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Romance Writing Workshop

On February 9 PEI Writers’ Guild will host a workshop entitled Heat Rising: Writing the Romantic R [ ... ]

Clyde River Lecture Series

The theme for the 7th Annual Clyde River Lectures Series is “Cars, Photography and Fashion” [ ... ]

Sugar Rush

Cooking up maple syrup with Sylvain Cormier

The Forager
by Allison Cooke

Sylvain Cormier and his cooker. (photo: Allison Cooke)When spring begins, energy from the sun increases, days get longer, temperatures rise, growth begins, but most importantly, especially for a maple syrup producer, the ice and snow begin to thaw. For a short time, just a few weeks of the year, these producers, both young and old are enjoying the Canadian tradition of making their own pure, maple syrup. This is also a fun early spring activity, and a great way to get kids involved in learning the value of harvesting their own food.

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees, which was originally a starch stored in their roots and trunks and then converted to a sugar. Once you find a patch to call your own, you can drill a tap into the tree and catch the sap while it is running. The sugary water is then boiled down and concentrated to make the delicious syrup. Usually you will need 20-50 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup, and it is important to monitor the sap while boiling, or it may crystalize.

To identify a sugar maple, it is best to do so in the summer using the leaves. A maple tree is easy to spot—if the leaf shape looks like it belongs on the Canadian flag, you have likely found a maple tree. If it’s winter, you will want to look for twigs that are narrow, and a brownish red color. You may also notice small buds growing on the twigs, but in opposite directions. As for the bark, it changes as the tree ages, and is usually full of vertical grooves and tends to flake off as the tree gets older. Make sure the trees are large enough to tap. A good rule of thumb is that the tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter. If you tap it too early, you could risk harming that tree.

When you are getting ready for the season, make sure you have all the right tools for both collecting and storing your syrup, such as taps, and buckets to collect the sap. A great idea is to re-use 4 litre milk jugs for storage. These are perfect because they are reused materials, and come with their own lid. It is extremely important to thoroughly clean any container that your sap may come in contact with, it will pick up flavors from your tools and buckets—such as scented soaps, rust, or bleach, so avoid these products when you are cleaning your supplies. If you are storing the syrup year round, mason jars work well, kept out of the fridge and sealed.

Maple Syrup makes a sweet, high calorie, sugary treat, but good news. Maple syrup is also said to have some health benefits! It has various antioxidants, like the ones you find in berries, teas, flax and whole wheat. Pure maple syrup isn’t refined, and is an all-natural product, which makes it more appealing than many other sweeteners.

As the temperature warms up and the snow begins to melt, find that maple in your yard, tap it, and enjoy the all-natural, unrefined sugary treat that can spruce up breakfast table and get you and your family enjoying the process of harvesting your own edibles.

Sylvain Cormier is a local forager, and owner of Everything Wild, a business that promotes unique and wild edibles on PEI.

Golden Treasures

Foraging hazelnuts with Sylvain Cormier

The Forager
by Allison Cooke

HazelnutsAs foraging season closes, and harvest season is upon us, we now begin to clear out our gardens and get ready for cooler temperatures. We should also pay close attention to the delicious and healthy forgeable nuts that could be falling from the trees in our own backyards during the beginning of autumn. The hazel tree is a small deciduous tree or bush that produces the sweet hazelnuts—a nut that is full of health benefits and is incredibly tasty. If you are lucky enough to have these growing in your backyard, or know when to find them, then you are already well aware of how amazing these hazelnuts can be!

When you are looking for hazelnuts, there are so many factors that come into play in the maturity of their growth, so keep a close eye for fallen nuts. If you spot them on the ground, it means that the rest on the tree are ready to be picked. One of the easiest ways to harvest from the tree is to shake it gently to help them fall to the ground. It’s also a good idea to beat the autumn rains and gather these nuts in October, since the rain will force the hazelnuts off the tree and they will sit on the ground. Make sure to gather them from the ground right away—leaving them on the ground could cause them to become moldy or discolored. It is also imperative you beat the squirrels and the birds, which love to feast on the hazelnuts and are your main competitors. If the tree is on your property, netting on the tree will solve this problem. Otherwise, always be in the habit to check to ensure that they are good to eat—and if not, leave them for your competition to enjoy.

