Monday, June 7, 2010
To be perfectly honest, I don't really care for this fruit. Though they represent the literal first blush of beloved summer stone fruit, they are always a bit dense and slimy. And I don't particularly enjoy the flavor either. Peaches, plums and nectarines, I love in an obsessively passionate way. But as for apricots, I've never really been a fan.
That said, when these little, orange-hued orbs are bathed in a hot pot of sugar, sugar and more sugar, they become perfectly transformed into succulent and brilliantly flavored jam, quite possibly my favorite variety of all the jams I make.
The recipe is simple, but the flavor is complex...deep, musky and almond scented, in part due to the bitter almonds I toss into the mix. Did you know that almonds are a close cousin of stone fruits? If you've ever seen a raw almond, you'd realize that pretty quickly as they look much like a small, green and hairy apricot. And if you've ever given much consideration to the pits within apricots and peaches, you've probably noticed that they look strikingly like almonds in a shell. Have you ever tried to crack open the pit of an apricot? Inside are "bitter almonds" that when added to your jam, impart a slight almondyness. (A similar effect can be had with a splash of almond extract.)
I almost never use pectin when I'm preserving things. I have nothing against pectin really, I just think of it as a challenge to get things to jell without it. The best way to ensure that your jam will set is to use a combination of ripe and under ripe fruits because the firmer ones have more natural pectin. As your jam approaches readiness, it will begin to sputter a bit and when you stir the pot, you should be able to see the bottom peek through, depending on how large your batch is. You can also place a plate in the freezer and when you want to test if your jam is done, drizzle a bit over the frozen plate. It should set up quickly. A downside of not using boxed pectin, is that your jam will require a bit more sugar. Okay, a lot more sugar. But it's not like we're eating the whole jar in one sitting....or are we?
Put down the spoon and back away from the jam....
I always use my pasta cooker with strainer insert to water bathe smaller batches of jam because my large pot heats up my kitchen so much and takes forever to boil. I can fit about 6 jars at a time in my pasta cooker, so I need to boil the jars in two batches. Alternatively, you can simply invert the newly filled jars on your counter for about ten minutes to seal them. I have never tried this, but Chez Madelaine who wrote Gourmet Preserves recommends this easy method. Good canning tools to have on hand include jar tongs and a funnel which are usually available at your local hardware store.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: about 1 hour and 45 minutes
Yield: 8 half pint jars
4 pounds of apricots, pitted and quartered
7 cups of sugar
3 "bitter almonds" or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Juice from 1 lemon
1.Wash jam jars with hot, soapy water, dry carefully with a clean dishcloth, then place on a baking tray in a 180 degree oven to sterilize. Wash rings and jar tops and set aside.
2. Toss apricots with sugar in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add lemon juice and bitter almonds or extract, and toss well to combine. To remove the bitter almonds from the pits of the apricots, simply crack the pits with a hammer (gently) and remove.
3. Turn stove to high and bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about one hour, or until jam sets when drizzled over a frozen plate. Make sure to skim the foam that rises to the top...save it to drizzle over ice cream. When the jam is done, it will have reduced by about half in the pot, and be sputtering. You may even be able to see the bottom of the pot when you stir. You need to stir frequently during this hour to ensure that the bottom does not scorch.
4. While jam is simmering, fill your pasta pot or hot water canner with water and bring to a boil.
5. When jam is set, remove jars from the oven and wipe rims and lids with vodka. Remove the bitter almonds from the jam. Using the funnel, carefully fill jars with jam, leaving about 1/2 inch head space in each jar. Wipe rims with vodka again to clean off any drips and top with the lids.
6. Screw on the bands loosely and using the tongs, carefully place them in the insert of you pasta pot or water canner. The water in the pot should cover the lids by about 1 inch. Vigorously boil the jars for 12 minutes, remove from water using the tongs and set on a clean dishcloth to cool. Each lid should "ping" and have a tight seal. If a jar doesn't seal, refrigerate after it is cool and eat within 2 weeks. All the sealed jars will last at least a year in your pantry.