I could almost smell the salty PEI air as I walked into the gorgeous, airy space of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen. Greeted at the door with the most beautifully decorated Caesar and the handsome Chef Michael Smith shucking oysters for us to nibble on, it was a note-worthy welcome.
I attended the Taste of PEI event with the expectation of seeing 4 culinary students from 4 different colleges compete in a Top Chef/Iron Chef style competition. Fun, right? Each student had 30 minutes to create a meal using selected PEI ingredients (potatoes, beef, and mussels) plus a last minute surprise addition of several foraged ingredients that had been picked by the chef himself. The 4 young culinarians worked quickly and skillfully to create a range of creative dishes, each showcasing the beauty of the food in their own unique way. So I went to see the students (and Chef Michael, of course), but what I left with was a deep calling to travel to PEI—to connect with the locals, swim in the ocean, happily eat my way around the island, and perhaps even take a culinary boot camp class at PEI’s Culinary Institute of Canada. One can dream, right?!.
Michael (apparently we’re on a first-name basis now) told a heart-warming story about falling in love with the island as a young chef. He moved to PEI over 20 years ago because, like many people, he went on vacation and just couldn’t see himself leaving. He spoke of the local produce, the fresh seafood, and the foraged treasures that he and many islanders built their kitchens on. Foods like cattails (yes, those tall weed-like plants with conical furry tops), spruce tips, and dulse regularly grace his table. I got the sense that just stepping outdoors with a keen eye and a bit of a go get’ er attitude in PEI would bring you a delicious feast. What I was surprised to learn about from Michael is that PEI produces more AAA grade beef per capita than Alberta, BUT there’s not a single factory farm on the island. So it’s perhaps true then that all the beef from PEI comes from happy cows!
After Michael shared stories about the culinary life of PEI, the chefs began the cookoff. While they cooked we cheered them on, all the while mingling, imbibing, and feasting on gorgeous bites. The feel of the night I could only imagine to be like a PEI kitchen party—food and drinks being shared, laughter and chatter filling the air, warmth and friendliness emanating from everyone around, and conversations flowing with ease. From what I understand, the only thing we were missing was an impromptu sing-along put on by a few cousins with some fiddles. East coast folks are my favourite!
If you know me, you surely would have heard me say that East coast people are some of the nicest people in the world. True to this, one of Michael’s colleagues, Maureen, invited me to her family’s weekly pancake breakfast. The invitation was warm and real, and it made me feel, in a city the size of Toronto, that community is everywhere. You just have to look for it. But we could all take a lesson from the PEI-ers. Every Sunday morning at 11am, hearty, made-with-love pancakes are served up at Maureen’s place. Her kids, all grown now, come back each week with their families, some bringing friends along for the occassion. The rule is: If you’ve been to the pancake breakfast once, you’re welcome back anytime. It’s always the same time and same place each week.
I’ve dreamed of travelling to PEI for years, but now, more than ever, I want to venture out East. The fresh seafood, the local farms, the simple way of foraging for ingredients for the evening meal, and of course, Maureen’s Sunday morning pancakes. It sounds like a culinary tourist’s dream. What more could I ask for?
I was invited to this event through my blog and had such a genuinely delightful time, that I wanted to write about it. All opinions are my own and I was not paid or sponsored to write anything. Though I will admit that I was lucky to receive a little parting gift basket filled with some PEI delights including the PEI oysters (a MUCH better version of a turtle) that L and I finished off in two days. Embarrassing. I also got a small package of this Anne of Green Gables Island Strawberry Tea. Since I grew up watching Anne of Green Gables on TV, I couldn’t wait to try it. The heat in Toronto right now makes it difficult to even think about drinking hot tea, so I made a cold version for you. The combination of strawberry and lemon make this Strawberry Lemon Iced Tea a refreshing pick-me-up for a hot summer day.
All of the photos of the Taste of PEI event, with the exception of the spruce tips in the top right corner of the ingredient collage, were take by the talented Mike Palmer of 365 Palmer.
- 2 bags Island Strawberry Tea (black tea with strawberry, or any tea of your choice. Green tea and fruit-based herbal teas would also be delicious.)
- 1L boiling water
- 2 tbs of raw honey (or sweetener of your choice), plus more to taste if you want it
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cup frozen strawberries, plus more for serving
- Place the tea bags in a large, heat-proof glass jar. Pour boiling water over the bags and steep anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, or until it’s at the strength you like.
- Remove the tea bags and add the honey, lemon, and 1 cup frozen strawberries.
- ***I use frozen strawberries because I like the way the heat pulls the juice out of them. I recommend freezing some fresh strawberries right now while they’re in season and using them in this recipe.
- Stir well and allow the tea to cool.
- Once cooled, add additional ice cubes and frozen (ice-cube-like) strawberries to serve. Add more honey, if you like.