Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

I recently finished a four week course offered in a neighboring small town called CERT. It’s a FEMA program aimed at providing training to community members so that in the case of a disaster, these civilians can be called upon to assist law enforcement and first responders. I’ve long been interested in learning all I can about surviving a disaster (I do live in earthquake country…) and this seemed like a great way to meet other like minded people in my new community. After four six hour classes, I have been CERTified! We discussed emergency medical triage and basic first aid, we were taught how to identify different types of fires and how to suppress most of them. Disaster psychology was a big topic. Terrorism was taught by an experienced guy. He knew his stuff, phew! Very interesting. The final day had us “rescuing” a victim trapped underneath a huge monster truck tire, suppressing a fire, and locating and medically triaging a dozen “victims” of an earthquake. We all passed the test, and we all made new friends.

FEMA offers this program nation-wide. The class here is managed by a local Fire authority. You can find out more on the FEMA website (www.fema.gov). The neat thing besides learning all this stuff for free and making new acquaintances is that FEMA gives you a backpack filled with fun stuff (flashlight, helmet, bright green vest, goggles) and you can choose how involved you want to be with CERT after the class. If you only want this education for yourself and your family, that’s fine. You just tell the instructor and you won’t hear from CERT again. If you spent this time and energy taking the classes because you want to serve your community, that’s great too. CERT might contact you and ask you to help somewhere. If there is a disaster in your area, you can make your way to the local Emergency Operations Center and offer your assistance as a CERT member.

There are only so many first responders on the clock at any one time. Should an earthquake hit, or tornado, or mudslide, or anything man made happen, these heroes need all the help they can get. Knowing how to respond in a crisis prevents panic and can make the difference between life and death. I strongly encourage each and every reader to investigate CERT for themselves.

Moving to the country, gonna eat me a lot of peaches.

Moving to the country, gonna eat me a lot of peaches.

We did it. We moved out of our 100+ year old farmhouse in Seattle, and moved out to the country. It took some doing, and a lot of planning, sleepless nights and hard work, but every morning, we agree it was worth it! Not much time to write on my blog, but I hope to get back in the saddle (as it were) again soon. I now am the proud owner of the perfect kitchen for me.

The title of this post is a line from a Presidents of the United States song. It came on the radio the other day, and my sons both started laughing, because shortly after we moved to our new house, I bought a lug of peaches. It wasn’t really the smartest time to can fruit, but I didn’t want to miss out on those peaches! I only did about a dozen jars, but they will last us through the coming fall and winter. By next spring, we’ll be eagerly awaiting more peaches!

What have you preserved this summer? Any advice for settling into a new (small!) town?

Jam Making 101

Jam Making 101
 Recently, I taught a small group of friends how to make jam. We only had four hours, so I kept everything pretty basic. I discovered that many people are intimidated by jam making (food preserving, in general, really). It feels like too many details, too many opportunities for error, and knowing that people might get sick if you do make an error were the big reasons I heard for hesitation. To overcome those fears, I decided to fall back on my old mantra: Knowledge is Power. Here is what you need to know.  There are basically two categories of information you need: supplies and process. This post will explain the supplies needed to safely and easily make a batch of delicious homemade jam, as well as offer some excellent resources to get you started on your jam making journey.
To recap, on the supply side of jam making, you need some basic equipment. Pretty much everything on my list could be found at Goodwill or Value Village. That’s where most of my stuff has originated. Some items are absolutely necessary and some are simply a nicety. I’ll note which is which. 
 
Must Haves:
 
Canning Pot (aka Large Stock Pot)—you want this pot to be a few inches taller than the tallest jar you plan to put in it. Hold a pint jar or quart jar up against it and actually measure. The water in a water bath canning pot must cover the jar by an inch. Imagine a rolling boil and you’ll see why you want to allow even more room at the top of that pot. You’ll be able to fit more regular mouth pint jars in a pot than wide mouth jars in the same pot, but wide mouth jars are shorter. Determine which you’ll use for a recipe and plan your water bath canning pot accordingly. These are often thin metal (think those blue or black speckled aluminum pots you see around). Thin metal is fine. *If you want to use an asparagus pot (which has a small footprint, but is tall) you can use that for a small batch recipe. Make sure you allow room for the boiling water at the top. 
 
