The Prince Edward Island Food Scene

Welcome to 2014.  Let’s get your mouth watering for the new year.

When you think of Prince Edward Island food, you’re probably thinking of two things: potatoes and seafood. Pei is famous the world over for its potatoes, lobster, and mussels. You can find many websites and resources out there that push the economic and cultural importance of these icons. If you’re ever in PEI, you’ll notice how “freshness” is a common buzzword: on an island where the primary industries are farming and fishing, coupled with the relative isolation from the mainland, you can find a lot of powerful local flavours no matter where you go. There’s a reason the Island is nicknamed the “Garden of the Gulf.”

On the national level, Chef Michael Smith has raised awareness of PEI as a destination for food lovers, specifically profiling Island-produced goods, hands on culinary experiences and restaurants. He is widely regarded as PEI’s food ambassador, and he maintains his close ties to the Island, regularly appearing at local events.

Although best known for its traditional products, PEI has become a culinary hotspot, with an ever-expanding list of top notch restaurants gaining a great reputation.  The yearly Fall Flavours Culinary Festival celebrates the Island’s food scene.

Although the Island’s ever-expanding gourmet selections keep the most discerning palate happy while vising PEI, local products still dominate everyday menus.

Potatoes

Although Prince Edward Island’s food scene has moved well beyond simply potatoes, it is still the leading agricultural product on PEI, where farmers have been growing potatoes since the late 1700’s.  There are approximately 330 potato growers on PEI, primarily composed of multi-generational family farms. The industry itself is worth over a billion dollars to the Prince Edward Island economy every year. The province currently accounts for a third of Canada’s total potato production, producing approximately 1.3 billion kilograms annually.

The uniqueness of the potatoes is often credited to the unique soil on the island: red and rich in iron, it is perfectly suited for potatoes, as it retains just the right amount of moisture during the growing season but is then effectively cleansed over the winter.  It’s the right balance of heat, light, and water to maximize yields and quality.  Additionally, the surrounding ocean acts as a natural barrier against airborne or insect-borne diseases.

The communmity of O’Leary in western PEI is the home of the Canadian Potato Museum.  In this day and age, it takes a lot of work to get people excited about potatoes, but try some PEI potatoes with the right recipe and you won’t be disappointed. How about the ultimate comfort foods, such as rustic PEI potato, beef, and mushroom stew or scalloped potatoes. Or how about a twist on a breakfast favourite with potato pancakes.

Lobster

Despite the economic reliance on potatoes and ebb-and-flow of lobster markets, lobster is still one of the biggest draws to Prince Edward Island.

While lobster can be found on PEI any time of year, there are two main lobster seasons: the first runs from May until the end of June, and the second from August until October, with different areas of the island having different seasons.  Restaurants all around the island can be found serving up lobster in all forms, or you can buy it yourself, either live or freshly cooked.

It’s such a popular delicacy that Prince Edward Island is host to an annual International Shellfish Festival. Started in 1996, this is an annual event every September where where competitive shuckers, celebrity chefs, music lovers and a host of shellfish fans gather in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for four days of festivities.

If you’re looking for reasons to buy fresh lobster yourself, here are some easy recipes to make the most out of your purchase:

Prince Edward Island Style Lobster with Lemon Brown Butter

Lobster Abegweit

Lobster and Potato Risotto

Mussels

PEI has earned its reputation for high quality standards in its mussel exports based on the diligence and pride of Island growers.  Top restaurants around the world now specifically include PEI mussels on their menu.

PEI blue mussels grow naturally in PEI’s nutrient-rich waters, and are self-sustained with no feed or additives. Mussels are loaded with nutrients while being light of calories, which makes them ideal for anyone planning a balanced meal. PEI is known for its blue-cultured mussels, which are grown without any special feed or additives and contained in a mesh sleeve that protects them from predators

The high concentration of natural plankton in the waters – their natural food source – puts makes PEI unique for producing mussels with cleaner shells and grit-free flesh. This type of suspended cultivation began on PEI in the 1970s and has been instrumental in building PEI’s reputation for producing mussels with exceptionally tender meat,

Mussels are easy to prepare and go great in pastas, or prepared with the right sauce. Here are some simple recipes for PEI mussels:

PanRoasted Mussels in Miso Broth

Curried Confederation Blues

Creamy “Island Gold” Blue Mussel Pasta

Acadian Dishes

The Acadians are the descendants of the 17th-century French colonists who settled in Acadia, a colony of New France. The colony was located in what is now Eastern Canada’s Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), as well as part of Quebec.

