jam bake camilla wynne

Camilla Wynne’s Jam Bake makes a case for preserving the Canadian summer

The new book by the former Montrealer is instructional but it’s also an argument for the versatile and joyful process of preservation. 

When I spoke with Camilla Wynne, the ingenious mind behind the now defunct Preservation Society (a Montreal-based company specializing in jams and pickles), about her new book Jam Bake, she brought up an idea that resonated deeply with me: the idea of preserving the fleeting Canadian summer.

Seasonality is a bit of a buzzword when it comes to contemporary cooking, but it’s a way of life for a preserver. There’s a particular quality to the preserving type, something that combines the industriousness of the homesteader with the obsessiveness of a collector. There’s a practicality in filling up pantry shelves with jams, jellies, pickles — it’s a guarantee that you’re never without something to eat. Perhaps more compelling, though, is that idea that within those jars are fruits and vegetables, picked at the height of their season, and frozen in time. Wynne’s preservation methods forgo the heavy use of sugar and commercial pectin, meaning that her recipes leave her jams tasting more of the fruit rather than of the process.

jam bake camilla wynne
Photos by Mickaël A. Bandassak

As prolific a preserver as she is (she actually officially holds the title, Master Preserver) she is first and foremost a pastry chef. From the same graduating class as Pâtisserie Rhubarb’s Stephanie Labelle, Wynne worked under the direction of one of Montreal’s most revered pâtissiers, Patrice Demers, back when he and Stelio Perombelon ran the visionary vegetable-focused restaurant les Chèvres back in the early aughts. Jam Bake is, in a way, a natural confluence of her two practices. In a sense it’s an instructional book: recipes for jam and how to use it. In a truer sense, it is an argument for the versatile and joyful process of preservation. 

Wynne no longer lives in Montreal, having followed her partner to Toronto where she now lives, but I managed to catch up with her during the Montreal leg of her book tour.

Clay Sandhu: Your book describes you as being a pastry chef and Master Preserver — tell me more about that.

Camilla Wynnne: (laughs) It sounds a lot fancier than it is, actually. Master Preserver is a program you can do in the U.S. to become a preserving instructor — I took that course. I went to culinary school in Montreal and I started working in fancy restaurants. I was also in a band, I ended up leaving restaurants for about four or five years to tour with my band and then we broke up. (During that time) all of my friends had become pastry chefs, or opened their own shops and when I realized the band was truly over, I was like, “Oh man I have to do something for myself.” There are so many great pastry shops in Montreal but I had gotten kind of obsessed with preserving and there wasn’t anything cool happening with preserving in 2011. The overhead was lower and I could set my own hours — that’s how it all kind of happened. 

CS: What originally sparked your interest in the practice?

Camilla Wynne: I think like a lot of people I have nostalgia — both of my grandmothers were preservers. They preserved all the things from their gardens of which I have really great childhood memories of eating. I think it has something to do with — and I don’t know if it’s just a personality type — but it’s just very satisfying to stock a pantry. There’s a forethought, a planning-ahead, a reassurance that you’re making something for your future self. That feels really good. Working in pastry, so many of the things we made in fine dining, or even at the pasty shop, were good for one day. Making something that’s good for a year is a really big contrast. It kind of helps balance out the more ephemeral side of my cooking practice.

jam bake camilla wynne
Camilla Wynne

CS: A big part of the enjoyment of cooking, for me, is participating in the transformation of ingredients. Preservation, of course, has an element of transformation but it’s also about capturing and prolonging the essence of an ingredient for later consumption. 

Camilla Wynne: Yeah, totally! Especially in Canada where the seasons are so frustratingly short. I honestly find the summer extremely stressful because I’m trying to consume or preserve so many different things — it’s not relaxing! 

CS: I saw recently that you were making jam from tayberries, which I had never heard of. As an ingredient obsessive, you must seek out all types of new and interesting ingredients to work with.

Camilla Wynne: It’s interesting. Moving from Quebec to Ontario was hard for me. The culture around preserving, especially, is not the same. In Montreal, you head to Jean-Talon market and they hand you five bushels, no problem. Here, the farmers’ markets are for people who live in condos — it feels like you can just get a pint of something. I miss the strawberries. At the same time, it’s been so cool as a fruit lover to be so close to Niagara and a different climate where all these gorgeous stone fruits come from. I got really lucky in discovering a cool business that partners with a bunch of farmers in Southern Ontario and delivers in Toronto — I spend a lot of money with them, that’s where I got the tayberries.

CS: I’ve always known you, first and foremost, as a preserver but Jam Bake is mainly a baking book. Tell me about your pastry background.

Camilla Wynne: I went to pastry school in 2002 and (when I graduated) I went to work for Patrice Demers at les Chèvres, which doesn’t exist anymore but he owns Patrice Pâtissier and is one of the best pastry chefs in the province. I remember one of my teachers saying, “You’re going to go work at a vegetable-focused restaurant? That’s not a trend that’s going to last!” Which is hilarious. I felt so lucky to work there. 

jam bake camilla wynne
Jam Bake

CS: For someone who’s interested in baking or wants to get into preserving, why would Jam Bake be a great resource for them?

Camilla Wynne: For bakers, there’s a lot of great, tested recipes that are original but approachable. They can make them all with store bought preserves but learning to make their own preserves is going to massively up their game when it comes to bringing their baking to another level. On the other side, really intense preservers who just make jam all summer long often end up giving it all away. This gives them a huge repertoire of different ways to incorporate jam into food. 

CS: What I love about this book is that it gives people a reason to preserve the ingredients they love and enjoy them year-round. Do you have a favourite fruit or one whose season you’re sure not to miss?

Camilla Wynne: I have so many! My top, number one fruit that I can’t go a year without doing something with is currants. Black currants, red currants, pink currants, white currants — I love currants. 

CS: What do you want people to take away from your book?

Camilla Wynne: I talk a lot about trapping myself in the kitchen and buying too much fruit but honestly, I just find making jam so relaxing. I want everyone to do it. It just makes you feel so good. You get to watch something transform — it’s meditative. And, of course, it’s delicious. I don’t think people realize how delicious jam can be until they make it themselves. ■

Jam Bake is out now and available (nearly) anywhere books are sold. That said, whenever possible, I encourage people to pick up their copy from a local bookshop like Appetite for Books where (at the time of writing) signed copies of Jam Bake are still available. This article originally appeared in the August issue of Cult MTL.

For more on the Montreal restaurant scene, please visit the Food & Drink section.