Summer is coming to an end and so is easy access to freshly-picked local produce. But as the farmers’ markets close for the season, some passionate Torontonians are preserving fresh-market berries and fruits to enjoy in the cold winter months.
Just south of Dundas, in the west end Toronto neighborhood of Roncesvalles, Julian Katz and his wife Emily Pennington have opened a gourmet food shop, Stasis Preserves, and production kitchen that focuses on artisanal goods, procured locally. Stasis means “held in time” as Julian explains, “These beautiful strawberries are at the height of their ripeness and nutrition and deliciousness.” By preserving you can experience each product at their peak, no matter what time of year. The focus here is on the wonderful in-house, fruit spreads, preserves and sauces. The shop front boasts shelves of thoughtfully curated goods from local makers, many of whom Katz met while participating in the Toronto farmers’ market circuit.
Katz used to work in the restaurant business—his last job cooking at Chef Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watchco—where he began to develop a real interest in “how we used to live, and eat.” Understanding when and how to use ingredients at their full potential is a delicate art form that has intrigued this young cook. Katz began to investigate “the old way of doing things, and preserving things.” This led to experiments with pickling and preserving during his time off, eventually filling his small apartment with more preserves than he could give away. A friend convinced him to try selling his goods at the Brickworks farmer’s market and soon, Julian was selling his preserves at six markets around the city. Still employed as a cook, the hours were grueling. After a year or so spending shifts on the line followed by long drives to farms for produce, Katz decided it was time to look for a space to call his own.
Originally 476 Roncesvalles Ave was intended to function as a production kitchen, but over time the small retail space evolved into a shop-front deli and pantry. “We had the space,” as Emily points out, “and we were finding these great products.” Besides market connections, the two sought out cheese makers and growers of food products. The retail side of things grew very naturally, from the house-made preserves, direct-trade goods, made-to-order sandwiches and freshly brewed coffee.
The Stasis preserves have taken off, now being sold across Ontario. All of the fruit and vegetables used for production are bought fresh and direct from farms, and Katz’s spreads use half of the sugar of a conventional jam. The Stasis strawberry rhubarb jam for example, contains Ontario strawberries, rhubarb, cranberries and organic raw evaporated cane juice. All of the fruit-based spreads are created with the intention of letting the fruit shine.
Fitting into Roncesvalles has been easy. A food and health-conscious area, Roncesvalles is full of young families and has a great neighbourhood vibe. The street is lined with excellent restaurants, independent coffee shops, Polish food stores and bakeries. Emily explains, “People are understanding and appreciating what we are doing… the more time we spent in the hood, the more we realized how aligned it would be.” Fitting in with the community was part of what has led to their success; the other part would be catering to the needs of their customers. “We bring in things that people ask for,” says Julian. He also says there are “local artisans making exciting food and we are giving the people of the neighborhood what they want to eat.”
Jennifer Myers Chua is an art director, Asian-food enthusiast, and all-around creative type. Obsessed with culinary pursuits and whitespace, Jennifer spends her days working as a freelance designer and contributing blogger. She spends her nights deconstructing recipes in her mostly all-white loft with her mostly all-white French bulldog. You can check out more of what she does at www.jennifermyerschua.com.