Island foods that come from the land and the sea, The Table can accommodate up to 18 guests an evening, one seating only.  Tickets for the dinner must be reserved in advance  (by phone or email) and the menu for each evening is a set menu – you eat whatever is being prepared that night which takes the pressure off of studying a menu and trying to decide what to have. Drinks are at extra cost and are payable at the end of the evening along with the dinner.

    The themed dinners range from the Traditional Island Feast to the Island Dinner Party to Isle and Fire to the North Shore Surf and Turf and all focus on fresh local foods harvested or fished nearby. Seating is at one long harvest table in the middle of the old church and food is served family style which is to say that the main meal, on large platters, arrives at the table and guests pass the platters around, serving themselves.  There are no individual tables.

    At the Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    At the Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    It seems only fitting that communal dining would be the style of dining at The Table given that it is in a decommissioned church.  Communal dining dates back to biblical times – you know, the breaking of bread together.  The concept of individual tables for dining did not start until a long time after these origins.  Some may find it requires some stepping out of the comfort zone to attend a dinner with strangers all seated at the same table but, when you think about it, church and community potluck dinners have been around for ages and they are traditionally served at long communal tables where you don’t necessarily know the people seated around you.  We do a lot of cruising and have never requested a table for two in the ship’s dining room simply because we like to meet new people and inject some new conversation into meal times when traveling. So, sitting down to a meal alongside people I have not met before is quite comfortable and familiar for me. After all, the chances are that they are all food enthusiasts, too!

    One of the lovely parts of this type of experiential dining is that you get to interact with those preparing the meal.  In contrast, if you go into a traditional style restaurant, you are seated, have limited contact with the wait staff, and most likely never see the chefs let alone have any direct contact with them.  At The Table, there are lots of opportunities to communicate directly with the owner/chef Derrick, executive chef Michael Bradley, oyster shucker George Dowdle, and The Table’s event planner, Christine Morgan. Together, this is the culinary team at The Table.

    The Table benefits from having a talented and enthusiastic young chef. With over ten years of experience in professional kitchens, Chef Michael Bradley is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown.  Chef Michael has been at The Table from the beginning, starting as an intern and working his way up to become the executive chef.

    Outdoor Reception at the Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Outdoor Reception at the Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    I truly felt like I was at someone’s private dinner party.  It was a perfect sunny summer evening as guests arrived for the event which started on the side lawn of the church.  When I arrived, local aquaculturalist, George Dowdle, was busy shucking oysters that he had fished from the nearby Southwest River only hours before the dinner.

    Guests soon became preoccupied with consuming the fresh raw oysters which were served with a choice of three sauces:  Asian Thai, Lemon Herb, and Pomegranate Herb.  It wasn’t long before everyone felt comfortable and at home with each other as the conversations quickly turned to discussions about the food.

    Freshly shucked oysters at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Freshly Shucked Oysters at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    PEI Oysters on the Grill at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    PEI Oysters on the Grill at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    Not quite into slurping raw oysters? Chef Michael also has a unique way of serving grilled oysters. He first puts the oysters on the open fire grill to warm them up, then shucks them and tops them with a black garlic cream sauce and bacon jam, then puts them back on the grill to re-heat them.  Simply sublime!

    PEI Oysters hot off the grill and served with black garlic cream sauce and bacon jam
    PEI Oysters Hot off the Grill and Served with Black Garlic Cream Sauce and Bacon Jam

    While clams sometimes take a back seat in popularity to mussels and oysters, The Table includes them as part of the meal.

    PEI Clams (at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI)
    PEI Clams (at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI)

    When we had our fill of oysters, out came the cheese and charcuterie trays.

    Cheese Tray at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Cheese Tray at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    On this evening, The Table served their own homemade black garlic crackers alongside an assortment of cheeses from Ferme Isle St Jean in Rustico and Glasgow Glen Farm in New Glasgow. This was rounded out by pickled beets, pickled carrots, pickled spruce tips, and rhubarb chutney (all made in-house at The Table).

    Condiments on the Charcuterie Tray at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Condiments on the Charcuterie Tray at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    While guests were busy noshing on the appetizers, Chef Michael was preparing the sirloin tip roast with a black garlic espresso rub. Cooked over an open fire, you can only imagine how tantalizing the scent was!

    Grilling the Sirloin Tip Beef Over an Open Fire at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Grilling the Sirloin Tip Beef Over an Open Fire at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    Then, Chef Michael demonstrated how they cook the mussels in a fire pit with seaweed and smoke. The mussels are placed in wet pillowcases which give the moisture the mussels need to open.