The history of the Acadians in the region is long and storied, with the majority of them being expelled from the region in the mid-1700s by the British government, many immigrating to Louisiana and becoming known as Cajuns. Many Acadians returned to the Maritimes – most notably New Brunswick – with roughly 3000 descendants in PEI today. Acadian history is an integral component of Canadian history, so we find ways to bring attention to it whenever we can.  Chicken fricot is a popular Acadian dish that is still prepared today by many Acadian descendants.

Notable Architecture of PEI

Prince Edward Island architecture is something to behold simply because it springs from that perfect zone where utility meets elegance. In modern times we find beauty in things like lighthouses, old cottages, and good, old-fashioned traditional city planning (read: winding roads.) A good rule of thumb is that wherever you find folk tales or ghost stories (link to ghost story blog,) you’ll find interesting architectural design.

Without further ado, here is a selection of some Prince Edward Island architecture:

Province House

Province House is one of the most well-known structures in all of Prince Edward Island, akin to the premiere government building in any other province. It is the birthplace of Confederation and the seat of Prince Edward Island’s Provincial Legislature (Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island) since 1847. Designated a National Historic Site in 1966, it is still in operation to this day and is Canada’s second-oldest seat of government.

Province House (or, the Leg, as it is referred to on the Island) was designed by Isaac Smith, a self-trained architect from Yorkshire, England. It was built by Island craftsmen during a time of prosperity for the then-British colony. Its architectural lines include Greek and Roman influences, common to public buildings in North America built during this era.

West Point Lighthouse

Also home to some Island ghost stories, the Westpoint Lighthouse also happens to be a very interestingly designed structure, and the tallest lighthouse in PEI. If you’re interested in lighthouses and the maritime history of PEI, this is one of the first places you should go.

West Point Lighthouse, a large square tower with horizontal black stripes, was built in 1875 by the federal Department of Marine, and first lit on May 21, 1876. It is currently the tallest lighthouse on PEI.

While the lighthouse is still in operation – controlled by the West Point Development Corporation – the traditional living quarters have been converted to a museum and inn.

Bottle Houses

Now let’s dabble in the strange.

The title says at all: these are houses made of bottles. Created by Édouard T. Arsenault , the “bottle houses” are a series of structures totalling roughly 25,000 recycled and de-labelled glass bottles. They are cemented together in walls, columns, and surfaces within the structures. The bottles were collected personally from people within the community, including restaurants, friends, and bars.

They are located in Cap-Egmont, Prince Edward Island.

Inspired by a letter from his daughter detailing a glass castle while travelling in British Columbia, Édouard began this project in 1979. Since his death, the weather and associated elements have taken their toll on the structures (who would have guess recycled glass couldn’t cut it during Canadian winters?) so they had to be rebuilt over the years. The current incarnations are the revised versions, and they are likely to continue on in this fashion due to their acknowledgement as a tourist attraction.

Confederation Bridge

It would be very easy to pick architecture that is pretty, ornamental, or historical, since these sorts of things inspire peoples’ imaginations, which does a lot of the legwork when it comes to beauty. I believe there is a place for utility in this discussion; structures that are exclusively made to serve a purpose. We touched on this with light houses, but bridges are often overlooked despite the technological marvels that are involved with getting them built.

The Confederation Bridge (Pont de la Confédération) is a two lane, 12.9 KM long toll bridge spanning the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Strait, linking Prince Edward Island with mainland New Brunswick, Canada. To Prince Edward Islanders, it is known as the “Fixed Link” or just “The Link.” Construction began in 1993 and completed in 1997. The total cost of the structure was over one billion dollars.