Rack in Canning Pot—the jars should not be placed directly on the bottom of the pot. Use a cake cooling rack, or a canning jar rack (some come with the pots if you buy them new). In a pinch, you can simply lay a dish towel down or lay down several jar rings, so that they elevate the jars a bit. 
 
Jar Tongs—these are the funny looking tongs with a handle on one end, and a working end that fits the diameter of a jar just perfectly. They really are the safest, best way to lift jars into and out of boiling water. 
 
Jam Pot—this can be any heavy bottomed, wide and deep pot. I use my dutch oven more than any other pot. The heavy bottom allows for even cooking, without the risk of burning as much as a thin bottomed pot would. Jam will foam and bubble like mad as it cooks, so allowing plenty of room for it to do so will help prevent boil overs and burns. A large surface area is helpful as it cooks too. 
 
Wide Mouth Funnel—allows you to fill jars of either size with a minimum of spillage. They come in plastic or stainless. I’ve even seen one in silicone. 
Jars, lids and rings–Before you start making your jam, make sure you have the correct number of jars, lids and rings. After checking for any chips or dents, you may re-use jars and rings. The lids are a one time only deal. The rubber gasket may not provide a solid seal after the  first use. Whether you use regular mouth or wide mouth is up to you.
 
Nice To Haves:
 
Magnetic lid lifter—this little wand with a magnet on the end is just super helpful when you’re lifting the lids out of their warm water bath and allows you to place it on the jar without touching the rubber gasket with your fingers (increased cleanliness is a good thing). Using tongs will certainly work just fine too. 
 
Candy Thermometer—There are several ways to test a jam’s set, but the most scientific is to monitor it’s temperature while it’s cooking. 220 degrees is the set point for jam. 
 
Supplies you likely already have:
 
A baking sheet with a lip all the way around— cover this with a dishtowel. When you take the jars out of hot water and are ready to fill them, place them on this tray to catch any jam drips while filling. After the water bath processing time, remove the jars from the boiling water and again place them on the dishtowel lined sheet pan. The dish towel will catch any water drips and the sheet pan allows you move the whole batch at once, safely and without too much jostling. 
 
A kitchen timer — it’s easy to forget how long something has been cooking or in the water bath. Better to use a timer. 
 
Large ladle or spoon. 
 
An apron and some clean dish towels. You never know when you’ll need to wipe up something quickly, or hold something hot. 
 
Patience and a sense of humor are also helpful. 
 
Resources:
 
My favorite blogs when I’m preserving foods are:
 
My favorite cookbooks are:
Food In Jars – Marisa McClellan (specializes in small batches)
The Art of Preserving – Jan Berry ( I always think her name is Jam Berry, which just cracks me up!). 
The Ball Book of Preserving (a classic)
 
Better Homes and Gardens (www.bhg.com) has some great recipes. The Canning magazine I had with me that day is one of their publications. I saw this year’s version available at a grocery store checkstand, and it looks like they’ve made a few changes. I might just have to pick that one up too! It looked like it had some good salsa recipes in it. 
 
Two basic, good for beginners recipes are:
 
Classic Strawberry
 
Rhubarb Jam
 
I also like the Tomato Basil Jam and Lime Kiwi Freezer Jam from the BHG Canning recipe magazine. The link here will take you to many of the jam recipes on the Better Homes and Gardens site:
 
The site, Well Preserved, just sent a newsletter today that is exceptional. They provide links to a large number of resources (both Canadian based and U.S). 
 
 
Also, keep in mind that during the summer season, you can get great deals on fruit and veg if you buy in bulk. If you are intimidated by the idea of 10 lbs of strawberries, check with some friends. Maybe you could go in together and make jam or freeze the berries, or whatever. Last year, I was able to purchase 20 lbs of honeycrisp apples late last summer for $1.40/lb. Fantastic deal! Check at your local farmer’s market or fruit stand. 
 