    Placing bags of Mussels in the Fire Pit at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Placing Bags of Mussels in the Fire Pit at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Covering bags of PEI Mussels with Seaweed for Cooking in the Fire Pit at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Covering Bags of PEI Mussels with Seaweed for Cooking in the Fire Pit at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Fire Pit for Cooking Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Fire Pit for Cooking Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Fire Pit for Cooking Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Fire Pit for Cooking Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    Guests leisurely made their way inside the church where the meal was served.  The big 12-foot long handmade harvest table occupies much of the space that once would have been filled with church pews.

    The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    By this time, guests were very comfortable in the company of each other and, since there were three Islanders present, the conversation soon turned to various aspects of how local foods are produced and farming and fishing, in general.  Food is such a commonality and ice breaker!

    Dining at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    The meal began with a plated salad highlighted by the skirt steak from Atlantic Beef Products in Albany. The steak had been marinated in an onion garlic marinade.

    Salad with skirt steak at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Salad with Skirt Steak at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    The boards of housemade sourdough bread were served with a black garlic spread as well as honey butter.

    Bread Board at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Bread Board at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    Before each course was presented, Chef Michael came tableside to explain what the course consisted of and how it was prepared.

    Executive Chef, Michael Bradley, at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Executive Chef, Michael Bradley, at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    Next came huge platters of bountiful mixed seasonal vegetables with the fire-grilled sirloin tip roast.

    Platters of Vegetables and Sirloin Tip Roast at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Platters of Vegetables and Sirloin Tip Roast at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    The veggies (along with the salad greens) came from nearby Alexander Fresh Vegetables in Hope River. These were very attractively presented platters.

    Platter of Vegetables and Sirloin Tip Roast at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Platter of Vegetables and Sirloin Tip Roast at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    Then, the seafood platters arrived.  All those mussels that had been cooking in the fire pit emerged from the pillowcases and formed the base for lobster claws and tails.

    Lobsters and Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Lobsters and Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    The lobster, fished from boats out of nearby French River Harbour, had been par-cooked with a garlic butter and then was finished on the grill outside.

    The green sauce accompanying the mussels was a garden pesto cream sauce.

    Lobster and Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
    Lobster and Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

    By this time, I was stuffed and thought I would just roll home but, wait, dessert was to come!  Dessert was a blood orange infused carrot cake with orange cream cheese icing. I didn’t get a photo of it because I was too busy enjoying the gluten-free option that was a deconstructed strawberry pie made with a strawberry balsamic reduction and gluten-free pastry lattice, all topped with lactose-free ice cream.

    Gluten-Free Dessert at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI.
    Gluten-Free Dessert at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI.

    The Table prides itself on using the best of what is fresh and local.  Most foods for their themed dinners come from under 10 km away and are farmed and fished by friends and neighbours. So, you know that when you dine at The Table, food will not have traveled thousands of miles before it has reached your plate. In fact, you can seek out the same food suppliers to purchase high quality local PEI products.

    I asked Christine if they ever get families for their dinners.  She tells me, although 90% of their clientele are adults, parents are welcome to bring their children and they do often have families in attendance.  Patrons should note, however, that there is no children’s menu offered so the wee folk eat the same food as the adults.

    What I have described above is the meal for the Surf and Turf dinner.  I inquired if the meal ingredients are identical for this particular dinner every night.  Christine informs me that the appetizers, vegetables, and dessert do vary by what is seasonally available.  So, if you are having the Surf and Turf dinner at The Table after having read this post, you’ll be aware that the meal ingredients may not be 100% identical to what I enjoyed in early July.

    So, if you want to really immerse yourself in local PEI foods and have a totally relaxing evening in the beautiful countryside of Prince Edward Island while feasting on carefully prepared dishes in a unique setting, you should check out The Table Culinary Studio. If you have dietary restrictions, be sure to advise of that when making your reservation and, to the extent possible, the culinary team at The Table will do all they can to accommodate special dietary needs.

    For more information on dining options at The Table, and to make reservations, check out their website at http://www.thetablepei.ca/dining .

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    Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
    Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

    My thanks to The Table Culinary Studio for the opportunity to experience their North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner and for the fine hospitality. My dinner at the The Table Culinary Studio was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the North Shore Surf and Turf dinner. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the dinner experience. All opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.

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  • Aw, Shucks! The Merroir of PEI Malpeque Oysters March 19, 2018
    PEI Malpeque Oysters
    PEI Malpeque Oysters

    Prince Edward Island is well-known for its variety of high quality shellfish – think lobster, mussels, and oysters, in particular.  Today, however, my blog posting is all about the world-famous PEI Malpeque oysters. According to the PEI Government website (https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/agriculture-and-fisheries/oysters ), the Island is Canada’s second largest oyster producing province and is the largest oyster producing province in the Atlantic region. It’s not uncommon in my travels to find PEI Malpeque Oysters on a restaurant menu.  No matter the variety or brand of oysters from PEI, or what part of the Island they are fished or farmed, they are generally all referred to as “Malpeques”.  How that came to be is, itself, an interesting story.

