Strawberry Vanilla Preserves and Spicy Pickled Onions
BY AMY PENNINGTON
PHOTO BY DELLA CHEN
Find all the instructions you need for sterilizing and water baths
When I was young, my mom almost always had Neapolitan ice cream in the freezer. As an homage to that creamy strawberry-vanilla flavor, I started infusing strawberry preserves with a bit of vanilla bean. The beans’ heavy perfume flavors the jam subtly, making it the perfect topping for crepes or a gussied-up morning toast.
For preserving, choose firm fruits, which hold their shape longer than over-ripe fruits. Strawberries don’t contain much natural pectin, so it must be added so that this jam sets up properly. Pectin is found in the skin and membranes of most fruits, but is particularly high in citrus. Instead of adding powdered pectin, I use a whole lemon.
Strawberry Vanilla Preserves
Makes about 6 pints | start to finish: 2.5 hours, plus overnight rest
6 cups small strawberries, hulled (about 6 pints)
4 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 lemon, halved, each half wrapped in muslin
3 vanilla beans, cut in half crosswise
Place berries, sugar, water and lemon into a large pot and let macerate at room temperature for one hour. Cook over medium heat and until berries release their juices, about 15 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms (it makes an unattractive layer on the top of jam jars). Push the lemons below the surface of the berries, pull the pot off the heat, cover and place in the refrigerator to cool down. Let the preserves sit overnight.
The next day, put a saucer in your freezer. You will use this later to check the set of the jam. Place the preserving pot over medium heat, and add vanilla beans. When preserves are just warm (about 5 minutes), use a slotted spoon to strain out the lemons, solid berries and vanilla beans. Reserve berries and vanilla for later use; toss out the lemons.
Stir jam constantly, holding it at a low and steady simmer, making sure not to burn the bottom of the pot. Meanwhile, start the pot of water for sealing your jars. After 15 minutes, check the set of your jam by placing a dollop on the cold saucer. Let it sit for 30 seconds. If the preserves wrinkle when pushed with your fingertip, the jam is set. If preserves do not wrinkle, continue cooking and checking the set every 15 minutes, stirring frequently. When the jam is set, add reserved berries and vanilla beans back to the pot and stir until combined and heated through. Remove the pot from heat and set aside, covered
Sterilize 6 pint jars. Add preserves to the sterilized jars, making sure each jar has a piece of vanilla bean. Using a damp, clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars, and top the jars with lids and rings. Process in a water bath for 5 minutes. Remove each jar with tongs and let cool on the counter. Once cool, make sure seals are secure. Sealed jars may be stored in a cool dark cupboard for up to one year.
But woman cannot live on jam alone. Spring brings tender young onions—dainty little things that can be eaten whole. Markets are crowded with ramps, torpedo onions and small spring onions, all of which are perfect for pickling whole. The variety is not important, so choose what you like. The root end must be cut from the onions, and feel free to peel off the outer layer if it’s particularly dirty.
These onions are firm and crisp and give off some heat from chili flakes; they make a fantastic garnish for roasted meats, grilled fish and green salads. These pickles register both sweet and sour on your palate; the sugar is an important ingredient. Just be sure to leave them whole, otherwise the cooking time provided will be too lengthy—it would turn sliced onion rings to mush.
Spicy Pickled Onions
Makes 3 or 4 pints | start to finish: one hour
It’s important not to alter the vinegar type called for in your pickling recipes, as acidity varies among varieties, and acidity is an important safety component in canning.
5 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon red chili flakes
4 whole cloves
I cinnamon stick, broken into 3 or 6 pieces (one piece for each jar)
3 peels of orange rind
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 pounds spring onions, root end and stems trimmed, outer layer peeled off
Start a pot of water for sealing your jars. You don’t have to sterilize these jars, but prepare them by washing all the jars and lids in hot soapy water and setting on a rack to dry.
In a large sauce pot, add vinegar, sugar, salt, spices, orange rind and bay leaves. Cook over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved and vinegar comes to a gentle boil. Once bubbles begin to form in the pot, add the onions. Let cook until outer layer is just soft, stirring occasionally 7 to 10 minutes. Remove onions from vinegar and distribute evenly between pint jars. Pour the hot brine over the onions, covering them and leaving about 1/2″ of head space. Spoon approximately equal amounts of spices from the pot into each jar. Vinegar should cover and submerge the onions.
Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove each jar with tongs and let cool on the counter. Once cool, make sure seals are secure. Sealed jars may be stored in a cool dark cupboard for up to one year.
Amy Pennington is the creator and owner of GoGo Green Garden and Urban Garden Share. Her first book, Urban Pantry, was published in spring of 2010. To learn more about what’s going on in the gardens or in the kitchen, visit www.gogogreengarden.com