Prince Edward Island is not just all about lobster. Yes, there sure is lots of lobster talk and the local crustacean is indeed a fabulous specimen. Live ones can be had for as little as $7.50 lb (454g), which is good enough reason in itself to visit Canada’s smallest province. But this fascinatingly productive island punches way above its weight in many other gustatory aspects.
Take vodka for example, potato vodka in particular. Prince Edward Island is famous for spuds. Commercial farmers grow russet burbanks on a massive scale, destined to end up as chips beside Big Macs or in McCain frozen packs. But in the north of the island I meet effervescent and enterprising Julie Shore. She’s put a whole new spin on the humble mashed tuber with a signature spud vodka from her tiny Hermanville distillery.
Julie’s an independent, learn-as-you-go sort of gal. Quite remarkably she assembled her imported German still and got it working without the help of an instruction book. Her standout island tipple has won awards and is making ripples beyond the island shores. She also distills a wild blueberry vodka and a show stopper gin, which might explain her almost permanent grin.
Another big island surprise was chocolate. I expected to find another cute tourist sweet shop in picturesque Victoria by the Sea. Instead I met the delightful Gilbert family, mum Linda, son Eric and daughter Emma, crafting the most voluptuous chocolates in their willy wonka factory on Russell Street.
Even better, they use chocolate made from cacao beans sourced directly from growers in Ecuador, a supply chain project fostered by Eric on regular trips to the South American country. The project aims at eliminating the middleman and now involves 23 communities. That’s finger lickin’ good to hear
Many a fine local restaurant will serve up Prince Edward Island on a plate. Or you can forage for your supper by digging for clams with Ron Perry, an exercise that gets in touch with the kid lurking in each of us. Within a few minutes of stalking the beach west of Summerside in search of tell-tale holes in the sand we’d unearthed an abundance of fat, juicy soft shell clams. Diggers can take up to 300 clams a day and size is regulated. Soon we’d dug up more than enough. Back at Ron’s caboose he steamed them in garlic, butter, onion and beer. A simple, delicious feast. Book Ron’s clam tour
By now you’ll realise that few go really hungry on the island and that local produce is a primary reason for making a journey to the Canadian Maritimes. For a tutored experience of PEI’s bounty you can sign up for a “boot camp” at Holland College Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, the island’s charming capital.
These “mini-masterchef” classes are hands-on in the kitchen working with locally-sourced foods. My Seafood 101 “camp” culminated in a self-produced feast that included tutor chef Jeff McCourt’s prize-winning chowder, along with freshly-shucked oysters, steamed mussels and butter-poached lobster. Don’t forget to pack extra napkins because you’ll need them.