    PEI oysters have a long history with the government issuing leases for oyster fishing back as far as the mid-1800s to those wishing to fish oysters from the ocean seabed.  The oysters were made famous at the 1900 Paris World Fair where, in an oyster-tasting contest, they were crowned the world’s best oysters. The oysters were simply named for Malpeque Bay on the Island’s north shore from where the winning oysters were fished.

    However, the oyster industry on PEI was stricken in 1915 when disease wiped out about 90% of the Island’s oyster population. Miraculously, however, the oysters in Malpeque Bay survived.  Seed (which is basically a tiny version of an adult oyster) from these oysters was gathered and spread throughout other bodies of water around the Island and the oyster industry rebounded. To this day, over 100 years later, all oysters produced on PEI are considered to be direct descendants of oysters from Malpeque Bay. So, that’s why all PEI oysters, regardless from what part of the Island they come, or what variety or brand they are, are called “Malpeques”.  Who knew PEI oysters had lineage and a family tree! So, while there is one species – the Malpeques – there can be any number of varieties and brands. A little more about the varieties of “Malpeques” a bit later.

    To find out more about the oyster industry on PEI, I paid a visit to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., one of the Island’s largest oyster growing operators, processors, and exporters.  At the company’s hub operations center in Bayview near Cavendish on PEI’s north shore, I caught up with James Power, oyster connoisseur and manager of the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.

    James Power, Manager, Raspberry Point Oyster Co., PEI
    James Power, Manager, Raspberry Point Oyster Co., PEI

    James lives and breathes oysters and you would be hard pressed to find anyone any more passionate about the oyster industry than James.  And, with good reason.  Oyster sales are brisk for the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., growing year over year.  James tells me that more than 10M oysters are cultured annually from the company’s farming operations in New London Bay, Rustico, and Oyster Bed Bridge/Rustico Bay. While the majority (about 90%) of their sales are in North America (with Montreal, Toronto, and Boston accounting for about 75% of sales), they regularly ship internationally all over the world that includes weekly shipments to the Netherlands as well as regular shipments to places like Belgium, France, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. Small wonder, then, why it’s generally not too surprising to find PEI oysters on restaurant menus in all corners of the world!

    Both oyster fishing and oyster farming exist on PEI.  The traditional method of oyster fishing is done through the use of manually-operated large wooden tongs.

    Oyster Fishing on PEI
    Oyster Fishing on PEI

    If you travel around the shores, bays, rivers, and estuaries of PEI, a common sight from spring to fall will be dozens of little dories each manned by a lone fisher using long wooden tongs with rakes at the ends to scoop up the oysters. These are independent local oyster fishers who buy licenses from the federal government allowing them to fish wild oysters on any public fishing grounds.

    Oyster Fishing
    Oyster Fishing

    These oysters are known as bottom culture oysters that are slow to mature taking, on average, 5-7 years to grow to the desired market size of 3” – 3½“.  Bottom culture oysters grow slowly because there is less natural food available to them. Oysters harvested by these small independent fishers are sold to oyster processing plants.

    Oyster Fishing in Summerside, PEI
    Oyster Fishing in Summerside, PEI

    The other method of producing oysters is to raise, culture, or grow the oysters, a practice commonly known as “oyster farming” and that’s the method used by large commercial growers for mass production needed to meet demands from around the world. Growers lease ground, that is not public fishing ground, in which to grow their oysters.

    There are two methods of oyster aquaculture – bottom culture and off-bottom (sometimes known as top, floating, or surface culture) and Raspberry Point Oyster Co. uses both methods. With bottom culture oysters, grown in water depth between 3’ and 8’, the grower spreads the oyster seed on the seabed. James says their top culture oysters are grown in water that is between 8’ and 15’ deep.  The oyster seed is purchased from hatcheries and from oyster farmers who catch wild spat, or larvae in collectors like the ones in the photo below. Once the oysters are big enough, they will be transferred to netted bags to grow, safe from predators like starfish and crabs.

    Oyster Spat Collectors
    Oyster Spat Collectors

    All oysters at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. are started as top culture in floating mesh bags and then some are moved to bottom culture areas. The type of culture (bottom or top) used is often chosen on the basis of local growing conditions. Some parts of leased areas are too shallow for top culture and others might have too soft a seabed for bottom culture oysters. Using the two methods of farming, therefore, allows the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. to maximize the growing areas in their leases and also allows oysters to develop with different flavours, colors (they range from brown/white, gray to green), and appearance. Generally, the larger oyster seed is spread on the seabed because the oysters’ advanced size makes it more difficult for crabs and starfish to get at them.

