Sep. 26, 2012 - Issue #884: Strangelove
Mojo Jojo Pickles takes a new approach to tradition
The quote from N. Westbury greeting guests on the home page of the Mojo Jojo Pickles website couldn't be more true, and with these particular pickles, it's all about variety and a new generation of canning that boasts unexpected flavour combinations, plus a twist on tradition.
Owner Johwanna Alleyne began her foray into canning three years ago, and after taking the necessary steps, including a home canning course, food safety and handling courses and a farmer's market course, she got her business up and running in October 2011. Since then, Mojo Jojo has expanded to the 124th St Grand Market, the Sherwood Park Farmer's Market, St Albert Farmer's Market and will be moving indoors to City Hall when the 104th St Market relocates for the winter months. Customers can also get their pickle fix at Santa's Little Helper and St Albert Christmas Market on Saturdays in December.
Mojo Jojo Pickles produces approximately 150 jars each week and demand continues as new customers are exposed to her unique artisan products, either at farmer's markets throughout the area or in retail locations including Everything Cheese, which carries her pickled quail's eggs, as well as Acme Meat Market.
Alleyne is a photographer by trade, having been in the industry for 20 years and making a name for herself with her company tobeinpictures.com. She's kept her photography business, but says she needed something else to do and found her other passion in canning. Alleyne's photography and eye for creativity and pleasing composition has crossed over into her canning and she strives to make the end result visually interesting as well as tasty. It also brings her back to the good old days of film.
"I think that a lot of the things about canning really remind me of when I worked in darkrooms. I worked in darkrooms for years and the smell of the vinegar, timing bath, you're getting things to temperature ... that meditation, which was such a part of my life," Alleyne explains during a visit to her cozy home in Old Strathcona. "I think it's also been good for my photography. It helps me think; it frees my mind."
Alleyne, who exudes a warm personality beneficial to any business owner, has put her creativity and foodie palette to good use, allowing her to concoct an array of pickled fare including curried zucchini, Jewish kosher dill pickles, wasabi green beans, chili lemon green beans, beet caviar, asparagus spears and turnips, which happens to be her most popular variety. Turnips may seem like an unlikely vegetable to draw such attention, but Alleyne says once people try them, their faces light up and they're hooked. The turnip, which is thinly sliced and delicately arranged in its jar, has become somewhat of a signature item for Mojo Jojo with horseradish at the bottom, creating sweet, but garlic-filled flavour with a hint of dill.
Alleyne uses local, seasonal produce and only the freshest spices and highest quality vinegar, balsamic vinegars and soy sauces to create her pickles.
Overall, Alleyne believes flavour is what sets Mojo Jojo Pickles apart.
"Some people are brine-first. What they're trying to do is find a way to transmit the flavour so when you taste it, the first thing you might taste is garlic or dill or pepper," Alleyne explains, adding achieving this complexity takes patience and precision. "I think you should be able to taste the vegetable or the fruit. It should be very fruit-forward and fresh and then it should have layers. I like complex pictures; it should have beats. It should have a second and third and vinegar is the high back of your palette. It should have complexity, but first be about the fruit or vegetable."
On top of pickles, Alleyne makes a variety of marmalades and seasonal items, including brandied cherries for Christmas time.
As a new business owner, Alleyne has been overwhelmed by the amount of support she has received from the local business community on top of the support she receives from family and friends, who readily roll up their sleeves to lend a hand.
"People just have my back. I don't know why people root for me, I don't know why people would go out of their way to help, but people have just been magnanimous," Alleyne says with a sense of admiration, adding she has particularly enjoyed her experience with the markets and the possibilities available, particularly for her unconventional approach to canning. "There's a new generation of urbanites interested in food and food production, and food production isn't always living on a farm."
Mojo Jojo Pickles
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