There are a lot of health benefits to eating hazelnuts. First of all, they are a huge source of energy as they are full of fiber, vitamins and are rich in foliates, a unique feature that makes them a great snack for expectant mothers. These nuts are also gluten free, which makes them a safe alternative for people who are sensitive to wheat, gluten or are celiac. You can also use the hazelnut for its aroma—it is often used in skin care products, massage oils, cooking and cosmetics.

There are also a lot of environmental benefits to planting your own hazel trees. If they are planted near a stream, they provide food sources and shelter or nesting sites for our wildlife. They will also shade the stream, which enhances our fish population by controlling the water temperatures. Planting hazel trees or shrubs will help with soil erosion as well as boost soil equality from their leaves in the fall.

If you are planting these trees, it can take up to 4 to 7 years for a tree to mature enough to produce these delicious hazelnuts. However, once it matures, this tree can live and continue to produce for over 50 years—as long as it has the right soils and water and remains healthy. If you choose to store them for the winter, they are best dried. You can dry them outside on an old screen, and it will only take about 2–3 days.

Much like most fresh foods, hazelnuts will lose their healthy value the longer they are left on the ground—so make sure you get out this month and gather them frequently!

Sylvain Cormier is a local forager, and the owner of Everything Wild, a business that promotes unique and wild edibles on Prince Edward Island. It is his top priority to encourage eating locally, sustainably, and appreciating the food we have growing in our backyards.

Golden Treasures

Foraging chanterelle mushrooms with Sylvain Cormier

The Forager
by Allison Cooke

Chantrelle mushroomsOn Prince Edward Island, one of the best-kept secrets is where to find the golden treasure of the wild, the chanterelle mushroom. These are considered a delicacy, and when purchased at the grocery store can be quite pricey. Therefore, when you do find a good, wild patch to call your own, it’s best to keep it to yourself! Picking your own chanterelles is a great way to connect to the outdoors, venture into the woods and experience foraging for your own local ingredients.

To begin your treasure hunt, you will first want to go into a heavily wooded area, which has a lot of moss, as the chanterelle thrives in mossy areas. Depending where on the Island you are harvesting, you may want to bring some bug spray; the mosquitoes can be a little bit of a bother! The best woods to search in are of mixed variety—be sure it is not in a place that is mainly pine. Make sure this is on public land, and as a courtesy, never search on private land without permission.

Once you find a patch, always use a knife to cut them just above the base to ensure that they will grow in the same spot next year. If you pull them from the ground you could risk weakening the patch, and we want to be sure to have these wonderful mushrooms grow on PEI year after year.

Chanterelles also love rain, and need quite a bit to grow. The season usually begins in August and can go until late September, but since it has been such a dry summer on PEI, there may be a slight delay in their growth. If you are out looking, and come across smaller chanterelles, remember the patch and head back after a rainfall; they could have grown quite large, very quickly.

Chanterelles have a bright golden color, which, against the green moss, is hard to miss.

They also have a very sweet smell that is comparable to fruit, such as apricots. Their texture is tender, unlike most mushrooms, so they will not crumble as easily. Another marked feature of the chanterelle is that it has ridges (or gills) that will run down the underside of the cap, and are often forked and connecting.

After you have collected your gold, you may want to give them a quick cleaning by brushing off any dirt. Chanterelles hold a lot of water, so they are often prepared in a covered pan, with no butter or oil, unless you want to sweeten them. When made this way, the mushrooms then release a lot of their own water, which can be used as a stock for soups.

As with any foragable, if you cannot identify it 100% do not eat it. This is especially true with wild mushrooms, as there are many varieties and some could poison you. Do not just rely images. Be sure to also compare all of the characteristics true to a Chanterelle, and always consult an expert.

So this summer, for the short time you can, head out into nature to search for the golden chanterelle mushroom. The hunt will be as good as the treasure.

Sylvain Cormier is a local forager, and the owner of Everything Wild, a business that promotes unique and wild edibles on Prince Edward Island. It is his top priority to encourage eating locally, and appreciating the food we have growing in our backyards.