    Colors and Textures of PEI Oysters
    Colors, Shapes, and Textures of PEI Oysters

    When the bottom culture oysters have grown to market size, specialized oyster harvesters that use water pressure, scoop up the oysters.  The oysters come up from the seabed on to an escalator and those that are of the desired size are harvested while ones not quite of sufficient size are returned to the seabed bottom to allow them to continue to grow.  Bottom culture oysters usually take 5-7 years to grow to market size and this is because there is usually less water flow and food on the sea bed than is available for surface culture oysters. Oyster farmers do not need to provide special food for their oysters as the bivalves draw all the necessary nutrients from their seawater habitat along with naturally occurring plankton and plant life.  So long as the mollusks have clean water and care is taken to limit their predators access, oysters will grow naturally on their own.

    The other method of growing oysters is top culture, often referred to as surface or floating culture. With advances in oyster growing technology and methods, today’s floating aquaculture speeds up the rate of maturation allowing for top culture oysters to be grown in about 3-5 years.  There is usually more constant water flow as the result of wave action during tidal changes and more natural food supplies nearer the water’s surface so oysters grown as top culture in floating bags just at or under the water surface are able to grow to market size sooner.  Top culture oyster farming involves growing the oysters in mesh bags that float in basket-like cages around the water surface level.

    Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
    Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
    Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
    Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters

    The baskets are constructed so that the water is able to flush through, bringing food to the mollusks and keeping them cleaner than those grown in the mud on the seabed bottom. The baskets are regularly flipped and the water flow and waves rock the baskets and chip away, or manicure, the rough edges of the oysters, giving them a more desirable looking shell. This also allows for seaweed, barnacles, and other organisms that find their way into the baskets to be exposed to sunlight and dry out and not become an infestation to the growing oysters. The bags inside the floating baskets also help to protect the oysters against predators. So, if you see rows of these floating cages in a body of water around the Island, you’ll know they’re filled with growing oysters.

    Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
    Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
    Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
    Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI

    Once oysters, either bottom or top cultures, have reached their market size, they are brought into the processing plant where they are culled, graded for size and shape, washed, counted, boxed, and are shipped to customers around the world.

    Oysters Arriving at the Processing Plant
    Oysters Arriving at the Processing Plant
    Grading and Sorting Oysters
    Grading and Sorting Oysters
    Washing the Oysters
    Washing the Oysters
    Quality Controlling the Oysters Just Before They Are Boxed for Shipping
    Quality Controlling the Oysters Just Before They Are Boxed for Shipping
    A Box of "Lucky Limes" Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Company in PEI
    A Box of “Lucky Limes” Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in PEI
    Inside the Processing Plant at Raspberry Point Oyster Company, Bayview, PEI
    Inside the Processing Plant at Raspberry Point Oyster Company, Bayview, PEI
    Bags of Oysters at the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
    Bags of Oysters at the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
    Inside the Cold Storage Room at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in Bayview, PEI
    Inside the Cold Storage Room at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in Bayview, PEI

    Because this industry is now year-round, oysters not needed for immediate shipment are put into trays like the ones shown to the left in the photo below and placed back out into shallow water until needed.

    Oyster Trays
    Oyster Trays

    Since they are already graded, counted, and sorted by variety, they can quickly be retrieved and shipped when orders come in year-round.

    The barge in the photo below is returning to shore with a load of trays filled with graded and sorted oysters which will soon be on their way somewhere in the world to fill orders!

    Barge Returning to Shore with a Load of Oysters Ready for Market
    Barge Returning to Shore with a Load of Oysters Ready for Market
    Offloading Oysters Ready for Market
    Offloading Oysters Ready for Market

    Oysters like cold water but, in PEI’s cold winters, they can’t stay up near the water’s surface where they would freeze. So, for top culture/surface grown oysters, the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. sinks aluminum cages filled with oysters into 15’ – 20’ of water each winter. At the time of writing, the company prepared upwards of 1000 aluminum cages that they filled and sunk with 7000 graded and sorted oysters per cage at the end of November. Locations of cages are marked by a metal pole and the oyster harvesters head out over the ice to retrieve the oysters to fill winter shipments, making the Island’s oyster farming a year-round industry.

    Preparing to Saw Through Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages (Photo submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
    Preparing to Saw Through Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages (Photo submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)

    Sometimes, the ice is so thick that workers have to use a high-powered saw (shown in photo above) to cut through the thick ice so that tethered divers can dive in and locate the cages and hook them up to a hydraulic lift that will pull them out of the water.

    Diving Under the Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages Sunk for the Winter (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
    Diving Under the Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages Sunk for the Winter (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
    Retrieved Oyster Cage Filled with Oysters Ready for Market (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
    Retrieved Oyster Cage Filled with Oysters Ready for Market (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)

    The oysters are then hauled on a sled towed behind a four-wheeler or, if the ice is sufficiently thick, by a truck, back to the processing and shipping plant.

