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The Island in a jar

Local Food Heroes
by Ann Thurlow

Islanders are just getting better and better at adding value to the things we grow here. We are getting better, too, at becoming people who are known for more than jams and pickles (though those jams and pickles are damn good). These days, you could tell a story about PEI and what we’ve become just by looking at what we put in jars.

1. From Ilse Saint-Jean in Rustico comes a lovely jar of sheep’s milk yogurt. This is not your homogenized corporate yogurt; it’s thinner and tastier with a slightly tart finish. The sheep’s milk comes from the farm—we are finally getting what people have been looking for awhile—a locally produced yogurt. Plus this one has the cache of being more like “real” yogurt so, more sophisticated and more of a treat. Isle Saint Jean yogurt is available at Riverview Country Market and the Farmer’s Market.

2. Lemon Kraut might qualify as a pickle except that it’s like no other pickle—or sauerkraut—you’ve ever had. Made from their own produce by the lovely women at Heartbeat Organics, it’s packed with probiotics and kicked up with the addition of turmeric (which they grow), a well known anti-inflammatory. But who cares? Bottom line, it’s worth eating because it’s delicious. Available at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market.

3. For the past few years, you’ve been able to get kimchi at Seoul Food in Charlottetown. They make it from as many local ingredients as possible and sell it in jars. Now it’s also available at Sobey’s, which is great news for the addicts among us. Kimchi is one of those foods that was completely foreign a few years ago and is now ubiquitous. And this kimchi is made here and that makes it even better.

4. Though not strictly a value-added product (because we don’t have cashew trees) Fauxmage is made here and has become almost an instant hit. It is, as the name suggests, a “cheese” made without dairy products, though it would be easy to think otherwise. There’s a cheddar flavour, a gouda and a couple of goat cheeses with various extra herbs. A new product: a creamy sauce for vegetables or pasta. Though the products are great for people with dairy allergies or who are vegan, they’re extremely tasty. Maybe at first you serve them as a novelty. But later you find yourself finishing off your tub of Fauxmage with a big spoon. At the Riverview Country Market for sure and the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market on occasion. 


One Great Thing
by Ann Thurlow

On a gray Sunday morning, the walls of the Citadel are like ice. I touch them and feel every cold day there ever was. There is no one here but a gull and the maddening wind. Then, so very faintly, a bagpipe groans into tune. I round a corner and there on the old parade ground is the piper. He stands tall, as if he had an audience. But there is no one—only me and the ghosts of long ago young cadets who were once, as I am now, spooked by the pipes and far from home.


How I learned to cook: Tyler Gallant

Submitted by Ann Thurlow

Tyler Gallant is the owner and chef of Gallant’s Seafood Market, which just opened on the wharf in Stanley Bridge. The shop sells a variety of fresh and prepared seafood to eat in or take out.

My mom is a vegetarian so I grew up with lots of beans and tofu. But when I was young I was trying to impress a girl. So I taught myself to make filet mignon to serve her. That’s how I learned to cook.

When I was really young, my aunts fed me lobster. I didn’t like it—I think it actually made me sick. So I thought I didn’t like seafood. Then once we were on vacation with some family friends and were staying near a beach. There was a storm and a lot of mussels washed up on shore. Our dads talked the kids into gathering the mussels and then one of the dads steamed them. We ate them with a lot of ADL butter. I don’t know if it was the butter or the mussels but I’ve loved seafood ever since.



How to be a farmer in your own dining room

by Ann Thurlow

Alan Bridle at the Summerside Farmers’ Market (photo: Ann Thurlow)There’s something very hopeful about a tray of fresh greens growing by the window. Especially if it’s the winter; most especially if you can eat the greens just a few days after you plant them. They are microgreens—little shoots that taste like the very essence of vegetables. This week it’s spicy cress, next week it might be kaiware radish or sweet pea shoots; they are elemental and delicious.

These tiny gardens are popping up on window sills all over, thanks to the efforts of Max Rousseux-Bridle and his dad, Alan. Together they are The Micro Farmers, a company based in Summerside.

They began their business in Ontario. But Max moved to PEI to take a new job, Alan followed and they set up shop, selling primarily at the Summerside Farmers’ market and on line. It’s fun to visit them at the market; all the varieties of microgreens are growing - you can taste them and admire their bright green and cheering beauty. As well as being lovely, the greens are nutritionally dense—pretty and good for you.

Here’s how it works. A starter kit will get you a hard, plastic tray, three hemp mats and some seed. After some trial and error, hemp was chosen as the ideal growing medium. You lay a mat in the tray, sprinkle it with seed and water it. It goes into a dark place until it sprouts—then it’s in the window to grow. It can be harvested to go in a salad, on a sandwich—anywhere you need some flavour and snap.

