Visions of apron-clad old ladies filling mason jars spring up (at least for me) any time homemade jam gets mentioned. But a small-batch, artisanal food production company in South Langley is proving that preserves aren't just for grandma anymore.
The Preservatory, located on the grounds of Vista D'oro Farms and Winery just minutes from the U.S. border, is the brainchild of Lee Murphy, who combines old-world cooking techniques with boldly contemporary flavour combinations that seem plucked from the mind of a mad culinary scientist.
"Our flavour combinations are a little bit interesting," Murphy said. "They're kind of fun to play and pair with and that's one our pointed differences, I think." Craft beer jelly anyone? What about pineapple with sake and ginger? Or maybe green heirloom tomatoes with the classic Indian spice blend, garam masala, is more your style?
Spoken like a true artist, Murphy said her inspiration could spring from any number of sources, whether it's travel, a flourish of colour, or an innovative restaurant dish. "The flavour combining I find is very fun," she said. "That's why there's only 24 (flavours) right now. I try not to create too many new ones because it gets confusing for people. We try to make it a sustainable business, not just a fun business."
Murphy will be sharing some of her creations at a Whistler Reads event later this month where attendees will also get a glimpse at The Preservatory cookbook, a years-long "labour of love" that was published by Random House in April.
The event will walk guests through the preservation process step by step, followed by a live cooking demo showing all the different ways you can incorporate preserves into your cooking.
"The idea of the book was to get people to put (preserves) onto more than just toast," Murphy explained. "We put them into our salad dressings. It makes sense to use them in desserts, but they do lend another level to savoury dishes, too."
And although Murphy's unique flavours scream hyper-modern, her cooking methods harken back generations.
"The techniques are still super traditional. We don't use pectin, we use less-than-commercial producers of sugar," she explained. "Our flavours might be more modern or unique, but definitely the techniques are still using grandma's recipes."
It's that fascination with the recipes of old that Murphy believes is driving interest in the DIY culture of homemade preservation.
"I think the farther away you get from your heritage, the more interested in it you are," she noted. "Maybe my mom's generation wasn't as interested in what their parents were doing, but the farther you get away from it, it's like, 'Oh, what was grandma making back in the day and how do we recreate that?'"
The Preservatory has steadily grown in scope and reputation since launching out of an orchard farm five years ago. What started as a way to diversify the farm's offerings by making good use of leftover produce has evolved into an international affair, with Murphy's preserves available nationwide, in select U.S. stores, and even in holiday hampers at one of the world's most luxurious department stores, Harrods in London.
"We've had some very exciting things happen with The Preservatory brand," Murphy added.
The Preserving with Lee Murphy event is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 29 at the Hilton Whistler. Tickets are $25 plus tax available at eventbrite.ca/e/preserving-with-author-lee-murphy-tickets-36878421351.
For more information on The Preservatory's line of products, visit thepreservatory.com.