    The varieties of oysters on PEI are often (though not always) named for the body of water in which they are grown. The Raspberry Point Oyster Co. draws its name from a little point of land on the Homestead Trail in nearby Cavendish.  Readers from outside PEI will likely associate the Cavendish name as the setting for famed authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous Anne of Green Gables series of books. A number of years ago, Scott and Charles Linkletter, the owners of Raspberry Point’s forerunner company, The PEI Oyster Company, had a lease to fish oysters in this area so they renamed the company to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. Today, still owned and operated by the Linkletter family, Raspberry Point Oyster Co. has six varieties of Malpeque oysters on the market:

    • Raspberry Point – Bearing the company name, this variety of 3” oysters is grown as bottom culture in leases in New London Bay. The Raspberry Point variety is the company’s most popular oyster.
    • Lucky Limes – These are 3” oysters, also bottom grown in a lease along the Homestead Trail in New London Bay. The water in this area is filled with algae and that’s what turns the oyster shells green, thus the “lime” in the name.

      Box of Lucky Lime Variety of Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
      Box of Lucky Lime Variety of Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
    • Shiny Sea – At 2½“ in size, these are considered to be the “baby brother” of the larger 3” Raspberry Point variety. These bottom cultures are also grown in New London Bay.
    • Pickle Point – These are top-culture oysters as they are grown nearer the water’s surface in floating bags in New London Bay.
    • Daisy Bay – These 3” oysters are top-culture, or surface culture, grown in North Rustico.
    • Irish Point – Considered to be cocktail size oysters, these 2½“ oysters are also surface cultures and are grown in North Rustico.

    Controls are in place to ensure sustainability of the Island’s oyster industry. Only so many leases are granted by the government to avoid overfishing.  The mollusks, themselves, help to ensure their species continue to survive as they act as great filters to clean the water of toxins by filtering algae and phytoplankton from the water.

    According to James, the nature of the water flow and the shape of the seed oyster will basically determine the final shape of the oyster. While James will say that the perfect oyster is very much an individual’s own taste, he says the perfect shaped oyster, in his opinion, is a rounded tear-drop shape that is 3” long by 2” wide. The perfect flavour should consist of a clean, salty taste and a sweet finish.  The meat should be a little bit, but not too, fatty because nothing should interfere with the natural salty taste.

    Power says oysters are like terroir is to wine – the flavour of each variety is built on the content of the bay or stream in which the oysters are grown and each oyster will look and taste a little different from the next one.  Since the oysters are coming from the sea and the French word for sea is “mer”, perhaps the term “merroir”, as some have coined it, might be the best description! Power says true oyster connoisseurs can identify the different flavour profiles in raw oysters.  Oysters grown in waters that have more of a rock base may have a mineral-rich flavour (though none of Raspberry Point oysters have this terroir/merroir) while others grown elsewhere may have a slight vegetable taste picked up from whatever vegetation or algae may be in their water habitat.

    Power also says the oyster meat and flavour change with the seasons.  In summer, the oysters are thin and salty – the bivalves are more interested in reproduction than getting fat so keeping their svelte figure is obviously their concern!  In the fall (September – October), the waters are getting colder and the oysters will start building up fat for the cold winter months.  When the water temperature gets down to 5°C, the oysters shut down and hibernate inside their hard shells, living off the fat they built up in the fall. So, if you are eating oysters that come from icy waters, they’re likely to be quite plump and perhaps just a little sweeter.  In the spring, the oysters still stay fat but, as the snow melts, it dilutes the natural salt in the water so the oysters will taste less salty.

    Oysters are low in fat, high in protein, and are a good source of iron and zinc.  They are also a source of, amongst others, Vitamins B12 and C along with Thiamin, Magnesium, and Phosphorus.

    PEI Oysters
    PEI Oysters

    Oysters are most often served raw on the half shell on a bed of ice with freshly squeezed lemon or, sometimes, with a peppery shallot mignonette.  Chef Michael Smith often serves oysters with a Bloody Mary Ice seen in the photo below.

    Shucked PEI Oysters Served with Bloody Mary Ice
    Shucked PEI Oysters Served with Bloody Mary Ice

    Oysters are shucked using a special short, blunt knife made for this purpose. Power says he believes oysters are popular, especially eaten raw, because they are an all-natural food, not processed or transformed.  Oyster bars are very popular and an emerging trend is to pair oysters with wines, beers, and whiskey. Fresh oysters are available at most fish markets on PEI as well as the larger supermarkets. On PEI, many restaurants serve raw oysters and, at many Fall Flavours Festival events each September, oysters are a staple, like they were at the 2017 “A Taste of Rustico” event where Chef Michael Smith (in photo below) was busy shucking Raspberry Point oysters.