It’s Rhubarb Season! How to make a simple rhubarb jam.

It’s Rhubarb Season! How to make a simple rhubarb jam.

I love rhubarb! This year, a friend on mine was kind enough to keep me in mind when she noticed how prolific her rhubarb plant was. I went over there hoping for a dozen or so stalks and left with about 30 healthy stalks of lovely rhubarb.

I chopped up enough to measure 10 cups, and tossed it with two cups of sugar. I left that overnight in the fridge to allow the fruit to soften up and release their juices. in the morning, I poured the fruit and juices into a large dutch oven on the stove and started it cooking. I added the remaining three cups of sugar asked for in the recipe. I brought this to a boil, and lowered the temperature so that it was still bubbly, but not a hard boil.

Soon to be jam!

Soon to be jam!

At the same time, I filled a large water bath canning pot with water and set that on the heat as well. I placed six half pint jars in the water, so that they warmed up with the water. Keep in mind that jars right out of the case are shipped sterile. If you are re-using jars, this step of warming them in the boiling water will serve to sterilize them. Another benefit is that when you are filling cold jars with hot jam, you risk the jar cracking due to the temperature difference. I prepared a cookie sheet with a clean dish towel, and set it near the canning pot. I also tend to use this lull in activity to get out my magnetic lid lifter (not necessary, but helpful) and my jar tongs (I do consider this a necessary tool, as nothing else is as safe to use to lift jars out of boiling water). I also use a wide mouth canning funnel. I soak the lids in warm water to soften the rubber gaskets, and make sure I have the correct number of rims handy.

The rhubarb mixture will take a good 30-45 minutes of simmering before it’s even close to being ready to test. I usually use a few different methods of testing the jam to determine if it’s ready to jar. My favorite is the “sheeting” test. I scoop a little out with my mixing spoon, and turn the spoon so that the jam can slide off the side of the bowl of the spoon. If it drips, it’s not ready. If it gathers a bit, then sheets off the spoon, I can be fairly sure it’s at the correct setting point. I also will spoon a little onto a small plate I’ve placed in the freezer for 10 or more minutes. The plate needs to be cold when I place a small amount of hot jam on it. I put the plate back in the freezer for a few minutes. When I take it out, I slide my finger tip (clean, of course!) along the plate, into the edge of the jam dollop. If it creates ridges as I push it, it’s ready. If it is still “wet” and just wraps around my fingertip, I keep cooking it a bit more. The third, and most “scientific” test is to watch the temperature of jam as you cook it. 220° is the set point for jam. Once you’ve achieved this temperature, you should be able to trust that your jam will set. Some jams will be set correctly within 24 hours, others might take a week or more. Your recipe will likely tell you how long a given jam will take to set.

Back to cooking the jam. After my jam has reached the set point, I added a tablespoon of lemon juice and cooked it another couple of minutes. If I have some lemon zest, i add that too. This just serves to brighten both the color and the flavor of the jam.

To fill the jars, I use the jar tongs to pick up the jars out of the hot water, dump out that water, and set the empty hot jars on the dish towel lined sheet pan. I use the canning funnel to keep the jam from spilling around the rims of the jars as I fill each jar right up to the bottom ring of the threaded neck of jar. I wiped the rims of the jars with a damp, clean cloth. This ensures the jars are clean which is important for the jars to seal.  The magnetic lid lifter makes quick work of lifting the lids out of the warm water and placing them on the jars. I screwed on the rims, just until I felt some tension. You want to be sure the rims aren’t more than just snug.

The jars go into the boiling water bath, so that the water covers them all by about an inch. I often keep a tea kettle of boiling water ready so that I can top off the pot if need be. Once the water returns to a rolling boil, you can start the timer. 10 minutes is a fairly standard processing time for jam, and is what I used for this recipe. Again, those jar lifters come in handy when it’s time to remove the jars from the hot water. I set them gently on the dishtowel and allowed them to sit, undisturbed overnight.

