Southern Spotlight: Preserving Tradition

A former Atlanta attorney creates the ultimate shopping and learning experience for the culinary art of pickling and preserving.


When South Carolina native Martha McMillin thinks back on childhood trips to the grocery, she recalls how often her mother lamented that food just wasn’t what it used to be. Shopping as an adult, Martha came to the same conclusion, and for years, she bounced around the idea of leaving her law career behind to start a business in the food industry. She dreamed of sharing the delectable flavor of produce canned and preserved at the peak of its season and preparing food the way she’d seen her mom and aunts do, with the love, care, and methods used for generations.


With encouragement from her mother—Martha recalls her saying, “It’s about time somebody did something like that, and it might as well be you”—the emerging entrepreneur opened Preserving Place in Atlanta’s Westside Provisions District. She worked with James Beard Award–winning chef and author Virginia Willis to develop recipes inspired by Southern culture. From Spiced Grapes and Aunt Joyce’s Watermelon Rind Pickles to Mama’s Strawberry Jam and Rummy Peach Conserve, the store’s products draw from Martha’s heritage while offering fresh takes on time-honored staples. In addition to seasonal relishes and preserves, the specialty shop offers items like steak sauce, apple butter, catsup, and seafood sauce year-round.


When designing the storefront, however, Martha had visions beyond enticing displays of Sweet Onion Confit and Lemon Tomato Jam. She also wanted to incorporate a kitchen and lots of windows where people could watch the pickling and canning process and get involved in hands-on classes. Over time, she hopes to help demystify the traditional methods and encourage others to create their own delightful concoctions.

As pleased as she is with the retail venture, Martha says it’s this teaching aspect that has brought her the greatest pleasure. The process has a flow that encourages long conversations; she’s watched parents bond with children as they chopped and pickled, and she has seen strangers become friends as they learned the art of canning and fermenting.

“It just makes me happy to see people go from scared to confident,” she adds. “And in the process, we’re helping the earth, encouraging others to grow a garden or help a farm. Instead of two pints of berries, they’ll buy a dozen pints, put some up, and give pleasure to others by sharing something delicious and homemade.”

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Thumbprint cookie tradition

Pimiento Cheese Thumbprint Cookies with Jam
From Preserving Place in Atlanta, Georgia.
Makes 3 dozen cookies
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  1. 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  2. 2 cups pimiento cheese (homemade or store-bought)
  3. 2½ cups flour (or more depending on looseness of pimiento cheese)
  4. ½ teaspoon salt
  5. Jam or jelly, such as strawberry, lingonberry, jalapeño, or Preserving Place’s Lemon Tomato
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In medium bowl, combine butter and pimiento cheese. Mix together until well blended. Add flour and salt to butter mixture, and mix until blended.
  3. Form dough into 1-inch balls, and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Make a thumbprint in top of each cookie. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until very lightly browned around the edges. Remove to a wire rack to let cool completely. If thumbprint isn’t distinct enough, make indentation deeper. Once cooled, fill indentations with a dollop of jam or jelly.
Southern Lady Magazine

By Mona Moore

Photography by Sarah Dodge and Andrew Thomas Lee

From Southern Lady, October 2016