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.

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