    Chef Michael Smith Shucking Raspberry Point Oysters at "Taste of Rustico" Fall Flavours event 2017
    Chef Michael Smith Shucking Raspberry Point Oysters at “Taste of Rustico” Fall Flavours event 2017
    Raspberry Point Oysters at Taste of Rustico Event 2017
    Raspberry Point Oysters at Taste of Rustico Event 2017

    So, the next time you are slurping back one of the plump briny Prince Edward Island oysters, you’ll now know a little bit more about how the Island oysters are produced, the flavour profile of an Island oyster, and you’ll be enjoying a unique terroir (or perhaps it’s “merroir”) taste from waters in and around Prince Edward Island on Canada’s East Coast.

    Plump PEI Oysters
    Plump PEI Oysters

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    Oyster Farming
    Oyster Farming
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  • Five PEI Foodies Talk About Their Christmas Food Traditions December 10, 2017
    Herb-Basted Roast Turkey
    Herb-Basted Roast Turkey

    Food plays a vital role in Christmas celebrations here in Prince Edward Island. I recently chatted with five Islanders who, in one way or another, have strong food connections. Read on to find out what foods these foodies most associate with Christmas and what foods, if they didn’t have them, it just would not be Christmas for them.

    (With the exception of Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Seafood Pie,   all photos in this posting are from the food blogger’s own stock collection and are not of contributors’ specific recipes mentioned in this article.)

    Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island

    Food factors heavily into Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Christmas festivities.  The premier, a great cook himself, launches into seafood pie production in mid-December.  He produces some 20 seafood pies filled with mussels, lobster, bar clams, scallops, and some fin fish like salmon, trout, or haddock.

    Premier Wade MacLaughlan's Seafood Pie
    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Seafood Pie

    Premier MacLauchlan uses grated potatoes that have been cooked in seafood stock to make a heavy starchy paste which eliminates the need for flour as a thickener for the pie filling.  The ingredients are combined and placed inside a double-crusted pastry and baked.

    Premier Wade MacLauchlan's Seafood Pie
    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Seafood Pie

    When asked what he does with all the pies, he tells me he gives them away as gifts. And, for those who aren’t seafood lovers, he makes tourtière and says he usually makes between 6 and 10 of those each December.

    Food also plays a part in a Solstice Sunrise Party that the premier has been hosting at his home for almost two decades.  Held annually on the day of the winter solstice, the premier says he simply couldn’t stop it now even if he wanted to because the regulars would just show up anyway! Rising early to make 3-4 dozen muffins and to brew a couple of urns of coffee, the premier opens his doors at 7:30am and people start arriving to watch the sunrise together around 8:00am. It’s not uncommon for 75-80 people to attend. With a commanding view to the east and to the south out over Stanhope Bay, it’s a time for family, friends, and neighbours to visit and re-connect. Everyone brings food to contribute to the potluck event which is set up buffet style.

    Christmas Day is spent with immediate family and, on Boxing Day, the larger extended MacLauchlan family gather at the premier’s home for a potluck brunch.

    The premier has kindly shared his recipe for his Seafood Pie which is printed here with Wade MacLauchlan’s permission.  The premier says, although the recipe yield is for 20 pies, the recipe is easily scalable.

    Wade MacLauchlan's Seafood Pie Recipe
    Premier Wade MacLauchlan's Seafood Pie
    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Seafood Pie

    Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Green Party of Prince Edward Island

    Communal family cooking has always played a significant part in Peter Bevan-Baker’s life starting when he was a lad growing up in Fortrose, just north of Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland. The family would all prepare the Christmas dinner together, chopping vegetables and singing Christmas carols.

    Member of the Legislature and Leader of the Green Party of PEI, Peter’s first and foremost memory of a food enjoyed at Christmas time is his late father’s vol-au-vent made with leftover turkey from Christmas dinner and served with Sauce Robert, a brown mustard sauce. Sometimes, the vol-au-vents would be served as nibbles but other times as the main for a meal when they would be served with “tatties and neeps”, the Scottish names for potatoes and turnips, respectively.

    Plum Pudding
    Plum Pudding

    When asked what Christmas dinner dessert consisted of, Peter says it was always Christmas Pudding which he did not like at all!  However, he says the arrival of the pudding at the dinner table was quite an elaborate ceremony. Everyone stood up and literally lifted the table off the floor to meet the pudding – it was a true salute to the Christmas pudding! Of course, some alcohol would be heated, poured over the pudding, and the pudding set aflame. Peter claims watching the pudding burn was the best part since he had no liking for the pudding! His father made a brandy butter to serve with the pudding. Peter says another great memory he has of Christmas as a young boy in the Scottish Highlands was visiting a rich family who lived in the area and who served Coca Cola at Christmas which was very special since it was not something he had at home.

