Well now, this post has been a long time coming. Having been sucked into the black hole that is house renovation, the Daily Spud has become closer to the monthly spud, while prospective posts have languished on the proverbial back burner. Now that I have acquired an actual back burner – along with the kitchen to go with it, and of which more anon – it’s time to fire things up again. First stop PEI – Prince Edward Island – which, through the good offices of the Canadian Tourism Commission, I had the great pleasure of visiting back in May.
I reckon that the Irish settlers who came to PEI in the 1700s and 1800s – all 10,000 or more of them, according to the Irish Settlers’ Memorial in PEI’s capital, Charlottetown – probably felt at home. Or at least as at home as you can feel when you’re several thousand miles away on the other side of the Atlantic.
Canada may be vast but Prince Edward Island – its smallest province, at 139 miles long, ranging from four to 40 miles wide, and with a population of around 145,000 – is a green slip of a thing hugging the eastern coast, one of the country’s four Atlantic provinces (often referred to collectively as the Maritimes) – and it sits closer to Ireland than to Canada’s Pacific coast. Though its winters are harsher and summers shorter than ours, its green, pastoral landscape and iron-rich red soils have earned it the moniker ‘The Million Acre Farm’ and it has proven, among other things, to be a mighty fine place to grow spuds – these days producing around a quarter of Canada’s total potato crop. That’s a whole lot of reasons to like the place right there.
Colonised in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, first by the French and then the British – who lotteried the land amongst friends of the Crown – more than half of the population claim either Scottish or Irish heritage. As I stroll through PEI’s capital, Charlottetown, on a mild May evening, I hear fiddles and accordians and the strains of ‘Galway Girl’ floating across the night air and remember that ceilidhs are big here. The island even enjoyed a brief stint as ‘New Ireland’ in 1780, when Irish-born Captain Walter Patterson, the island’s then governor, had the colony’s Legislative Assembly rename it thus, a change which was ultimately disallowed by the big wigs back in London. Though that name may not have stuck, there are plenty of placenames on the island that will have a familiar ring for Irish and Scots alike.
Like Ireland, too, PEI may be small, but it has plenty to shout about. Dubbed the birthplace of Canadian confederation, it celebrates the PEI Sesquicentennial this year – the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference which paved the way for confederation in 1867 – and this summer sees a raft of celebratory activities underway. PEI is also, of course, the setting for the children’s classic Anne of Green Gables, written by islander Lucy Maud Montgomery and published in 1908, and a great many visitors – many from Japan – travel to the island see the house and other locations that inspired the setting for the book.
Happy though I was to see the House of Green Gables, however, the truth – and you knew this – is that I really went to PEI, first and last, for the spuds (and there will be a great deal more to say about that in posts to follow, with visits to the PEI Potato Board and Elite Seed Farm, the Canadian Potato Museum and encounters with both potato fudge and potato vodka, among others).
Suffice to say, for now, that when I discovered that the radio station on the island was called Spud FM, I knew I was in the right place. Add to that copious helpings of the island’s lobster, oysters and mussels (and cheese, and beer) and it only got better. I quickly knew – perhaps as some of those settlers had done before me – that I would feel right at home on PEI.
Ah Aoife I see you managed to spend the whole Canadian summer in Prince Edward Island, that is July 1 to July 21. The PEI spud is one of my favorites, especially for New England style potato salad, they really make our longer summer (July 1 to August 21) cookouts something to look forward to. As for Tim Hortons any donut shop founded by a famous Hockey player is doubly good, not sure if they have potato donuts though? The tough thing about having a new kitchen is now you are going to have to cook again, I wonder what the maiden meal will be, something spuddy I’m sure.
Would that I had managed to spend a bit of July in PEI Brian, just when the new season spuds were about! Alas, the potatoes were only going into the ground when I was there in May, so I didn’t get to try a summer potato salad (though I did have plenty of spuds all the same).
As for Tim Horton’s, I don’t think they do potato doughnuts – my spud radar would surely have detected it if they did! And may I say that yes, spuds will undoubtedly feature in many forms, now that I have the facilities to cook them up again.
I suppose now that you have a new kitchen, you are getting that sink ing feeling. You’ll just have to plug away!!
PEI sounds fab. Definately on my list of places to visit.
You’d love PEI Tom, and it’d be a great place to do a bit of a cycling holiday – few, if any, hills to speak of (a bit like Kildare in that way!) As for the kitchen, you could say that it was out of sink for a long time, but should be full steam ahead before long!
You definitely hit all the highlights! Great article!
Thanks Kendra! And there’s so much more to come :)
I’ve been waiting for this post Aoife! fabulous photos and of course totally jealous you got to see the Green Gables House!! I’m starting a piggy bank to get there soon, thanks for bringing it a little closer!
My pleasure Lily – been completely taken up with house stuff so it’s taken an age to get this post out, but glad it’s finally there. It was a lovely way to remember the trip (and what a lovely trip it was). Hope you get there soon, you’d love it – not just Green Gables but everything else besides!
Always wondered whether my Irish-Canadian grandfather came from PEI. We ate lots of spuds, which NaNa called “budayduhs.” BTW a friend and I once made 18 dozen spudnuts (doughnuts) for a fundraiser for the local fire hall. They keep better.
Thanks for that Janet – maybe your grandfather was indeed from PEI. As for spudnuts, I’ll have to make some of those myself sometime, though maybe not quite as many as 18 dozen!
Ah for the maritimes! At least in the mid year.
Could you give us a view of your new kitchen. And where you store your spuds, if they last long at your house, unlike mine.
By the way, you often cannot get a decent tea at Tim Horton’s in the lower 48. They being known more for the coffee and the pastries are great.