Strawberries. Vanilla beans. Burning. And I am not allowed to can anymore.

So, this week I was going to tell you all about bountiful harvests and glorious home-cooking, but everything kind of went to hell and I’m going to be out of town for a few days and I decided that there was no point in cooking and The Three Lions Café on Broadway at Ontario makes a fantastic order of bangers and mash and Kayla, the waitress there, is pretty much my favourite server ever and since everything I was doing at home this week made me tired or marred me, I decided to quit and let someone else do the cooking. And the pouring, of course, which is why I feel infinitely better. That, and Kayla’s impression of a dying giraffe. Awesome.

But, anyway.

Remember a couple of days ago when I was all, “DIY revolution!” and “Canning is cool and fun!” and it seemed like I was finally getting into a Gen. Y-groove, with all the frugality and doing-it-myselfness? Well, fuck that shit, if I may put it delicately. Last night I burned my face off. And it sucked. And I cried a little on the kitchen floor, face to the cool laminate, and then realized that I burned myself for what amounted to three cups of strawberry vanilla bean preserves. Beyond fantastic (the preserves), for the record, but it’s hard to look past the fact that my right eye is basically a giant scab. A face scab. SUPER sexy. I’m sure in two weeks when I’m less deformed I’ll call this a battle scar, but for now, I hate everything. Except my strawberries. I’m not mad at them … just … disappointed. I was really hoping they would amount to more.

This is the burn, fresh. I wanted to show you it fresh because it's kind of gross now, all brown and scabby, like a crusty birth mark.
This is the burn, fresh. I wanted to show you it fresh because it's kind of gross now, all brown and scabby, like a crusty birth mark, but puckered and shiny.

At this point, I can’t help but think that I sure sound like a whiner. Time to switch gears, perhaps, and tell you all about the strawberries and the vanilla beans?

Sure thing.

And here you go.

About a month and a half ago, I stumbled across  I Have a Knife and a recipe for Homemade Strawberry Vanilla Bean Preserves. Good stuff, this, and I was saddened to have only seconds before completed a batch of my own strawberries, sans vanilla bean. Well. There’s a market in Surrey near my parents’ house that sells exceptionally fresh produce, and they just so happened to have a few local strawberries left. I bought some, intending to make something out of them, and then forgot about them. Until last night. I’m going away this weekend and didn’t want to see them die – I needed to do something with them. And I have vanilla beans.

I halved Knife’s recipe, as I only had about four cups of berries, but I’ll give you the full thing. The full recipe should make about six cups of jam. I’ve tweaked this some, so I’m including those adjustments here.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Preserves

  • 8 cups strawberries, hulled, rinsed, and sliced
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

I keep linking to Epicurious’ Procedure for Shorter Time Processing, but that’s because I like it and it works. Prepare the jars in this way.

In a large non-reactive or stainless steel pot, mix together strawberries, sugar, vanilla bean, and vinegar. Mash with a potato masher, and cook over high heat. You’re going to want to bring these to a boil, and keep them boiling aggressively until they reach 220°F on a candy thermometer, which is the temperature at which the jam will gel. It should take between twenty and forty minutes depending on the size of your pot and the depth of the berries in the pot.

Remove the beans, and pour the mixture into your prepared jars. Do not allow a large dollop of boiling water to assault your face as you remove the jars from their own aggressive pot of water, or you will feel a tremendous amount of pain, and you will say the kind of swears that even truckers will hesitate over, lest they seem uncouth. And then you will sob on your floor for a few minutes, and your version of Nick will be all, “You’re not allowed to can anymore.” Because he doesn’t care a whack about revolution, DIY or otherwise.

Process as per Epicurious’ instructions.

And you know how I know they’re awesome? When I stumbled home this evening, I found myself a tad ravenous, as one gets, and the only thing that could fill the void was dessert. And it’s too late to make pudding, so I am, as I write, spooning fresh strawberry vanilla bean jam into my mouth from the jar, and it is divine. I imagine that it will age well, given a few weeks or months, and then I will like it even more. Too bad I only have two jars.

Dark red.Also, don’t be wary about the vinegar. I promise you, you’ll like it. Vanilla can add a cloying sort of taste when added to stuff that’s already on the sweet side, and the vinegar is a nice counterbalance to that. You’re not actually going to taste vinegar, or even sour. The vinegar will add a bit of depth, umami, if you will, and will do little more than linger in the background, preventing the sweetness from taking off and/or seeming fluffy and excessive. It grounds it. It’s almost smokey, but it’s so subtle that anyone who doesn’t know it’s an ingredient will never know it’s there. I’ve never lied to you before.

And don’t give up on canning. I won’t. I’m just going to buy a much smaller pot and tongs that don’t slip and drop hot glass bombs that injure my face with their fallout. In the meantime, America? I’m coming back. And Trader Joe’s? Please have your shelves stocked. Back in a few days!