Wild Flavours

Clam digging with forager Sylvain Cormier

The Forager
by Allison Cooke

Clam diggin'One of the most popular traditions on Prince Edward Island, for locals and visitors alike, is clam digging. Heading onto the red sands, especially if it is in the evening or early morning, is a beautiful time on PEI to forage your own dinner.

You will want to head out during low tide, so you can walk out onto the sandbars, usually on the south shore, where the sands are red and silty. Once you arrive, the clams are easy to spot—look for clusters of holes in the sand, about the diameter of a pencil in size. Most often, the bigger the hole, the bigger the clam—but be careful! When you get close, sometimes they will spit their water at you!

All you will need for supplies is a bucket and a garden spade—they work best at not breaking the clams when you are digging. Dig about the depth of your spade, and pull up the sand in a steady motion. If you move too fast, you could risk breaking it. A broken clam is usually not fit for eating by the time you get it home, so leave them on the beach. Also, it is always good to rinse your clams on the beach with clean seawater—they are quite sandy, and the seawater will make them purge a lot of the sand.

The most common and popular type of clam on PEI is the steamer, or as it is sometimes known as, a spit or squirt clam. It gets it name from the way it spits its water at you, but also because they are delicious when steamed. Quahogs are slightly larger but not as large as the bar clam. Razor clams are not as commonly harvested as they are difficult to fish and there is not a large market for them.

You do not need a license to fish for clams on PEI, which makes it open and accessible to the public. However, there are rules to be followed that are very important in keeping clams sustainable. These rules are in place to let the smaller clams grow another season before we harvest them; not following them could result in a fine of $100 per clam. Soft shell clam season opens in April and runs until December, and they can only be a minimum 2 inches in diameter if they are a steamer, 4 if they are a bar clam. Quahog season opens in July and runs until November—but you are not allowed to fish them on Sundays. These clams must be at least 2 inches in diameter in size. You can dig up to 300 clams, but only 100 can be quahogs, and 100 bar clams. Only dig from sunrise to sunset, but be sure to follow some common courtesy when using the beaches, such as leaving no trace. You do not have to worry about backfilling what you dig, as the tides will do that for you.

So this summer, and into the fall, head out at low tide and harvest your own fresh clams for supper. It gives you the opportunity to connect directly with the beautiful beaches on PEI, as well as the satisfaction of foraging your own meal.

Sylvain Cormier is a local forager, and the owner of Everything Wild, a business that promotes unique and wild edibles on Prince Edward Island. It is his top priority to encourage eating locally and sustainably, as well as appreciating the food growing in our backyards.

Flirting with Wild Flavours

Foraging berries and daylilies with Sylvain Cormier

The Forager
by Allison Cooke

This summer, when you are looking for something different to sweeten up your dinner table, look no further than your own backyard. Both service berries and day lilies are edible sweets growing in the wild, as well as on yards all over PEI.

Service berries (or Saskatoon berries) are those bright red and purple berries that in the past, we may have been a little afraid to eat. But, they are indeed edible, delicious, sweet, and high in iron and copper! They grow on shrubs or small trees, and sometimes can be found higher up because PEI has no bear population to pull the branches down, which would keep the trees low. Service berry trees are ornamental as well, with beautiful blossoms in spring and fiery colors in autumn. It is in the summer that we want to harvest the delicious berries from the tree, but they are only available for a short time—so pick them before the birds get to them. If you already have one of these trees on your property, you could consider a plastic netting to keep the birds away from your berries if you decide to start harvesting them.

You will find service berries almost anywhere. They grow best in moist soils and full sun, but can survive happily in shaded areas as well. Once you harvest them you will have a delicious berry that you can eat raw (they are a little seedy), or make a variety of things, like homemade jams since they have their own naturally occurring pectin. It is always delicious to process the berries to make juices and sweet toppings for desserts.

Another wild edible that most are not aware is safe to eat is the daylily. You can see this growing all over PEI during the summer months when the buds and blossoms appear, which is the best part of the whole plant. These flowers are delicious either raw or cooked. The most common ones on PEI are the orange and yellow lilies, which is perfect because they are also known to be the most delicious.

