Preserving the Past

How canning is making a comeback.

For many, the mere mention of canning and preserving conjures the image of grandma standing over a bubbling pot of strawberry rhubarb jam. But thanks to the growth of the local food movement, you don’t need to rely on relatives for homemade preserves anymore. High-quality homemade jellies and condiments are as close as your local farmers’ market.

Donna Borody, owner of The Jam Lady, sells a wide variety of preserves at the downtown farmers’ market. Customers over the past few years have started asking her and her husband, Bohdan, more and more questions about what goes into making their popular products. The Borodys began The Jam Lady in 1991 after they got involved with Calgary’s farmers’ market scene. In 2004, they moved to the Edmonton area, having purchased an orchard in the County of Two Hills, just east of the city.

Despite the name, it’s not all jam – the Borodys have introduced a wide array of relishes, fruit butters and chutneys. “I like to use the term ‘canned nostalgia,'” says Donna. “There’s a whole variety of wonderful condiments that people worked with regionally and we’ve responded to that, and added to our lineup as a result of customers bringing forward a request or idea.” That’s led to an extensive line of savoury jellies, like tarragon and onion, raspberry and habanero, and “Blazing Carrot,” a blend of carrots and hot peppers that goes well with roast chicken. Donna makes an effort to include as many local varieties of fruit as possible, and is currently is working with Mercer Tavern’s executive chef, Daniel Gibbons, to perfect a gooseberry chutney.

While the Borodys grow a portion of their own fruit and purchase the rest from local growers, those looking for an exceptionally socially conscious product can turn to Fruits of Sherbrooke. All of its preserves have a minimum of 60 per cent rescued fruit picked from Edmonton’s backyards or donated by B.C. growers. Carol Cooper, a member of the organization, says the combination allows her to cook up some unique flavours, including the ever-popular chipotle rhubarb ketchup. Through its Cherry Stone Soup program, Fruits of Sherbrooke also offers preserving courses to new immigrants and low-income families in Edmonton.

“We make jam for the people that are willing to buy,” says Cooper. “We give to those that are willing to take, and we are willing to teach anyone that wants to be able to pick their own food and learn how to preserve it.”

For those who want to learn to do their own food preserving, Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton (OFRE) teaches a vegetable canning course at the City Arts Centre in Garneau and a fruit canning class through Metro Continuing Education. Amy Beaith, OFRE’s president and Avenue Top 40 Under 40 alumna, says the non-profit, which got its start “rescuing” fruit from local residences and donating it to food banks, is in the process of establishing its own inner-city orchard and cider shack in order to teach members about local fruit varieties and how to tend and preserve them.

While the courses focus on common preserves like apple pie filling and dill pickles, it’s a creative process. “I am exceedingly bored of making strawberry rhubarb,” says Cooper, who has expanded Fruits of Sherbrooke’s line of preserves to include a wide variety of unexpected tastes, from Black Forest jam (black cherries and cocoa) to the 3 Cs in balsamic condiment (sour cherry juice, caramelized onions and hot chilies in balsamic vinegar). There is, of course, the staple strawberry rhubarb jam, but it’s also available with a splash of sambuca.

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