Monday, May 16, 2011

Preserving Floyd: Strawberries! Part II Whole Strawberries in Vanilla Syrup

Whole Strawberries in Vanilla Syrup is a very versatile preserve.  We mix it into plain yogurt, drizzle it over ice cream, waffles and pancakes, use it as an ingredient in homemade strawberry ice cream, top pound cakes and shortcakes, and serve it with chevre, fontainbleu, or brie.  I usually make 3-4 pints but we ran out early this past winter so this year I'm upping it to 6 pints.
This recipe is per quart of strawberries.  Unlike jams and jellies you can double or triple it for larger batches.

I'd also like to say a word about the sugar and lemon juice here.
This recipe calls for 4 cups of sugar per quart of berries.  It is a very sweet preserve.  If you prefer a less sweet, fruitier tasting product you can cut the sugar in half.  As we discussed in yesterday's post, sugar is not a preservative.  It is used as a flavor enhancer and for it's hygroscopic properties (it's ability to attract water to itself).  In this recipe it not only sweetens the berries, the macerating of the berries overnight in the syrup draws water out of the strawberries' cells, allowing the cell walls to collapse and the cells to contain less air.  This keeps the berries from floating in the jars after canning.  "Fruit float" is an aesthetically annoying but purely cosmetic canning flaw.  It doesn't affect the flavor or safety of your product.  If you choose to lessen the amount of sugar in the recipe, the berries are more likely to float after processing the jars.  I myself opt for less sugar.
Do not mess with the amount of lemon juice.  Be sure to use bottled lemon juice for acidic consistency.  While strawberries are a high acid fruit, they are on the lower end of the high acid scale so adding the lemon juice ensures there is plenty of acidity for safe water bath processing.  If you would like a hint of fresh lemon flavor, feel free to stir in some very finely grated fresh lemon zest or juice before ladling the berries into the jars.

Whole Strawberry Preserves in Vanilla Syrup
1 quart strawberries, cleaned and hulled
4 cups sugar, divided in half
1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Bring water to boil in a large pot.  Blanch strawberries (in batches if necessary) in the boiling water for 1 minute and drain in a colander.  Blanching inhibits and/or kills enzymes and bacteria that can degrade the quality of your preserves over time.

Place berries in a heavy non-reactive pot or preserving kettle with 2 cups of sugar, 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice and the split vanilla bean.  If you're using extract wait until just before jarring to add that.

Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes, stirring carefully.  It's more of a gentle folding stir because you don't want to break up your whole berries.  Remove from the heat and when the bubbling stops gently stir in the 2 additional cups of sugar and return the pot to the heat.  Bring the berries to a boil again and boil for 4 more minutes.

Remove from the heat, skim off the foam if necessary and pour the berries and syrup into a large flat pan so the berries sit about 1" deep.

When the berries have cooled, cover the pan with a towel and allow to sit overnight.

The next day assemble your jars and utensils and fill the water bath and bring it to a boil.  The processing time for this recipe is 10 minutes so while your jars and lids should be sparkling clean, it is not necessary to sterilize them.  Have a second smaller pot of water on the boil as well so you can pour hot water over the lids (this softens the sealing compound) and have hot water on hand if you need to add any to the water bath.  Place a layer of newspapers on the surface where you'll be filling your jars and a layer of newspapers on the surface where you will place the jars to cool after processing.  This catches drips and protects the jars from drastic temperature changes.

When the water bath has reached a full rolling boil, place your lids in a bowl and cover them with hot water.  Arrange your jars to be filled on the newspaper.  You'll need 2 pint jars or 4 half pint jars per quart of fresh berries.  I usually make sure I have an extra jar handy.  Sometimes you don't need as many as you think and sometimes you need just one more.  There is no need to heat the berries back up, they will be brought to the proper temperature in the water bath.

