Manning Canning: Preserving for the Future
When I met Christine Manning for the first time, it was over a glass of wine at the Rivoli in Toronto about three years ago. I was still in the business of making soups and she was still working in marketing as a VP, Client Services. Her effervescent personality and directness immediately struck me.
I knew she'd started a preserves business as a sideline, having seen Manning Canning products in stores and tried them myself. From the beginning, word of mouth about her pickles and jams was extremely positive. So when she casually asked my opinion about her thought of quitting her steady day job to work full time on Manning Canning, I immediately said she should go for it.
I asked Christine what makes her pickles and jams different from others on the market. She replied that many canners talk about fresh produce but that she goes the extra distance by actually meeting with the farmers, taking the time to understand their businesses, and developing a relationship. She wants to know where her produce comes from and wants the farmers to know all about her and Manning Canning. Christine's product reflects her honesty and her integrity.
The farmers will tell Christine when certain vegetables are at their peak and when she should wait for a better crop. This kind of shared information is invaluable to an artisan-food producer.
Christine is at the Ontario Food Terminal every Thursday at 4 a.m. If you follow her on Facebook and Twitter you'll see her selfies with farmers, a bold move so early in the day, before the rest of us are even awake and have had our first cup of coffee.
Aside from the Food Terminal, Christine stuffs her Manning Canning van with fresh fruits and vegetables from St. Lawrence Market, produce from PV Warner (Warner's Farm) at Fairmount Farmers' Market, and Greg's Fruit and Veg at AppleTree Market. Canning is done on Thursday, Friday and Monday. With the invaluable help of her assistant Lou Bellamy, a lot gets jarred in just a few days in the commercial kitchen at the East Scarborough Storefront, a community centre where Manning Canning's production is currently based.
Christine keeps her flavour profiles simple so that the fruits and vegetables stand on their own. She wants you to taste the main ingredient first and then the spices and flavourings. It's a fine balance working to maintain this mandate throughout four seasons. In branding her product, Christine wanted to keep the labels on her jars fresh, clean and vibrant. The transparency of a jar of Manning Canning preserves truly showcases the product inside.
Cultivating relationships with small retailers is also important to Christine; they understand that produce is seasonal and that product availability may therefore be short-lived. Her clients know she'll deliver preserves made only with seasonally local ingredients. Trust is nurtured and maintained.
And feedback is very important to Christine. When a customer at one of the farmers' market she sells at samples a Manning Canning product, she immediately knows if they like it. She gets direct feedback, which then builds customer confidence. I know from being a small food producer myself that there is great satisfaction in making people happy with food you have worked hard to make. Christine shares that sentiment.
Manning Canning is successful in part because of Christine's willingness to share her experiences and reach out to other canners. When she vacationed in PEI this summer she met with Bruce MacNaughton, who started his Prince Edward Island Preserve Company in 1985. Christine toured the production area and Bruce shared invaluable tips that will save Christine time in the kitchen. Bruce spoke at length about his company's growth experiences, which made her more comfortable moving forward with her own vision.
After Christine left her full-time job to concentrate on growing Manning Canning, she quickly identified the biggest challenge for small food producers: the dearth of commercial kitchen space. There was and still is a great need for affordable, available rental kitchens. (Home-produced foods cannot legally be sold in retail locations.)
Christine gave thought to the food community as a whole, not just to Manning Canning's operations. She believes that everyone works hard, deserves to be successful, and to have their businesses thrive. Fast forward to late August when, by word of mouth from a retail client, Christine came across an available commercial kitchen. As soon as she saw the former catering space at Eglinton and Laird, the decision to open Manning Canning Kitchen was made.
The future home of Manning Canning and numerous other artisan-food producers will offer 24-hour, 7-day-a-week access, with rentals available by the hour, day or week. The food producers will have storage space and will be able to create their own viable kitchen stations. They will be able to concentrate on what is most important—their product—without having to lug groceries back and forth, worry about their space being rented out, and numerous other details that can bog down food production.
Christine has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund this initiative. In her words "My husband and I have invested heavily and now need others to pitch in to help realize the vision." There are many new and established food producers who will be relieved to have ongoing access to a reliable certified kitchen.
Saying that Christine is busy is an understatement. Between markets, deliveries, shopping and cooking, she also found time to participate in Not Far From The Tree's "Fruitful," where five food producers were each asked to produce a product using urban-harvested fruit, which TFFTT then sold as Artisan Produced Preserves. Manning Canning made two hundred jars of Preserved Pears with Ginger. Christine also holds occasional preserving classes at The Depanneur and elsewhere.
Christine is obviously not afraid to share her expertise and has friendly, uncompetitive working relationships with other local makers of artisanal preserves. Her own seasonal preserves are intended to be used by her customers as additions to their favourite recipes or to be eaten on their own as condiments. Preserved Peaches, Pickled Silverskin Onions and Tilted Cherries are fan favourites and can be found in Toronto at numerous food shops, including Sanagan's Meat Locker, Grilltime Gourmet Meat Shop, Yam Chops, Café Con Leche, Crème Fraîche Market Café, and Logan & Finley. More products are on the horizon: Ontario apples, tomatoes, green tomatoes, peppers and carrots have all gotten the royal fall treatment. Cooler temperatures have Christine focusing on flavours that are more smoky, rich and earthy.
Christine reflects that, "People need to think about where their food comes from. Local is more important than ever and Toronto's food community is vibrant and delicious. You just never know where the next turn will be."
Check the site for a full listing of where Manning Canning products can be purchased.