It sits 40 meters above water and permits ship traffic beneath it. It is a beam-bridge, suspended by 62 vertical piers. Driving the legal speed limit, it would take you roughly 12 minutes to drive the length of the bridge. It took over 5000 workers to get the whole project done, which can give you a sense of the scope of the thing.

It’s a beautiful structure in the sense that it was designed by many for many. So often a beautiful piece of architecture, like most great art, is designed by and for the individual. You could imagine, however, a distant future where this is treated with the same regard as other ancient architecture. People forget the amount of guts it takes to get something like this made, especially since economic projects are always contested from both sides.

So concludes our brief introduction to the architecture of PEI. We’re just scratching the surface with this topic.  There are a few books available detailing the architecture of the province.

If you have any suggestions for notable Prince Edward Island architecture, leave a comment below.

Prince Edward Island Ghost Stories

Anytime you have a culture invested in history, you’re going to find ghost stories.

Wherever you can look into the past, you will find people who wonder if the past is looking back.

Prince Edward Island is full of tragic tales, ghost stories, and modern-day mythology. Like most of the rest of human history, something not happening if someone’s not dying, so as a brief introduction to Prince Edward Island’s rich past, let’s starts where the dead meet the living.

Here are some of the most well-known Prince Edward Island ghost stories:

The Ghost Ship of Northumberland Strait

The Northumberland Strait: 130 miles of turbulent waters separating Prince Edward Island from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Ghost Ship of Northumberland Strait is a spectre that can be seen sailing within the Northumberland Strait while engulfed in flames. It’s been reported for over 220 years, with numerous eyewitness accounts.  The earliest known reporting of an incident is 1786.

The ship itself is described as a beautiful schooner that has three masts (sometimes four) with pure white sails, all of which are lit ablaze as onlookers watch. Since this occurs at a distance, the cause of the fire is never known, and there are no reports of seeing people aboard the vessel.

The last reported sighting was in 2008 by 17-year-old Mathieu Giguere, who cited a “bright white and gold ship.” No mention as to whether or not it was on fire.

Sightings have occurred throughout the seasons, but the most seem to occur between September and November. Local legend states that the sight of a ship foretells a storm, but ghosts can be a sign of anything, really.

Holland Cove

Holland Cove (formerly known as Observation Cove) is the site is a grisly tragedy.

The story goes that the first group of white settlers came to what would later be known as Holland Cove back in 1764. The surveyor, a Dutch man named Captain Holland, was responsible for the division of the island into 67 lots.  He brought his wife, Racine, with him.

One night, one of Captain Holland’s expeditions went on longer than expected and she ventured out onto the ice in search of him, likely fearing the worst. The ice, however, was thinner than usual and it broke beneath her feet. Before long, she had drowned.

The captain himself is said to have experienced the apparition of his late wife, and it followed him until his death. They say to this day on July 14th every year at the time of high tide, Racine makes her appearance. The legend continues to say that if you are present near the spot, you will see her drown.

People also claim that late in the evening her voice may still be heard along the stretch of the shoreline near Holland Cove calling out to her husband in the same manner she called out to him after her death. The spirit is described as having long black hair and dressed in a white robe (typical ghost fashion.)

West Point Lighthouse Inn, O’Leary

It’s hard to believe that all houses don’t come preloaded with ghosts.

The West Point Lighthouse was first lit on May 21, 1876 and is said to be haunted by the first keeper, William MacDonald (or Willie, as he is more commonly known as since passing to the other side). Oddly enough, Willie is said to haunt the Inn located beside it rather than the lighthouse itself. The Inn was established in 1984 as Canada’s first lighthouse Inn.

On top of that, for the past 200 years people have been reporting the sight of burning ships off the coast at the lighthouse. Not unlike the ghost ship of the Northumberland Straight, these ships are seen at a distance and have never been approached.

At least one of these ghost ships is thought to be a pirate; in 1786, the story goes that the crew of a burning ship made a deal with the devil and were doomed to sail the seas.

Effie’s Ghost, St Peters Bay

Trains have not run on Prince Edward Island since 1989, but for over a century they were the lifeblood of the communities they served.  The Island was criss-crossed by rail tracks, bringing supplies and people to the multitude of small communities long before the convenience of the automobile and paved roads.