The next day, I like to label the jars and start giving them away to friends and family, or I store them in a cool, dark place until they’re needed.

I never thought I’d do this…but I did! Making brauts at home

I never thought I’d do this…but I did! Making brauts at home
I never thought I’d do this…but I did! Making brauts at home

When I was 16, I became a vegetarian. I wasn’t a good vegetarian, and when faced with a juicy flank steak eight years later, I gave it up. Never looked back, and actually made a solid effort to make up for eight years of lost meat eating.

If you had told me when I was 16 and idealistic, or when I was 24 and hungry that a day would come when I would stuff my own brauts, I’d have thought you were crazy. Yet, that’s just what I did today.

It’s so painfully easy. I doubt I”ll be buying brauts anytime soon. It is a little time consuming, and does require some advance planning. It’s also a two person job, unless you’re ambidextrous. My dear husband helped this time, despite his dislike for the casings. Not many people probably look forward to handling pig intestines, but they do end up tasty.

Here’s the rundown: You need ground pork (pasture raised, not feedlot), whatever seasonings or add-ins you like, and casings. The pork I found at a local grocery and was on sale for $3.99/lb. I bought three pounds. In hindsight, I wish I’d bought 10. Stuffing sausages is one of those kitchen activities that if you’re going to do, you may as well make a lot. I bought the casings at my local Whole Foods Grocery store. I explained to the butcher that I planned to make about a dozen brauts and he handed me a wrapped package of casings. Between the casings and the pork, I spent less than $20. I seasoned the pork with salt, pepper, garlic powder, sage and a bit of nutmeg. The casings need to soak in cold water for at least 30 minutes (they’re preserved with a lot of salt, which you want to soak out of them). After 30 minutes, rinse water through them as best you can.

To stuff them, I used my Kitchen Aid Mixer with the food grinder/sausage stuffer attachments. We’d been given the grinder attachment with the Kitchen Aid when we got married 18 years ago. The stuffer tube, we just bought from Amazon this week.

Once the grinder/sausage stuffer tube is attached to the mixer, you slide the casings onto the stuffer tube/funnel thing. This can be a bit tricky, so go slow and be patient. You don’t want to tear the casing in your haste to finish this task. Tie off the end of the casing (not the end on the tube). Once the casing is slid up onto the tube, you can turn on the mixer and start pushing the ground pork into the hopper. The mixer will push the meat into the casing and you just need to support it as it extrudes the meat. This is where it would get tricky for one person to do this. With your right hand you need to support the sausage, with your left you need to be pushing the ground meat into the hopper. Instead, I asked my kitchen assistant (AKA husband) for help. He pushed the meat into the mixer’s hopper while I used both hands to guide the sausage and support it. I coiled it onto a plate until we were done. I tied off the ends of the casing, and proceeded to twist the sausages every six inches or so. I am not nimble enough to tie of the casing on each end of each sausage. I just twisted enough that I would have a quarter inch or so of twisted casing between sausages. It was here that I cut them.  I gently bagged them in a bag and put them in the fridge.

Later, I browned the sausages in a skillet on the stove, and served them with homemade sauerkraut and roasted potatoes. One of the tastiest meals I’ve ever made! It required some work, but both my husband and I had fun learning something new and the sausages were so different than we buy at the grocery store! My son said he’d never eat another store bought sausage again. The big lesson we learned was that it would not be much more work to make 10+ pounds worth of sausages than to make three pounds. If you’re going to be doing the mixing, handling the casings, and stuffing, you may as well make a bunch and freeze them or feed a large group. Next time, we plan to do ten or twenty pounds of pork and have sausages in the freezer for months.

The benefits of weeds

The benefits of weeds

Plantain-the perfect weed to find after being stung by a bee! Pick some plantain leaves, pop them in your mouth. Chew them up, but do not swallow. After they are masticated and wet, spit the leaves into your hand. Spread generously over the sting site. The plantain will ease the pain and reduce swelling.

What have you got to share? Rhubarb perhaps?

