Canning Day and Vanilla Balsamic Strawberry Sauce

Sometimes home chores can be a kind of moving meditation, too.

Sunday was scheduled to be a canning and kitchen project day for me. The Gainesville Food Swap is coming soon and I wanted to make a few more items for the swap, plus canning several projects in one large water bath saves electricity and time. So I purchased a half-flat of strawberries, several pounds of okra, and hard-boiled two dozen quail eggs the day before.

ripe strawberries

Then Sunday morning we received the news of a death in the family.  There was absolutely nothing I could do for them, being halfway across the country. So I carried on with my plans and spent the afternoon in the kitchen, music in the background, mostly alone. I don’t know if these will be the best pickled okra or pickled beets I’ll ever make. I was distracted by worry and probably missed a couple of ingredients. Fortunately I’ve made this strawberry sauce many times. But these jars are also full of the memories I thought about while I was stirring, and a sort of peace I found through this simple work.

canning day

Swedish Pickled Beets from A Passionate Plate- I added quail eggs and substituted whole peppercorns for the cloves

Pickled Okra from Katy She Cooks- I used whole dill heads from the garden but forgot the chiles

Vanilla-Balsamic Strawberry Sauce

This sauce will not set up like a jam, it’s meant for serving over pancakes or strawberry shortcake. This is an excellent recipe to use bruised and slightly over-ripe berries.

1 half-flat of very ripe strawberries, 6 pint baskets
2 c raw sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbl high-quality balsamic vinegar
2 whole vanilla beans

Trim strawberries and cut in half. Fill your sink with a few inches of water- enough that all of the berries will float. Dump in the berries and swish them around with your hands for a minute or so. Now take a slotted spoon (or your hands) and lift the berries out of the water and place them in a non-reactive pot with a lid. Lifting the berries out of the water is the best way to get all of the sand off.

Add the sugar and salt to the berries. Do not add any water! Cover the pot and put it over medium heat. While the strawberries are coming to a boil, take the whole vanilla beans and make a slit lengthwise halfway through the bean with a small sharp knife. You want to expose the seeds, but not necessarily cut the bean in half. Then cut them in half across the width. Toss them in the pot. Stir and cover again until the berries come to a full boil in their own juices. Stir again, reduce the heat to low, and take the cover off. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the sauce at a brisk simmer. Stir often to reduce risk of scorching.

Let the berries simmer until the sauce is reduced by about 1/4 and the vanilla scent is strong. Take the sauce off the heat and puree with an immersion blender until about half pureed. You can also puree half of the sauce in batches in a regular blender, too. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir well. Let a spoonful cool and taste for seasoning. Depending on your berries, the sauce may need additional sugar.

Fill three pint jars with the boiling hot strawberry sauce, leaving 1″ head space. Process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. If the strawberry sauce separates in the jar, just give it a good stir before serving. We especially like this sauce over whole-grain pancakes spread with ricotta cheese.