    Peter’s father was a great cook and modeled to his children that it was okay for men to be in the kitchen cooking. Today, Peter and his wife have four adult children (two of whom are chefs) and cooking remains very much a family event. Vol-au-vents will make an appearance over the holidays in keeping with his long-standing family tradition. While the family usually has a turkey dinner for Christmas, Peter says it will usually be with a contemporary twist of some sort that may include some dishes from other cultures.

    Bill Martin, Mayor of Summerside and Owner of the Water Street Bakery

    Mayor of the City of Summerside, Bill Martin has very fond memories of waking up on Christmas morning to the scent of meat pies baking.  His mother, a Scottish war bride, had an absolute Christmas morning tradition and that involved homemade meat pies.  The family enjoyed the meat pies, complete with homemade mustard pickles, after opening presents on Christmas morning.  Mayor Martin continues that tradition today. He and his family enjoy Christmas breakfast of bacon, eggs, homefries, and toast along with the meat pie and mustard pickles.  To this tradition, they have also added the Acadian dish, Rapure, a grated potato casserole.

    Acadian Rapure
    Acadian Rapure

    Mayor Martin and his wife have run the Water Street Bakery for the past 29 years. They make meat pies year-round now and, in December alone, they will make more than 2000 meat pies which are made with pork, chicken, turkey, potato, onion, and spices, all covered in a biscuit dough crust.  These pies are in such demand during the Christmas period that the bakery has rented additional freezer space. In fact, on the first Saturday in December, they made 200 meat pies and sold 100 of them the same day. As a bakery owner, the other two most popular items that Martin says never go out of style are the chocolate-covered peanut butter balls and the cherry balls, both of which are available at the bakery only at Christmas which makes them more special treats.

    Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
    Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

    Irwin MacKinnon, Executive Chef, Papa Joe’s Restaurant and PEI Chef of the Year 2017

    Long-time executive chef at Charlottetown’s Papa Joe’s Restaurant and recently-named PEI Chef of the Year 2017, Chef Irwin MacKinnon says it would not be Christmas in his household without the “Jimmy Jams”.  These delightful cookies have been made by ancestors on his mother’s side for years. Today, his mom is the principle baker of these Christmas treats that his children look forward to each Christmas.  As MacKinnon describes them, Jimmy-Jams are two round shortbread cookies, about 1½“ – 2” in diameter, sandwiched together with plain white icing.  Each sandwiched cookie is iced again on top and then decorated with rainbow-colored sprinkles.

    Everyone has his or her own version of the stuffing for the turkey and Chef MacKinnon discovered how important that tradition is when he and his wife married 25 years ago.  On his side of the family, they make what he calls “Grammie’s Stuffing” which is bread-based and the ingredients are bound together by mashed potato and lots of butter and seasoned with onion, summer savory, and salt and pepper.  A bit of brown sugar is added just to give a sweet tone.  On his wife’s side of the family, they make the stuffing (dressing) completely opposite and Chef Irwin classes it as a potato stuffing made with mashed potatoes, onion cooked in butter, and seasoned with summer savory.  This is baked in the oven and there is no bread in this version.  If you are an Islander, you’ll get and appreciate the significance of family recipes for the turkey stuffing/dressing!

    Roast Turkey
    Roast Turkey

    So, whose stuffing recipe will be on the Christmas table in the MacKinnon household this year? You guessed it – Irwin will be making his grammie’s stuffing recipe to go along with the fresh turkey from Larkin Brothers in New Glasgow. To this, he’ll include a wide variety of veggies that include potatoes, turnip, carrots, squash, and brussel sprouts.

    For dessert, Chef Irwin’s mother-in-law’s plum pudding will grace the table complemented by Irwin’s rich brown sugar sauce made from a rue of butter and flour with caramelized brown sugar added.  Chef Irwin says a slice of pudding topped with ice cream and a good drizzle of a glossy brown sugar sauce is the ultimate Christmas dinner dessert.

    Since he cooks everyday for a living, I asked Chef Irwin if he lets someone else cook the Christmas dinner but he says it’s him that spearheads the dinner at home and one of his greatest joys is to cook for his own family.  Other members of the family pitch in and bring contributions to the dinner as the family melds their different traditions from their blended families.

    Glenda Burt, Chef, and former owner of The Home Place Restaurant in Kensington, PEI

    For Chef Glenda Burt, the highlight of the Christmas dinner is the plum pudding and warm sauce.  She says that, even though you might be “stuffed to the gills” from the main meal, there is always room for plum pudding!  Glenda makes a rich toffee sauce to serve with her plum pudding, a sauce made with brown sugar, whipping cream, butter, and vanilla.