What have you got to share? Rhubarb perhaps?

Rhubarb Cream Pie PairWe all know the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” Was it Hillary Clinton that was so often quoted as saying that?  Whoever said it first was right. And it takes a village to provide real and traditionally prepared foods to your family. I have learned this year that I am a good baker, a skilled food preserver and have certainly improved my wildcrafting skills. I love to garden, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. Just doesn’t. I’ll keep trying and broadening my experience level. But, if I want to have an abundance of garden fresh produce, I need to find a partner.

I found an organization that simply helps people with items to share connect with others in a similar “pickle”. Ha. Last spring, I really wanted some rhubarb. I’ve been waiting three years to harvest my own rhubarb, and of course, it just didn’t produce this year. I could’ve bought some at the grocery store, for $3/lb. That’s crazy. I could’ve bought some at the farmer’s market (ok, I did buy some there) for $2/lb. While I was considering whether I should just go knock on the door of some distant neighbors with a huge plant in front, I used this website to discover a woman who lived miles away from me with pounds of “surplus” rhubarb. I emailed her and two days later we met at a coffee shop. I brought along six jars of pickled vegetables and she brought 4 lbs of beautiful rhubarb. She took the veg with her and I came home with my stalks. We were both happy.

I chopped up that glorious ruby rhubarb and spread it out in a pie crust lined pan. Mixed up some custard, poured it over and popped that beauty in the oven. An hour later, heaven in a pie pan. Not the prettiest pie ever, but one of the tastiest!!

The recipe for the best pie ever follows, but my point is : Do you have something you could trade in exchange for something you want? It could be a skill or something more tangible. Perhaps you could mow the lawn of your elderly neighbor in exchange for being allowed to pick the apples from her trees? Do you have a coworker with a plum tree? Maybe they bring in the plums, you make jam and split it with them? Get creative. There is so much we can do TOGETHER. Bartering has been a part of our society for hundreds of years. It works. Let’ s get back to it!!

Rhubarb Cream Pie
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Delicious custard surrounds tart rhubarb.
Author:
Recipe type: Baking
Cuisine: Traditional American
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 1 pie crust
  • 4 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 eggs
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¾ tsp nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Place chopped rhubarb in pie shell. In a medium bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add sugar, flour and nutmeg to eggs. Pour evenly over rhubarb, making sure custard fills in the gaps between rhubarb pieces.
  2. Bake at 400 for 45-50 minutes. I set the pie pan on a foil lined cookie sheet to catch any drips.
  3. Allow to cool for at least an hour before slicing. Store leftovers in a refrigerator.

 

A Step In The Right Direction

A Step In The Right Direction

In my mind, “the way things were done” goes hand in hand with the concept of self-suffiency. Many people equate “self-suffiency” with folks who wear tin foil hats, and build bunkers in the woods. I’m not one of those that fears an alien or zombie invasion. I do however, really like to have what I need, when I need it. I also like to extend the reward of working in a garden past the harvest season. Biting into a sweet peach in the middle of a howling storm in March makes all that time spent standing in front of the canning pot well worth it! In my ongoing effort to become more self-reliant, I have changed the way I garden. For the past four years, I’ve focused more on vegetables and fruits than ornamentals, and I have had some successes. My sons love to eat peas fresh from the vine. They sneak out and pick strawberries and blueberries as soon as they are ripe. Carrots have been ok. Unfortunately, our neighbor’s cat seems to have chosen our carrot patch as his favorite litter box. That’s been a bit of a downer. Green beans were another big success. I do not have a large yard, and with two kids, more space is dedicated to play time than to gardening. And that’s a good thing.