Daylilies are easy to harvest, and you can find them almost anywhere. They grow in any kind of soil or sun and will do just as well in your own yard as they will in the wild. You can use the raw petals as a sweet crispy treat in salads, and to sweeten up a vegetable dish, but you can also boil and fry the closed buds. Either way, this edible flower is a unique sweet treat to share.

Service berries and daylilies grow wild, but are also very common in yards and gardens throughout PEI, so if you think there may be a landowner, be sure to ask permission before you harvest. Also, when you are trying any new food, especially plants, be sure to clean them well and be aware some common allergic reactions could occur. Try tasting a small amount to begin with. If it tastes foul, spit it out. Both of these edibles are self-sustaining, there will be no shortage after you harvest them. So get out there this month and enjoy some new wild edibles that are sure to sweeten up your table.

Sylvain Cormier is a local forager, and the owner of Everything Wild, a business that promotes unique and wild edibles on Prince Edward Island. It is his top priority to encourage eating locally, and appreciating the food we have growing in our backyards.

Please remember, there are risks, possibly serious, to eating anything that you are not one hundred per cent sure is safe to eat. When in doubt, don’t. Or contact Sylvain.

Stalking the Wild Cattail

Forager Sylvain Cormier shares his knowledge

The Forager
by Allison Cooke

Cattails are one of the most amazing survival foods, no matter what the season, and have been referred to as the supermarket of the wild because every part of them is edible. They are easy to identify, easy to harvest, they are rich in starches and carbs and they are delicious. Our ecosystem depends heavily upon them because they help stabilize riverbanks and stop erosion, and insects and animals use them for shelter and nesting sites.

Cattails are easy to find and identify. You likely will not have to stray very far from your own backyard. Part of the fun in harvesting your own food is connecting with nature—and for cattails, you will want to head out to the woods after a couple of dry days when the ground is not very muddy. You will find cattails growing in slow flowing and still, swampy waters—but one of their many positive benefits is to provide a cleaning service and filter out the toxins from these waters. It is because of this that I recommend you try to harvest cattails near fresh water supplies, especially if you are planning to eat them raw, just to be on the safe side.

The stands are long and white, and the plants that look just like a hot dog on a stick, sometimes broken and fuzzy.  Just be aware if you have spring allergies, the fluff can trigger them! When you spot the cattails, find the biggest shoots and either pull it straight up, or simply cut the fresh tips of the plant. There may be a jelly that makes your hands a little sticky from harvesting cattails, but this jelly can also be collected and used as an alternative to thickening soups.

You now know how to find them, but are probably curious which parts of the cattail are edible, and the answer is simple: all of it, from the roots underwater to the top of the plant. This time of year you are going to eat the stalks, stems and shoots—which taste like a delicious hybrid of zucchini and cucumber and are great in salads, soups, stir frys or even eaten raw. Just start at the stem and peel away the layers until you find the centre. Also at this time of year, the flower spikes, if harvested while they are still green, can be boiled for a few minutes and eaten as an alternative to corn on the cob. Even the plants pollen can be turned into flour that is high in protein and can make delicious pancakes!

It is important to keep PEI as sustainable as possible, and because cattails are so helpful to our eco system, it shouldn’t suffer because of too much harvesting. Also, because wetlands are fragile, and often used as nesting sites—you don’t want to be stomping around unknowingly in your rubber boots. Make sure you are aware of where and when you are collecting, and don’t get greedy when you are harvesting!

This spring, instead of searching the stores for something unique to cook for dinner, head out into the woods and pick your own delicious side dish. The benefits of harvesting, preparing and cooking your own fresh foods will be well worth the adventure.

Sylvain Cormier is a local forager, and the owner of Everything Wild, a Business that promotes unique and wild edibles on Prince Edward Island. It is his top priority to encourage eating locally, and appreciating the food we have growing in our backyards.

We are delighted to have Sylvain and Allison join The Buzz team to present the fascinating subject of foraging for food. But please remember—there are risks, possibly serious, to eating anything that you are not one hundred per cent sure is safe to eat. When in doubt, don’t. Or contact Sylvain.

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Sequential thinking

Serial arrangements at Confederation Centre Art Gallery Until March 19 The tradition of artists wo [ ... ]

The Drawer Boy

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