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Strawberry & Lavender Balsamic Preserves

Summer has flown by— it seems like yesterday we were picking strawberries and remarking on the intense berry perfume rising up from around our feet. But it wasn't and we are picking the last of our blueberries, buying school supplies and getting ready to send Jack off to his first year at Madison. This year, I promised we would pick heaps and heaps of berries and make piles and piles of jam, enough to bathe my tribe of PB&J eating children in jam for months. Well, I happy to report we've done it. My shelves are full of jam and we had enough strawberries left over to allow for a little experimentation on my part. There is something about cheese and fruit chutney (blueberry chutney recipe here and cranberry/quince preserves recipe here) that makes me happy and this year I decided to play around with strawberries.

Will has joined the world of espresso drinkers and his drink of choice this summer was a lavender mocha and it got me thinking about lavender as a food, not bath, product. I love lavender, in the garden, and have tended to steer clear of lavender as a culinary herb until this summer. I was visiting with my garden one evening and noticed my lavender plants were loaded with flowers. If lavender is good in a mocha, it would be fantastic with strawberries, right? I thanked the lavender for its abundant flowers, picked a handful and headed into the kitchen to get started on my strawberry and lavender concoction.

Since I needed a recipe (I'm still a little unsure of myself when it comes to making jams and jellies), I did a quick internet search and stumbled upon a recipe for strawberry preserves with black pepper and balsamic vinegar— the perfect place to start. I monkeyed around with the recipe a little, added lavender flowers and some pectin (a little gel-ing insurance) and it was exactly what I hoped for— sweet, spicy with subtle lavender tones. I'm definitely making this again next year.

Strawberry & Lavender Balsamic Preserves(adapted from Gourmet Magazine June 1997)

8 cups strawberries, washed and trimmed
5 cups white sugar
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup water
3 teaspoons coarsely cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons lavender flowers
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter
1/8 cup Pomona's Pectin

Preparation
Bring the strawberries, lavender and pectin to a boil, add the butter, stir and skim any foam off the surface for about 5 minutes. Add the water, sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, or until thickened. At this point, you can cool completely and it will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a month.

You can also ladle hot chutney into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe rims of the jars, cover with lids, and screw bands on until just barely tight. Place jars on rack in pot and cover completely with water. Cover pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, uncover pot, and allow jars to rest in water for five minutes. Remove jars from pot and allow them to rest undisturbed on countertop for six hours or overnight.

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