How a little Island cooking is expanding the world of immigrants to P.E.I.

PEIANC operates a women's group and introduces them to Canadian cooking through workshops at The Mill in New Glasgow, P.E.I. It's also a chance to see rural P.E.I. and make new friends.

The PEIANC women's group is learning and making friends through Island food

The PEIANC women's group toast chef Emily Wells after their workshop learning Island recipes. (Megan Stewart/Clyde River Festival )

A group of women are gathered around one of the counters at The Mill in New Glasgow, P.E.I.

Chef Emily Wells is sharing Island recipes with the women's group from the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada.

"Food is something shared and we have something similar in all cultures," said Chie Kyo. "It's good to see such a diverse group."

In the background there's laughter and the smells of onions frying and chocolate melting.

Members of the PEIANC women's group learn to make salad dressing from chef Wells. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Nancy Clement, the head of community engagement with the PEIANC, agrees about what cooking together can do.

"There's a bonding that happens over food."

Nuggets of knowledge

There are women from China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and Russia in the group.

"It's been really cool to share nuggets of Island cooking with a newcomer audience," said Megan Stewart, producer and co-director of the annual River Clyde Pageant, who organized the workshop.

"The pageant is an outdoor community, collaborative, performance going into its third year and each year we create the pageant through a series of free workshops."

Chie Xu chats with Nancy Clement of the PEI Association for Newcomers. (Karen Mair/CBC )

That's also how the pageant builds its volunteer base.

The pageant, which tells a story while strolling through New Glasgow, wraps up with Chef Wells creating a big meal for the audience, actors and volunteers.

Passing on Island traditions

As Chef Wells holds out two tomatoes most of the women gasp having never seen a canned plum tomato.

As she demonstrates making a basic stew, Wells also points out where to buy local meat and vegetables and which herbs they can grow themselves.

The operators of Little Victory Microfarms, across the river in New Glasgow, arrive armed with freshly picked lettuce. The group has lots of questions for Debi Stevenson and Tara Callaghan, the mother-daughter team that runs Little Victory.

The community supper at The Mill in New Glasgow which followed the 2017 River Clyde Pageant. (Robert Van Waarden/Clyde River Pageant )

They appreciate fresh food and are interested in growing some of their own.  

"I was really excited to participate," said Kyo, originally from Japan. "It was fancy but home style by a well known chef."

Kyo says a big difference moving to Canada was having a large oven, something she didn't have in Japan.  

"I've been learning to bake using recipes online. I would love to make the biscuits because I know it's an Island thing."

Debi Stevenson and Tara Callaghan, both wearing bandanas, deliver freshly picked lettuce from Little Victory Microfarms across the river in New Glasgow. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Showing off rural P.E.I.

The PEIANC has a few goals with activities like this.

"We're bringing people out to see a rural part of the Island," said Clement.

"It's very hard for newcomer women to make friends, so here they've shared phone numbers and carpooled.

"And they're asking lots of questions like 'what is buttermilk?' but they're also talking about what and how they cook."

The women were fascinated by the biscuits and already know they're an important part of Island life. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Veronika Silinsh is originally from Russia and knows the loneliness of being a newcomer.

"We all struggle and it's really nice to have someone to talk to. I'm fortunate because my husband is a truck driver and there's a large community of Russian truck drivers, but the Newcomers is a great resource."

She's looking forward to making all the Island recipes she's learned but has also gained other food-knowledge from the group.

"I found out where to get rice for sushi from Chie because she's Japanese, and I got advice from a lot of Asian women on where to buy noodles, I'm meeting new people."

The PEIANC women's group learned to make beef stew, salad with homemade dressing and cheese and chive biscuits. (Karen Mair/CBC)

After cooking, the women sit down in a sun-room overlooking Wheatley River. There's a delicious feast of stew, salad with homemade dressing, cheese and chive biscuits and brownies. They discover it's Chie's birthday and that Happy Birthday has the same melody in all their languages.

The group turns into a choir of Mandarin, Russian and English and there's a sense that some friendships have been made.   

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Karen Mair is an award-winning journalist and an 'Islander by choice.' Since 1986 she's worked as a host, producer, reporter and social media presenter. These days, you'll find Karen reporting for digital and radio.