“”It was interesting to really think about answering your question, because the complete answer is that I am also “from” my mother’s people, in the town and country around Clinton, South Carolina, where my ancestors also fought on the American side. Much as Spartanburg benefits from being the home of good colleges (Wofford and Converse), Clinton has Presbyterian College and has a “Mayberry” atmosphere, in the very best sense. A heritage of good land and good people who have been a blessing to have a foundation of a rich sense of place.”
– Martha McMillen, owner of Preserving Place. Response via email, answering the question “Where are you from?”
Preserving Place is located at the intersection of Howell Mill Road and 14th Street, in the heart of West-Midtown Atlanta. Growing up, this area was a vague land of conflicting intersections: The campy gay-90’s Midtown sliding against the drug-addled dive bars and fast food joints that nestled the traditionally working-class West End. Twenty years ago the industrial-chic appeal called the young-and-bright creative class, transforming a traditionally Bukowski-esque landscape into what has become the hottest, hippest area of Atlanta for the past decade.
The storefront of Preserving Place is airy and off-white and slightly bucolic; rustic without the patina of faux-Restoration Hardware gesturing. The front is dedicated to both in-house products and locally-sourced goods; the back a fully functional kitchen, equipped for lessons on modern preserving and canning techniques. Cheerful staff mans the front desk, offering samples of the newest products and recommendations on proper ingredient pairings
And in the middle sits Martha McMillen, Preserving Place’s proprietor. A warm, friendly presence, McMillen emanates Southern hospitality without the all-to-common undercurrent of passive aggressiveness. Nor would she: McMillen had a distinguished life before founding Preserving Place, including degrees from Vanderbilt, a Juris Doctorate from the University of South Carolina, stints in Atlanta and Columbia, South Carolina as a business and commercial litigation lawyer before finally working as Vice-President and Managing General Counsel of the Atlanta Housing Authority. McMillen knows focus, drive and passion, all of which are exuded the moment you step into Preserving Place’s storefront.
And yes, everything the shop makes is fantastic – the jams, the confits, the sauces, the preserves. Many recipes are culled from McMillen’s heritage, using ideas and inclinations from her childhood that were extrapolated when she joined the Southern Foodways Alliance and realized that most commercially available jams were cloying sweet. Her sauces are acidic and tart in all the right ways, her confits cooked in a proper French style with a 3-to-1 ratio. But what makes Preserving Place brilliant is its attention to detail in an area that too-often immortalizes glitz, glamour and bullshit. While many great things happen in West-Midtown Atlanta, McMillan’s Preserving Place uses old-fashioned techniques that existed long before any repurposed barn doors made an appearance – and the significance of that can’t be understated.
Preserving Place is located at 1170 Howell Mill Road, Suite P10b, Plaza Level, Atlanta, GA 30318. For information about their product selections and hours of operation, please see their website at www.preservingplace.com.