Fish the split vanilla bean out of the berries and reserve.  If you're using vanilla extract instead of the bean and/or fresh lemon zest or additional fresh juice, stir that into the berries now.  If you'd like to make a balsamic and cracked black peppercorn variation, now's the time to add 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and one tablespoon of roughly crushed peppercorns and stir them in.  Another nice variation is to stir in 3 tablespoons of freshly chiffonaded basil leaves.  These are easy ways of customizing your preserves without upsetting the acid balance.  In the case of the balsamic vinegar, you've upped the acid a little more which is a good direction.  You always want to be leary of adding anything that may lower the acidity.

Using a slotted spoon, fill a jar half full with berries.  Add a piece of the reserved vanilla bean...

...and fill the rest of the jar to the shoulder with more berries.

Next, ladle in syrup leaving a generous 1/4" of head space to the top of the jar.  Head space is the empty space between the surface of the preserve and the rim of the jar.  This space accomodates the action of the vacuum created between the lid and the preserve during processing.  Run a narrow spatula down the sides of the jar to release any bubbles and readjust the head space if necessary.

Wipe the rim of the jar clean of any syrup dribbles.  Be diligent about this because a sticky rim is a common cause of seal failure.
Note the 1/4" head space
Pull a lid from the warm water and center it on the jar...

...then screw on a ring finger-tight.  My definition of finger-tight is the way you tighten on the lid of the mayo jar.  Don't crank the ring down, that can contribute to seal failure too.  You want it to be just snug.
Note the glass lip below the ring.  Important in next step.
Take the lid off the canner lifting the back of the lid towards you, directing the steam away from your face and body.  Allow the boiling water to calm a bit.
Using your jar lifter, grasp the jar under the lip of glass below the lid ring.  You don't want to pick up the jar by the lid ring because you may disturb the seal set-up.  You'll remove the jars from the canner the same way.

Place the jars in the canner with space between them to allow the water to circulate around them.  Make sure the jars are covered by at least 2" of water.

Replace the lid and return the water to a rolling boil.  Once the rolling boil has been reached, begin timing.  Remember recipes specify processing time at sea level.  If you are above sea level you must add 1 minute for every 1,000 feet in altitude.  Here in Floyd most of us are just over 2,000 feet so we need to add 2 minutes.  This recipe specifies 10 minutes of processing, so in Floyd we will process it for 12 minutes.

When the processing time is up, turn off the heat and, if you can, slide the pot off the burner on to a cool one.  Remove the lid, directing the steam away from you, and allow the water to calm.  Remove the jars to the newspaper covered surface and allow to cool undisturbed.  During this time you may or may not hear a "ping" or a "pop" as the vacuum in the jar is formed.  Do not disturb the jars until they are completely cool.

I had a jar siphon in this batch.  Siphoning happens when there is not enough head space to accommodate the creation of the vacuum between the preserve and the lid.  Liquid will escape between the rim of the jar and the lid to make enough space for the vacuum.
Unfortunately, this often means the jar is not sealed or poorly sealed.  You have two options.  You can put the product in a clean jar, make sure you have the proper head space, use a new lid, and process it again.  Or you can chalk it up to experience, be more diligent next time, and refrigerate the jar to be eaten soon.  I opted for the latter.

When the jars are completely cool, remove the rings.  To test the seal, press on the center of the lid with one finger.  It should be concave with no wiggle in any direction including up and down.  Lift the jar by the edges of the lid alone.  If the lid remains firmly in place you've got a good seal.  If the lid lifts anywhere or comes loose completely, you have seal failure and need to reprocess or eat the contents.
Wash the jars and dry completely.  It's recommended that jars be stored without the rings so the rings don't rust from damp or humidity and also, if a jar should go bad, you'll be able to quickly see a blown lid or running liquid.  Label, date and store the jars in a dark, dry area.


  1. Uh oh. I guess I'm coming over, lol!

  2. Making this today!!! Or at least starting it today! Thank you! Totally just found your sight 15 ago!