Patti Wilson brings joy with The Red Apron

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

“This is really odd, but the way it originated was with the jams,” Wilson said.

“When my girls were young, I know that teachers and educational staff at Christmas, they got so many coffee mugs. I wanted to be a unique gift for educational staff in my kids lives, and my mom used to make the traditional green pepper jam and the raspberry jalapeno jam, so that’s what I started doing.”

As Wilson continued making up gift baskets for the education workers in her children’s lives, each one containing some of that homemade jam, eventually word got back around to her.

“A lot of their former teachers would contact me at Christmas and ask me, ‘Are you still making those jams? Can I buy some?’” Wilson recalled.

“So I kind of just started selling the traditional red and green jams at Christmas. Then I decided I wanted to expand it, so I started experimenting and creating my own recipes for all the other jams that I make.”

From these humble beginnings came The Red Apron, Wilson’s profession and passion, which sees hundreds of her handmade jams, meals and dinner additions cross tables in Fort Frances and beyond every single week. After Wilson began frequenting markets and vendor events around the region with her supply of jams in 2018, she eventually made the decision to begin pushing farther and farther into the concept. She added pulled pork and lasagna to her stock, which in turn fuelled more and more people asking for her ready-to-make meals. Along with finding a therapeutic benefit to the work following some difficulties in her life, today, The Red Apron stocks dozens of items at Ski’s Variety and Westside Bait & Tackle, and it has become her full-time occupation.

“I remember my first order with Ski’s was ten packages of pulled pork,” Wilson shared.

“I was in one little plastic bin on one shelf of the freezer. Then it expanded, and it just kept growing and growing, and the support from the community was absolutely amazing. I would experiment with recipes and how it froze and how it cooked, and we just kept adding and adding. Then Ski’s brought in a second freezer and I filled it up. Then I approached Westside.”

Wilson said she had to draw the line at two physical locations for her foodstuff because she didn’t want
to overextend herself and not be able to fulfill her commitments. While she has stepped back from making some of the items she once offered, the work to keep both Ski’s Variety and Westside Bait & Tackle fully stocked with her current offerings keeps her on the go full time.

With Italian and Ukrainian heritage, food has always been a big part of Wilson’s life, and she noted she can recall being in the kitchen even as a young child.

“We grew up with food,” Wilson said.

“Every occasion was around food and all four of us, myself and my three other siblings, we all love to cook, we all have our own little twists on things, but I grew up very young in the kitchen. It’s all about the food.”

That love of food has been passed along to Wilson’s own children, helping to keep the traditions of her family alive and well. And even after several years of working to keep shelves and bellies full through her food, Wilson said one of her favourite recipes to make is still jams, where it all started.

“I love making jam,” she said.

“It’s just my favourite thing.”

Wilson also encouraged everyone with a passion in their lives to do their best and enjoy the things that bring them joy, whether it be through starting a new small business or just providing for themselves or others.

“Go for it,” she said.

“If the kitchen is your happy place, and it makes you happy to be cooking and providing your traditional items to other people, go for it. Life’s too short, make sure you’re happy. That’s the main thing, just to be happy.”