I like happy accidents. Sometimes, they can change your entire life. Seven years ago I was adrift after taking some time away from school when a friend moved from Nova Scotia to attend the same universy I had. We had been friends for years and thought nothing of moving in together and creating a little home, as best friends do.
I started to poke around in the kitchen and he biked all over the city, discovering a city I had always known without trying. Where we had been friends since we were 12, causing mischief and sharing our first glass of wine a little later, we became stronger, better friends in that little house near the university.
At Christmas he went back to Nova Scotia to visit his family. That little house with the shiny wooden floors and tragically small kitchen was suddenly huge and empty. It was just me for 10 days and it was lonely. Ten days can only last so long and he was home again to plod thorugh the snow with me and fill that tiny kitchen with enticing smells.
Within a few short months we left that house and drove across the country in our red VW. Frequent stops were necessary for me, I was often sick or nauseous. Our happy little accident was wreaking havoc on my body but we were determined to get to Nova Scotia and raise her in air laced with saltwater.
This strawberry syrup isn’t a baby or subsequent marriage but it was definitely a happy accident. I was not intending a syrup when I started stirring the strawberries and sugar, in fact, I had drunken strawberry jam on the brain. There are a few factors that contributed to this jam transforming into a syrup perfect for topping ice cream, homemade slushies or even sprucing up some fancy fizzy drinks with friends. I like my jam to have a bit of heft so I did not crush the strawberries as usual and I added 2 teaspoons of whiskey to the bottom of each jar.
I am not entirely sure if the whiskey broke down the pectin or if the syrup was just fulfilling its own syrupness. I knew something was up when the 500 mL jar of excess did not set and the strawberries started to clump together in the middle of the jar. Being the dunce that I am, I shook the jars to loosen the strawberries. Genius, right? You are not supposed to do that but the jam cause was lost anyways (the preserves were not going to set, no matter what) and I am more than content with the end result.
A very important note, fresh and local strawberries are imperative for these preserves. They are juicier and bursting with flavour. Strawberries do not continue to ripen after they are picked, if you use berries that are imported from a billion miles away (or say, down south), they will not have enough juice, heft, chutzpa to create the syrup. Also, you should be supporting your local farmers anyways, they are good people.
yield: 8 250 mL jars
8 cups sugar
8 cups sliced strawberries
two tablespoons lemon juice
one vanilla bean
one package of liquid pectin
Wash and sterilize your jars: To do this boil for 15 minutes in a covered pot. At the end of the 15 minutes, turn of the heat and let the jars sit in the hot water to keep them sterile. I slip the snap lids into this water once it has cooled a touch, don’t boil them as it will loosen the glue.
- Wash and slice the strawberries.
- In a large, non-reactive pot combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice.
- Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out those inner seeds. Add both to the strawberry mix.
- Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. The strawberries will not break down but you want everything bubbling away happily in a symbiotic mesh of berry and sugary goodness. This will take approximately 15 minutes (don’t boil it down to the standard 220º).
- Remove from heat and add the liquid pectin. Stir for 5 to 7 minutes and skim off the foam.
- In the bottom of each sterilized jar add 2 teaspoons of whiskey. Ladle the syrup into the jars and wipe the rims with a cloth dipped in boiled water. Gently tighten the bands and snap lids only finger tip tight.
- Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes – there should be 2 inches of water above the jars.
Any jars that do not seal will need to be refrigerated . Listen for the ping! to feel the kind of relief that comes with knowing you’ll be able to treat yourself to local strawberries in January.