Corn

With my two long narrow garden beds and one 3X3 bed, plus some scattered pots, I am growing a lot of food this year. I did clear out one area of the assorted shrubs put in by landscapers years ago, and will convert that space to vegetable bed this week. In that limited space, I am growing: corn, green beans, cucumbers (pickling), blueberries, 5 tomato varieties, four kinds of peppers, two apple trees, pumpkins (the little kind), peas, 8 kinds of lettuce, garlic, miner’s lettuce, carrots, strawberries, raspberries, an olive tree, mint galore, a salmonberry bush, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, comfrey, horehound, sage, sunflowers, borage, calendula, dill, thyme, fennel, salvia, echinacea, chamomile, nasturtiums, marigolds, cilantro, a dwarf orange tree, and lavender. Phew. Some of those plants are new to me this year, and I am not sure they will be mature enough to provide fruit this year. That’s ok. I’m patient.

Many of the herbs and flowers I listed have medicinal qualities that I am curious about. My son loves to pick nasturtium flowers and leaves for our salads and discovered that he likes to eat the petals of the calendula. I plan to use the calendula for making an infused oil for minor scrapes and burns. We love to use the mint leaves in our tea, and I plan to enjoy a mojito or two this summer. I used to buy little “ice cubes” of chopped cilantro at the grocery store. No more. I will make my own with my basil, cilantro, mint and other herbs. Why not?

Medicinal Flowers

While we do not have the space to grow a ton of food, I am confident that we’re moving towards our goal of being reliant more on our selves than others. I will save as many seeds as I can from this year’s harvest and plan to put up the tomatoes, green beans, corn, apples, carrots, cucumbers, and blueberries. I’ll dry the flowers and herbs, or make them into ice cubes. This year’s bounty should be something we can enjoy well into next spring.

With every plant, I am learning something. My children are learning as well. I remember enjoying my dad’s spaghetti sauce and seeing the pride on his face when he explained to guests that the tomatoes came from his own garden. I am now experiencing that same sense of pride and accomplishment. My sons have discovered that while they don’t really like the peas that come in a plastic bag from the store, they do love the ones in our backyard. And they know they can grow them themselves too! What a lesson!

When life gives you apples, make applesauce.

When life gives you apples, make applesauce.

Last week, a friend of my husband’s posted an open invitation to pick apples from a tree in his front yard. My son and I went the next day and within 30 minutes had picked 54 lbs of apples. These were small, green apples. On the drive home, my son ate two apples. He said they were “sweet”, all while his mouth was puckering and his eyes were watering. In fact, they had a strong apple flavor, and were somewhat juicy, but tart. I spent the next afternoon coring and peeling apples. I got one small batch of applesauce made, which my apple-loving son ate within 24 hours. Yesterday, my husband and I spent the whole day working our way through the remaining 50+ lbs of cute little apples. We finished our marathon day with 24 pints of applesauce and 34 half-pints of pectin. Wowza. While I sometimes prefer to can alone, when you’re talking about this much fruit, you really want a partner. My husband and I make a great team, with each of us taking on specific tasks and trusting the other one to do their tasks. He is an excellent student of the peeling/coring device, while I had a knack for adding just the right amount of lemon juice to the cut apples to keep them from browning too much. While you don’t want applesauce that tastes like lemons, it is imperative that you add enough to create an acidic environment for water bath processing.

The beauty of applesauce is that there isn’t really a “recipe”. You make it up as you go. Some people prefer to leave the peels on until after the apples are cooked down, but we use a peeler/corer, so that work gets done in the beginning of the process. The cores and skins go in one pot, the meat of the apple in another. The “leavings” we used for making apple pectin. I’ll detail that process in a separate blog post.

IMG_2635

Makes quick work of apples!

We used large pots for the applesauce, each with about 10 cups of sliced and chopped apples. You can make a small pot of applesauce with just a few apples too. Adjust amounts of sugar and spice as needed. We added a little more lemon juice and a little water, then let the apples cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. When the apples started getting mushy, I added 1 -2 cups of sugar. 75% of my family prefers cinnamon in their applesauce. If you do too, add it with the sugar. Stir regularly, and make sure it doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pot. When the apples have really started to break down and become saucy, it’s time to blend. I prefer to use my immersion blender right in the pot to smooth the sauce. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can certainly use a regular blender, working in batches. Be careful not to overfill the pitcher with hot applesauce, as it will splutter a bit and could hurt you. Blend to the consistency you like.

