News / Ottawa

Fresh local food even in the winter: Just because we can

As is to be expected in a proud foodie town, Ottawa is brimming with local preserves. Metro profiles three different local companies making Ottawa produce last all year round.

Lowertown Canning chef and co-owner Simon Brière-Audet shows off his products inside the downtown Ottawa kitchen where the magic happens. Brière-Audet's products vary from pickled carrots to sweet jams.

Haley Ritchie / Metro

Lowertown Canning chef and co-owner Simon Brière-Audet shows off his products inside the downtown Ottawa kitchen where the magic happens. Brière-Audet's products vary from pickled carrots to sweet jams.

Jellies, jams, pickles and preserves were once survival food – the only way to store food during barren winter months. They might not be a necessity anymore, but they are seeing a revival fuelled by the local eating movement, foodie culture and creative chefs.

As is to be expected in a proud foodie town, Ottawa is brimming with local preserves. Metro profiles three different local companies making Ottawa produce last all year round.

Lowertown canning company

Simon Brière-Audet and Beth Evans are the owners of Lowertown Canning, established in May 2014 and named after the local downtown neighbourhood.

“People are starting to know more and more about food – everybody is a foodie these days, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into people cooking more at home,” explained Brière-Audet, both a trained chef and amateur gardener.

He credits that growing interest in food for the success of the business.

“Everybody wants local and good flavours and as little preservatives as possible, but they don’t necessarily have time to do it at home,” he said. “It’s just the reality of our world.”

For Brière-Audet, the canning started almost by accident. First came a garden to generate local produce for the restaurant where he worked. It was only when the small garden generated more than he needed that he had to find something to do with it all.

The result has been both traditional mainstays like pickled eggs and picked carrots but also creative products including spicy pickled asparagus and earl gray apple jelly. Lowertown products are sold at local businesses around town and Farmboy picked up their cranberry sauce.

“There’s a twist but we like to stay close to the classics and use the natural flavour of the fruit – that’s the whole point of eating local,” he said.

MichaelsDolce gourmet confectionary

Pastry chef Michael Sunderland has been running his jam, sauce and syrup business for over five years.

The business started when he was working at a bakery. He wanted to try out homemade jam at the shop and the experiment was so successful that he began selling the jars. Since then, he’s expanded his repertoire to include syrups for drink mixes (including ginger and root beer) and has become well known for a special homemade sriracha hot sauce.

“The biggest response has been at farmers markets,” he said. “I’ve been able to meet the people buying them and hear how much they like it.”

The top seller has been homemade sriracha sauce, but Sunderland enjoys experiment – he also offers a peach sriracha jam. Other unusual jam flavours include Rhubard and black pepper, peach cardamom and kiwi and lime jam.

“That difference is what makes it sell, it’s something that no one else is offering,” he said. “I think it comes from my background in pastry – you never want to do one straight flavour but instead balance the flavours out.”

Top Shelf Preserves

Top Shelf founder Sara Pishva started her artisan canning company in May 2013 and now sells unique creations ­– including pink grapefruit marmalade and blueberry gin jam – from a storefront in Old Ottawa South.

“I’ve tried to balance having some classic recipes – like pickled beats and our baked beans ­– with some new ideas,” she said. “Many of our traditional recipes are inspired by the past.”

Pishva was working as a sous chef at Black Cat Bistro when she decided to launch her own business. She had been cooking professionally for over 10 years and home canning with family since she was a child.

“Canning is in our family. We made a lot of pickles at our house – my pickled beets are our family recipe,” she said.

“I think the demands for these types of products has really grown because people grew up with these flavours and it’s hard to find that stuff now.”

Last year, Pishva also partnered with Hidden Harvest, an Ottawa volunteer group that collects fruits and nuts from trees in the city on public and private property that would otherwise go to waste.

“I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into,” she admitted. “It was a big challenge to keep up with that while doing seasonal summer pickling.”

The group ended up with a bumper crop of apples as well as crabapples, wild grapes, elderberries, plums and a mysterious variety of pears that turned pink when cooked.

Top Shelf has a wide range of products based on what Pishva can get her hands on. The products include experimental “limited edition” batches with hand-written labels, as well as regular staples such as dill pickles and molasses baked beans.

The rise of foodie blogs and local eating means that home canning (much like home brew) has seen a recent surge in popularity. It’s not hard to give it a try yourself, but keep in mind special equipment is required and precautions need to be taken to avoid dangerous bacteria.

Yes, it CAN be done

If you received a batch of homemade salsa, jelly or jam over the holidays try asking if the gift-giver might give you a lesson.

During the winter months you’re better off treating yourself to some of the local products already canned, but if you want to give it a try yourself, look out for seasonal workshops starting in the spring through autumn. Some groups in Ottawa that regularly offer affordable home canning classes and workshops include:

Algonquin College

As part of their general interest course offerings Algonquin College offers courses in canning, pickling and preserving. The two “Spice of Life” courses include Home Canning I: Fruits and Home Canning II: Pickles and Sauces. A variety of general interest courses are offered at different times throughout the year. Prices, times and dates are available at algonquincollege.com

Just Food

Ottawa’s community food-focused non-profit Just Food regularly hosts workshops for DIY gardening and preserving. Workshops are seasonal (matching the harvest). Watch out for spring workshops on making jam and autumn workshops on making salsa which will be announced at justfood.ca

Bernardin

The professional canning experts at Bernardin regularly hold workshops across Canada, including in Ottawa at farmers markets and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum. Events are announced on their website at bernardin.ca

Hidden Harvest

Hidden Harvest doesn’t have any scheduled canning workshops, but is a volunteer-run organization that collects fruits and nuts from trees and plants inside the city on both public and private land. Many of the edibles from Hidden Harvest are preserved – last year some of their produce went to Top Shelf Preserves. The group sometimes hosts ad hoc workshops, including canning. Interested volunteers can sign up at ottawa.hiddenharvest.ca.

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