Monday, March 12, 2012

The Children are our Future...

...and we should listen to them more! I learned the importance of organic while working for a certain corporate organics giant, and although it is not always possible in Ottawa to buy 100% organic, you can see the clear benefits of doing so, as illustrated through this sweet video. Elise is awesome! Are you itching for farmers' market season like I am?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

5 Questions with Derek Cameron of Parkdale Preserve Co.

Winterlude may be over but the snow is still on the ground here in Ottawa and warm comfort foods continue to be enjoyed across the city; comfort foods like bread and jam. Bread and jam -- two heavenly things to start your day with, or to accompany a cup of tea in the afternoon. People have been enjoying these delicious treats for ages. Heck, even Julie Andrews sang about them!

Jam isn't just about bread though, and preserves aren't just about breakfast. I found out more when I recently met up with Derek Cameron of Parkdale Preserve Co., a Toronto-based artisinal small business. Over a couple of weekends, some hot chocolate, jam, cheese and bread, and of course some wine and bubbly, I picked Derek's brain to find out why he started making preserves, and what he was doing here at Winterlude.

Derek went from being a 9 to 5 digital marketing guy to being immersed in a world of jars, jams and jellies. It all started last year, leading into the summer months as he had been visiting antique markets and farmers' markets and he "fell in love with pickled beets". Once home from the market he decided to tackle the challenge of making dill beans and pickled beets of his own. Drawing on inspiration and education from his Mom and Grandmother, he got to work. "We've always had canning in our family", said Derek.

Back in his kitchen in his beloved Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto, Derek realized he needed a bit more instruction before diving into the hot, boiling world of preserving. The first call was to his partner Keith's Mom Evelyn, who gave him a "Jam Boot Camp" of 3 full 8 hour days in which he learned traditional recipes and techniques. From there Derek made the recipes his own and Parkdale Preserve Co. was born.

He knew right away that he wanted to use all local ingredients. All of his jams are small-batch, and handmade with rustic, artisan touches such as fresh basil in the Peach Basil.

Some of Parkdale Preserve Co.'s flavours include:
  • Peach Basil (good glaze for chicken, with lamb, with cheese plates)
  • Strawberry and Black Pepper with Bouquet Garni and Balsamic
  • Fig Champagne with Candied Ginger
  • Raspberry Thyme
  • Herbed Strawberry Balsamic (good with rye toast)
  • Lavender Blueberry (Derek's favourite)
In Ottawa to hand out samples of his jam to lucky American Express cardholders, Derek smiled when giving his impressions of our fair city: "I love the sense of community in this city and it comes alive on the canal. There's so much camaraderie and everyone is smiling, pleasant and approachable." His favourite aspect of Winterlude (aside from meeting a slew of friendly potential customers), was the fireworks show that launched the winter festival: "It's like a big group activity. Watching the fireworks was like being in your own backyard with 4000 of your closest friends. They were stunning."

During my time with Derek I also got a chance to ask him 5 Questions:

After the Harvest (ATH): What is your favourite jam (now, and growing up)?

Derek Cameron/Parkdale Preserve Co. (DC):

Now: I would have to say is Lavender Blueberry. It is so good with a triple cream brie and blue I am currently crushing on. I have developed a thing for Lavender over the last couple of years, it's like I'm starting now to create a soft landing into my twilight years. Lavender soda and vodka is better than it sounds :).

Growing Up: When I was younger I loved the Strawberry Rhubarb jam my Grandma and my Mom would make. The rhubarb came from our garden and so did some of the berries, any we had to buy came from the farmer's market in the parking lot behind the Town Hall. It always amazed me that something that grew so plainly in our backyard garden could be transformed into something so delicious.

ATH: What is your earliest food memory?

DC: My earliest food memory would be when I decided to take a stand against cake. I don't remember how old I was but I was pretty young to be making such a bold statement. I had decided I did not like cake, especially birthday cake. It was usually dry and the icing nothing more than coloured, smeared, pure sugar. I can remember getting the "sugar sweats" and getting the "whites" from some that were too much. When it came to my birthday one year my Mom asked what kind of birthday cake I wanted and I said, "None, I hate cake." Her next question was "Well then, what would you like?" I wish someone had been there to capture the look on her face when I described to her a dessert which turned out to be Mint Pistachio Pudding she had served at one of her fancy 1970's dinner parties. Other Mothers and neighbourhood children were scandalized but I didn't much care. We continued to have that for my birthday until my late teens.

ATH: What music inspires you (in life or when making jam)?

DC: I listen to a broad range of music in life and while jamming. I will listen to CBC podcasts of my favourite shows (Age of Persuasion), Radiohead, Air or Classic Rock. I would have to say though most consistently it's jazz standards and big band music from the 30's and 40's. I feel really connected to the music of the WWII era. I have no idea why, but when I'm in the kitchen canning I'm totally transported back in time. (Keith always says he's going to put me in the old folks home if I keep listening to it...)

ATH: What is the most unique food you've ever paired with your preserves?

DC: This one is far the most unique thing I have served along side my preserves has been a Wild Boar and Fig pate served with Hot Garlic Asparagus as part of a charcuterie at home. We actually picked it up at The House of Cheese in the Byward Market. I have never seen it here in Toronto. It was out of this world.

ATH: If you could eat any type of jam or jelly with any celebrity living or dead, who would it be, and what jam would you enjoy with that celeb?

DC: My celebrity of choice would be Elizabeth Taylor and the jam would be our Fig Champagne. The life she led, the roles she played, on screen and off fascinate me. From Cleopatra to Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf she never shied from controversy or the opportunity to remind us why we loved her or hated her, as the case may be. And I admire that strength and resolve. Bomb or bust you have to chart your own path. Most families seem to have affinities to some celebrity, actor, writer or our clan it seems to be Patsy Cline or Elizabeth Taylor, with maybe Tina Turner bringing up the rear. I got an email from my Mom today that was meant to be encouraging but was fairly uninspiring until I got to the last line, and I kid you not, this is how she signed it off.. .As Liz Taylor would say, "Pour yourself a drink, put some lipstick on and pull your self together" LOL -- Words to live by, non? That was what cinched it for me going with old Liz.

Photo Credit:

It was really refreshing meeting Derek and hearing him speak about his passion for preserving. His genuine, charming personality was the only thing sweeter than his Raspberry jam.

When reflecting on the preserving process, Derek says: "It's so rewarding when it comes out is such a fantastic feeling." In the future we can look out for more pickled products from Parkdale Preserve Co. and you can check them out on their website, Twitter feed and Facebook page. Not to mention their Etsy shop!

Thanks, Derek. It was a sweet jam session :)