Before I met Camilla Wynne, I had never thought that marmalade could have so many varieties: Classic Seville Marmalade, White Grapefruit Marmalade with Vanilla, Christmas Clementine Marmalade, Marmgarita (a lime marmalade that’s modeled after the margarita)… the list can go on and on. Camilla is not joking when she mentions how people have been known to “eat whole jars with a spoon.” And that was exactly what I did with my first jar of marmalade from Preservation Society. A lot of her products are currently stocked at different retailers in Montreal, but if you want a full taste of her whole collection, you’ll have to pay a visit to her studio on the Main. We sat down with Camilla at her atelier to talk about her former days in a band and her love for preserves.
How did you become a professional preserver and start Preservation Society?
I used to be in a band called Sunset Rubdown and our last tour was in Tokyo back in 2009. I thought we were going to take a little break, so I got a job with one of my friends who I went to pastry school for a while. I was also preserving a lot while I was in town between tours and I started making so much preserves that I started selling them. My band never got back together nor did we officially break up in the end.
At the end of the day, working for others wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I went to Vancouver on vacation to figure out if I wanted to open a pie shop or open a preserving business. While I was there, I got two calls from people asking me to go on television to talk about my canning experience. So I was like, “okay, if they’re asking me [to be on TV], there’s definitely a deficit in town and I can fill it.” It also didn’t take much money to start and I don’t have to get up at 6am everyday.
What is it about canning that appeals to you?
As a pastry chef, for instance, most of what you make in a day doesn’t last very long. So for me it’s very satisfying to make things that will last for a year or two. People who can at home usually do it as a huge project and as a community-based thing. I got together with some of my friends and we made lots of pickles and carrots, which was really fun.
How does your experience as a former pastry chef come into play with your preserving?
I worked at a few fancy restaurants where we worked very seasonally, so I was already in the rhythm of waiting for produce to come into season and making the most of them when they’re around. I was also very interested in molecular gastronomy when we went to New York. I had always liked how they took something that would seem cheesy now but at the time really cool, such as deconstructing a black forest cake. I love the idea of breaking things down into their elements and then putting them together in a different way. It’s like a kind of puzzle and I find it fun. For example, I’ve always liked to take a classic and change its form, such as making the Margarita Marmalade at Preservation Society.
Can you tell us more about your book Les conserves selon Camilla and your writing process?
I was taking another trip to Vancouver when they called to tell me that my book proposal was accepted. So I wrote the book in a month and it was insane! My friend who worked as a photographer at Ricardo [magazine] helped me take the photos over two weekends and miraculously we’re still friends at the end of it [laughs]. He did amazing work but I wanted some weird stuff in it. I really wanted dominos in the pictures of the pecan pies and he said “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” The English version is coming out soon this month and there are thirty-three more recipes in it.
I know you also host marmalade workshops from time to time. Can you give us a short rundown of it?
I usually run workshops twice a month, so it can either be canning fruits into things like jam and canned fruits or vegetables into things like pickles, relish and chutney. There are never more than 12 people in the 2-hour workshop. We would talk about canning theory for an hour, then another hour of mixing stuff and everyone leaves with a jar to go home with. It’s my favourite thing to do besides writing cookbooks.
Preservation Society prides itself in using either seasonal or local ingredients. What type of produces are you using at the moment?
My general policy is to use local ingredients whenever possible but sometimes it doesn’t work, especially for our marmalade since we don’t grow citrus fruits here. After a certain time there aren’t a lot of things to work with in Quebec. Right now we’re mainly working with Quebec apples, pears, onions and garlics.
In winter we really focus on marmalade. For instance, Seville oranges’ season is around two and a half months long maximum and we have to make enough to last for the entire year, which we’ve never accomplished so far.
What’s your favorite product at Preservation Society?
Fall Sweater is one of my favorites, it’s a preserve that’s made with apples, pears, and caramelized pumpkin beer.
Do you have any suggestions for pairing your preserves with food or cooking?
It depends! People always come and surprise me with things that they’ve done with my products. My customers are always coming up with good ideas. My best customer made a gravlax with the margarita marmalade, which is awesome and so I put the recipe in the book. There are also lots of ideas in my book; there is a whole chapter on how to pair preserves with different things, such as making them with cocktails and baking.
What would you pair apple chutney with?
I think the best way to put it is in a grilled cheese sandwich. They’re so good! They go great with burgers and roasted chicken too and sometimes I put them in sour cream for a dip.
What’s your plan for Preservation Society this year?
I would like to transform the space into a boutique and carry some other lines of preserves from producers that I like. Maybe I’ll start doing some jam and scones workshops on the weekend, that would be fun. This space could really do something. I’m also working on another book proposal at the moment.
What’s the hardest obstacle you overcame when you first started Preservation Society? What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned?
I would say one of the things that I’ve learned is that everything costs more money and takes more time than you would expect. I’ve also learned to treat your competition as friends and resources. I actually don’t like running a business and I’m very bad at it. I would be very happy if I could just give everything away! So doing the whole aspect of running the business is not really my forte. I have a steep learning curve but I’m getting there. Other people who are doing the exact same thing are your most valuable resources because we all essentially have something useful to share with each other. For me, treating everyone as a community rather than an enemy is the most important thing.
I love the fact you said that you never planned to go into business but somehow you just did.
In food, if you don’t want to work for someone else, you kind of have to do your own thing. There aren’t a lot of jobs where you can have freedom to create what you like and I didn’t want to work in restaurants anymore. I was getting tired of it.
What’s the cookbook that you wish you had written?
It would be Fancy Desserts by Brooke Headley. I saw it at the bookstore one day and I said I wanted to cross his name off the front and write my name instead!