When you hear people talk about preserves, what comes to mind? Your grandmother’s bread-and-butter pickles? Blackberry jam? Marmalade that almost nobody ever wants to put on the toast?
When Karen McAthy and Zoë Olver from Good Girl Bad Girl Preserves talk about their products, you’re likely to hear things like “Spicy Pickled Bourbon Green Beans” and “Tequila Kiss Marmalade.” The Mason jars may be the same, but these are preserves for modern times, culinary preserves that, while wonderful to eat as is, are meant to be used in cooking, to accent and enhance food dishes.
Photos courtesy Good Girl Bad Girl Preserves
If you had spent any time at the W2 Media Café the past year-and-a-half, you’ll likely recognize their faces. Zoë was lead barista and service-side front-of-house leader for the many catered events at W2, including Creative Mornings Vancouver’s monthly meetings; Karen was the person responsible for creating the delicious fare for those events as well as for the Café’s regular customers.
Karen McAthy (left) and Zoë Olver.
A small startup, they launched a line of preserves in the summer at the Café and began teaching workshops at the Café in food preservation, including pemmican making. Provided at a low cost, the classes were well-attended and popular, not only for the delicious food, but also for engaging the participants in conversations about healthy food choices, eating locally and in season, and ecological responsibility.
“The workshops would end up being about 4 hours long,” says McAthy, “because I find it difficult to teach without discussing some of the political and environmental aspects of food.”
Olver adds, “These would be natural questions that come out during a workshop.”
The idea for the business, and its name, came to McAthy one night and she contacted Olver right away and pitched the idea to her. Within a couple of days they had their logo designed and the goals of what they wanted to do.
“We initially wanted to focus on making culinary preserves, so not just strawberry jam but things that could be used in cooking,” explains McAthy. “So we use a spicy marmalade as a glaze for shrimp, for example.”
They find that playing with preserves is a lot of fun.
“And it’s not just jams. Smoking, curing, drying, jellies, the whole thing. It’s historical knowledge,” says McAthy.
“People have been preserving for hundreds of years as a way to survive,” adds Olver.
Pemmican Making workshop at W2 Media Café.
They buy a lot of their ingredients from local farmers’ markets, and are looking to purchase Community Supported Agriculture shares from a couple of local urban farm groups such as Sole Food Farms and Inner City Farms. McAthy also has a personal interest in foraging, but says she is careful about how much she broadcasts that element.
“People need to have more knowledge before they go out and start foraging. I will be using foraged ingredients but extremely limited and appropriate when available.”
Pickled Sweet & Tangy Balsamic Chickpeas
While McAthy is busy dreaming up culinary combinations, Olver is out with her eyes and ears open handling retail relations, looking for potential partnerships. The day before our interview, she saw an opportunity at a well-known local butcher shop when she realized they didn’t carry any products that their customers could pair with the meat they were buying. When she approached the butchers with her proposal they were very receptive to the idea.
Despite the recent closure of the W2 Media Café, McAthy and Olver have continued to develop their business, with their preserves currently available at a few locations including The Window Community Art Shop on Hastings and Dream in Gastown. The catering aspect of their business is steadily growing as well, with regular requests coming in despite the two of them not really being, as McAthy puts it, “psychologically prepared” to start it so soon after the the Café’s closure. Every menu they create includes 1 or 2 of their preserves in it.
To help build the infrastructure they need for their business to grow they are launching an IndieGoGo campaign this week and to mark the launch they are hosting the Camp & Vamp Tasting Launch Party on April 11 (Editor’s note: Due to unforeseen circumstances the event date has changed from Feb 7.). Aside from a menu that includes Blood Orange Glazed Duck Tostadas W/ Pickled Beet & Cabbage Salad, Chard Wraps W/ Kale, Pumpkin Seed Hummus & Spicy Pickled Bourbon Green Beans, and Dark Chocolate Cardamom Cup Cake, and drink such as a Bad Girl Tequila Kiss Cocktail (featuring their Tequila Kiss Marmalade) and Good Girl Bourbon Root Beer Float, the evening will include adult versions of kids’ games, playing on the idea of ‘naughty and nice.’
The event will also feature demos and samples from a few groups that Good Girl Bad Girl Preserves is partnering with, such as Sip Sodas.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to pair with people whose work we identify with and respect and like,” says McAthy. “Sip Sodas are really great quality and do similar things that we do. They have a Lavender Lemon Peel and Coriander Orange. Doing that kind of flavour experimentation that we like.”
Future plans include selling their preserves at local farmers markets, offering more workshops, and small monthly tasting parties.
And the answer to the inevitable question about their name?
“Well, to people who know us it’s pretty obvious,” laughs McAthy (the bad girl), “but I also think there’s a little of both in all of us.”
Tickets for Camp & Vamp are $28 and can be purchased through Eventbrite. The intimate event is being hosted in a private location in Coal Harbour so the exact location of the event will only be revealed upon purchase of tickets, and there will be no door sales. *Please note the date of this event has now changed to April 11.