In St Peters Bay, the trains passed along a scenic stretch in front of the water, and right in front of Effie’s house.  She never missed a train.  She would come out in front of her house and wave at the conductor and engineer.  They all knew her friendly face, and looked forward to her greeting.

So, I would image they were all disappointed to hear when Effie had passed.  But, I imagine they were even more surprised when they continued to see her out in front of her house, waving at their trains, long after her death.  Train engineers continued to report the figure of Effie waving at them as they passed through St Peters Bay, right up until her beloved trains themselves became a thing of the past.

 

Prince Edward Island is full of other supernatural or mysterious folk tales. But of course, the best way to explore the Ghost Stories of Prince Edward Island is to visit the many haunted houses scattered around the Island.

Top 5 PEI Beaches

PEI_beachFor generations, Prince Edward Island has been the vacation destination of choice for many families. The rolling hills of green fields, cut through by red dirt roads, against a backdrop of blue water and sky is a visual delight.

But, of course, one of the main attractions for both visitors and locals alike are the beaches. Miles and miles of sandy beaches are easily accessible. Everything from out-of-the-way and nearly abandoned areas, to the popular and fully serviced and supervised beaches await.

In our view, here are five of the Island’s best beach areas.

1.  Greenwich Beach. As part of the Prince Edward Island National Park, Greenwich beach has all the facilities to make a great day out at the beach. Change huts and showers are on-site, while the lifeguards make sure everyone stays safe. This beach is just one little part of one of the longest, uninterrupted stretches of sandy beach on the Island. If the area right next to the services is a little too busy for you, just walk a few minutes and you can easily find your own little plot. But, what makes Greenwich extra special is not just the beach, but the surrounding area. A visit to the interpretive centre really highlights the importance of this piece of land at the entrance to St Peters Bay, and the thousands of years of human interactions with the land. The series of trails, all easily accessible, make for a great afternoon activity. And don’t forget the sand dunes! The parabolic dunes in this area have some unique properties, rarely found anywhere else on earth. The trails through the woods lead to a long boardwalk over a pond and give you a great view. Or, you can wander down from the beach itself along the shore to meet up with the far end of the trails.

2.  Cavendish Beach. Long a favourite on the Island, this is the area most people think of when they think of visiting Prince Edward Island. During the busy tourism season, get there early to pick out a prime spot, because this beach is a very popular destination, with a full range of facilities. The nearby town of Cavendish is the tourism centre of Prince Edward Island, with it multitude of shops and attractions, the annual Cavendish Beach Music Festival, and the home of Anne of Green Gables. But the beach is ground zero for most stays in Cavendish. Also a part of the Prince Edward Island National Park, this beach stretches for miles with plenty of access points. Wander down the beach to see the picturesque red cliffs meeting the sea and sand.

3.  Cedar Dunes. Often referred to as the West Point Beach, this provincial park is at most western point of PEI, and provides a campground supervised beach area, nature trail and children’s activities. Also within this park is the iconic West Point Lighthouse, which has now been converted into an Inn (and is said to be haunted by Willie, the first keeper of the lighthouse).

4.  Brackley Beach. Again a part of the Prince Edward Island National Park, Brackley Beach is probably the second most popular beach area on the Island after Cavendish. Miles of white sandy beach and full services welcome thousands of visitors each year. Although not quite as busy as Cavendish, it’s still a good idea to get there early and claim your spot before the afternoon rush on a nice day. After a day at the beach, take in a movie at Prince Edward Island’s only drive-in theatre.

5.  Basin Head. This jewel has just been voted as Canada’s number one beach destination by travel website vacay.ca. It’s not to be missed on your visit. Home of the singing sands and the PEI fisheries museum, Basin Head has plenty of facilities, as well as a line of small shops just at the end of the beach. Despite all the signs warning against it, you’ll find many people diving into the water off the little bridge passing over the run linking the fishing harbour to the sea. Take a little trip to nearby East Point Lighthouse and the Elmira Railway Musuem. The nearby town of Souris has all the services you will need, as well as a great sea glass display in their lighthouse.