After blending each batch, we “canned” the applesauce. We used pint jars, and processed each in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. After allowing the processed jars to cool, I wiped removed the bands, wiped each jar and labeled with the name and date. Some of the jars containing the chunkier applesauce leaked a bit of sauce while processing. Therefore, their jars and bands were sticky. At first, I was concerned they hadn’t sealed properly. I tested each jar by picking it up only by the lid, and all six were sealed just fine. My sons are both thrilled that they can have homemade applesauce any time they want it now. I’m hoping it lasts until the main apple season in the fall, when I’m sure we’ll do this all over again!

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Strawberry Vanilla Jam

Strawberry Vanilla Jam

My son has been asking me for weeks to make Strawberry Jam for him. It’s his favorite. He doesn’t like store bought jam, and doesn’t like “chunky” jams. This means that the only jam he really LOVES is my homemade strawberry jam. I made a basic strawberry jam recipe last year, but wanted to up the ante this year. Marisa McClellan’s book “Food In Jars” had just the thing! Strawberry Vanilla Jam. Yessiree, just what the nine year old ordered. I had read this recipe back when I was looking for a Blueberry Vanilla Jam recipe, so it came to mind as soon as I saw strawberries at the fruit stand.

You might be wondering why on earth I’m so eager to use a bunch of vanilla beans, when they’re so friggin’ expensive? Well, last year, my husband read about ordering them online and bought a pound. Yes, a pound of vanilla beans. As a little thank you gift, the company sent along an extra quarter pound of high grade beans. He had purchased the grade B beans, which are the ones most often used in baking. So, for under $30, we have a supply of 1.25 pounds of vanilla beans. The best smelling mail I have ever received!! If you’re interested in stocking up, I can recommend Vanilla Products USA.

Anyway, back to the jam. It’s a pretty basic jam recipe. The vanilla elevates it to a new level…The recipe says it makes four pints. As you can see in the photo below, I got a little more than three. My extra pureeing might explain that. I always prepare an extra jar, just in case. The jar with the white plastic lid went right into the fridge for that day’s lunch.

Strawberries, sugar and Vanilla-Oh my!Mid-Jam Process

Ready to jar!

Strawberry Vanilla Jam
 
An upgrade to your standard Strawberry Jam.
Author:
Recipe type: Fruit Preserves
Ingredients
  • 8 cups chopped strawberries
  • 5 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 vanilla beans, split and scraped (I used 3!)
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 packets of liquid pectin, 3 oz each
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, one cup of sugar and all of the vanilla bean goodness (scrapings and beans). Allow to sit on the counter for 30 or so minutes. At this point, Marissa recommends refrigerating this mixture overnight. If you don't want to do this, even one hour of maceration is better than none.
  2. When you're ready to make the jam, get your water bath started. You'll need four or five one pint jars, with lids ready.
  3. Pour your strawberry mix into a large, nonreactive pot. Add the rest of the sugar (4 cups) and the lemon zest and juice. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil over high heat. You'll need to cook this at a strong boil for 15-20 minutes. After this time, your strawberries will have broken down somewhat, and the jam should have a syrupy consistency. Using tongs, remove the vanilla beans from the pot. I use my immersion blender to puree most of the fruit at this point. You could also transfer some to a blender to puree it, then return it to the pot. If you like your jam thick, puree about one third. If you're like my son and prefer no "chunks" puree more than half.
  4. Add the pectin to the fruit and bring to a rolling boil. You want the mixture to come to 220 degrees and stay there for two minutes. This is a good time to use a candy thermometer. Clip it to the side of your pot and keep an eye on it.
  5. Once the jam has spent two minutes at 220, remove the pot from the heat and ladle the hot jam into your hot jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Wipe the rims with a hot wet cloth, and place the lids on the jars. Screw on the rings. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove to a towel lined cookie sheet, and allow to cool.
  6. You will soon hear the "pop" or "ping" that tells you the jar is sealed. Enjoy!