Though the microgreen kits are starting to take off, the company’s cat grass kits are their biggest seller. (Q. Why do we treat out cats better than we treat ourselves?) It works on the same principle though, sadly, the cat does none of the work.

The kits are fun and it’s an easy way to add some good nutrition to your meals. But the company also has a larger purpose, too. They aim to help people foster a deeper connection with their food. And even if it’s just a little tray of greens, you grew it and harvested it yourself and that’s deeply satisfying.

Find them at the Summerside Farmers’ Market, in selected specialty shops and at

Local Food Heroes: Joe’s Mediterranean

Submitted by Ann Thurlow

Fadi Malke carefully places a small glass of Arak on the table. “Drink it slowly,” he advices, “it’s very strong—50 per cent alcohol.” The drink tastes like licorice and is as strong as advertised. Fadi suggests having it with shanklish, a salad of cheese, tomatoes and spices. It seems an improbable combination—the tart salad with the sweet drink. But Fadi says it’s what they do in Syria and we’re in a Syrian restaurant, so here goes.

Turns out it’s delicious. But so is everything at Joe’s Mediterranean & Canadian Cuisine.

The name Syria is so fraught with misery these days that it’s hard to remember that it was once home to a vibrant and sophisticated culture. The Malke family, Jozeph and Rana and their three sons, were a part of that culture; the family owned a restaurant in Damascus. Son Bassel pulls out a photo of a bright and lively looking spot, full of customers.

Though Damascus has been spared the worst of the fighting, things got bad. Because he had an aunt here, Bassel decided to go to UPEI to study business. Eventually, the family followed. After Rana catered a Red Cross fundraiser at the Culinary Institute, a number of people suggested that she should open a restaurant. The family had the experience. Son Mike had a culinary degree. They were able to get their hands on the former Maple Grille, with its prime Great George Street location.

They spent months renovating, doing all the work themselves—even painting their own sign. The restaurant today is beautifully decorated, exotic and comfortable all at once.

And the food? There’s enough Syrian to satisfy the curious or the homesick, enough Italian and French to justify the Mediterranean name and enough poutine and burgers to make any Canadian feel at home. Though he’s not a chef, father Joe got in on the act with Joe’s special burger—beef patty with omelet, spices, pickles and more. The chicken Cordon Bleu has proved a winner as has the Chicken Milanese, a chicken breast with tomato sauce and cheese. And the Shish Taouk sub, a big baguette style roll with chicken, cole slaw, fries and pickles (in it, not next to it) is a huge hit. It’s the way they eat it in Syria, Bassel explains. The French colonized Syria after the First World Wat and their culinary influence remains. I’ll admit I was dubious about the sandwich at first: turns out a Syrian shish taouk is the best in town.

In fact, a lot of the food at Joe’s is Syrian—kebab, fattoush, tabbouleh—and a lot of those names sound Lebanese to me. I ask what the difference is. Bassel explains that the difference is slight—a matter of more lemon juice, a different spice. “You have to remember, “he says,” we once shared the same kitchen.”

Joe’s Mediterranean & Canadian Cuisine: 167 Great George Street in Charlottetown

How I learned to cook: Emily Wells

Submitted by Ann Thurlow

Emily Wells is the owner and executive chef of The Mill in New Glasgow and YouMeal. She is also the culinary partner in the River Clyde Pageant.

My parents spent their honeymoon in Europe and were introduced to a whole lot of exotic foods. When my mother came home she made a pizza and she claimed it was the first one on PEI. They had mussels there, which no one on PEI ate at the time. They would go down to the shore and harvest them. Also green peppers, which were completely unknown then; they started growing their own. That’s how I learned to love unusual ingredients and flavours.

But my best memories are of lovely meals around the family dinner table. It’s a feeling I try to recreate at my restaurant and at the feast we have following the River Clyde Pageant in the summer.


Early bread

One Great Bite
by Ann Thurlow

At five in the morning, it’s tempting to go back to sleep and I do. But somewhere another woman is drowsily turning on lights and hauling out mixing bowls. I imagine her name is Sarah. In my mind’s eye, I see her in a big white apron, kneading shortening into flour, performing that strange alchemy we call baking. In a few hours, I’ll go to Kettle Black for a scone and she’ll be gone. I imagine she is exhausted from her labours. It’s her turn to sleep—mine to be surrounded by a blissful cloud of crumbs and butter.

Valuable lessons

One Great Thing
by Ann Thurlow

Anyone who doubts the value of a music education should spend a minute considering the legacy of John Clement. Sure, his students learned to play the strings—how could they help but learn from a man whose passion for music was second only to his passion for teaching? But even more than that, they learned the value of the hard slog toward perfection; they learned the sweet reward of a compliment from someone you admire and respect. Even when a fading memory chased their names away, he still remembered to tell his students he was proud of them.

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