    Plum Pudding
    Plum Pudding

    Glenda grew up in the family that originally owned Mary’s Bakery in Kensington so baking and candy making are certainly second nature to her. She has very fond memories of the chocolate, brown sugar, and divinity fudges that her mother made at Christmas and how they would appear in a plastic Christmas motif tri-sectioned dish on Christmas Eve. Homemade raisin bread toasted on Christmas morning is an annual tradition in the Burt household. Glenda doesn’t prepare a big Christmas Day breakfast because she says the whole day is spent eating; however, the raisin bread must be present to start the day off.

    Other foods that will make their appearance over the holidays will be gingersnaps, dark fruitcake, meat pies (that Glenda says are pure comfort food) and, in deference to our Maritime culture, some kind of seafood which could be lobster in the shell or seafood chowder.

    Chef Glenda is hosting her family Christmas on Boxing Day this year and she will be doing the cooking of the traditional Christmas dinner that will include roast turkey, stuffing, and veggies. Glenda will be serving her famous turnip casserole as well. This yummy dish is made with mashed turnip, a white sauce with Parmesan cheese, and topped with buttered bread crumbs.  Of course, all the traditional fixins’ like homemade rolls, pickles, and beets will be on the table to complement the turkey dinner.

     

    My thanks to Premier Wade MacLauchlan, Leader of the PEI Green Party Peter Bevan-Baker, Mayor Bill Martin, Chef Irwin MacKinnon, and Chef Glenda Burt for sharing their Christmas food traditions with me.

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  • Rustico Sheep Farm Produces Cheese and Yogurt November 12, 2017

    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.
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  • An Acadian Lobster Feast October 12, 2017
    At the PEI Fall Flavours 2017 event, "Le Festin acadien avec homard"
    At the PEI Fall Flavours 2017 event, “Le Festin acadien avec homard”

    If there is one consolation to summer’s end on PEI, it’s the anticipation that September brings the annual PEI Fall Flavours Festival. The Island’s emerging culinary scene with all its fine foods is showcased each September in an array of culinary events that comprise the festival. What started out in 2008 as a small 10-day festival consisting of a few culinary events aiming to extend the Island’s short tourism season into September, the festival has grown into a full month-long feast extravaganza.

    Potato Harvesting in PEI
    Potato Harvesting in PEI

    September is the perfect month for a PEI food festival as the produce is at its prime, potato harvesting is getting underway, and the fall lobster season is open in certain zones around the Island. We are lucky here in PEI – we have a wonderful array of fresh local foods from the land and sea and the festival is a great celebration of our love of local foods.  Culinary events are spread out in communities across the Island and each tends to highlight foods that come from a particular area and/or that are associated with a certain region’s culture.

    The “Festin acadien avec homard” (or lobster feast) at Abram-Village, west of Summerside, is always the first PEI Fall Flavours Festival culinary event of the season and it signals a tasty month ahead. Tickets for this event sell out weeks in advance and it is one Fall Flavours event that is certain to draw a lot of Islanders to the Evangeline area. In some respects, it’s almost like a homecoming weekend as family members travel home to the Island’s Evangeline region for the annual Evangeline Agricultural Exhibition & Acadian Festival.  There is no better way to learn, first hand, about the culture of a region than to partake of the regional foods and entertainment.  “Le Festin acadien avec homard scores high points on both counts.

    This year marked the second year that I attended this event – that’s testament to how much I enjoyed it the first time!  While the menu remained almost identical to the previous year, what changed was the entertainment and the headline celebrity chef who, in 2017, was Chef Danny Smiles, Chef de cuisine at Restaurant Le Bremner in Old Montreal. This was Chef Smiles’ debut at the PEI Fall Flavours Festival.

    Chef Danny Smiles at the PEI Fall Flavours "Le Festin acadien avec homard" event 2017
    Chef Danny Smiles at the PEI Fall Flavours “Le Festin acadien avec homard” event 2017

    The lively musical entertainment was provided by Vishten, a trio of talented musicians (two from PEI and one from the Magdalen Islands).  Rooted in traditional music from the two east coast islands, their indie-folk style fuses Acadian and Celtic genres and motivates foot stomping and hand clapping.  The performers are multi instrumentalists and they easily transition between various musical instruments that include violin, guitar, accordian, and keyboard.  The trio tours and performs internationally and has five albums and more than 1000 performances to their credit.

    Vishten entertaining at the PEI Fall Flavours "Le Festin acadien avec homard" event 2017
    Vishten entertaining at the PEI Fall Flavours “Le Festin acadien avec homard” event 2017

    The “Festin acadien avec homard” event has been running for several years and organizers have it well organized and they are very efficient in carrying it out.  MC Georges Arsenault is a very capable and effective Master of Ceremonies.