How I wish summer would last forever. Even though the weather has ranged from cold rain to high heat over the past 90 days, I haven't minded one bit. This summer has been such a ball, my daughter adored her introduction to the outdoor life, we've traveled near and far, and had no shortage of gorgeous beach days. As far as the food goes, well, that has been wonderful, too. Despite the unfortunate tomato blight, I have managed to find plenty of good ones at the farmers' market. I have also eaten my weight in zucchini, corn and peaches.
I wish I could enjoy this abundance of fresh produce year-round, however, I can't. Unfortunately, the summer harvest in the northeast will be coming to an end soon. The sun will be setting earlier, the days will cool and I'll put the beach bag in winter storage. I will be sad when fall ushers in the winter cold, but it least when it does, I'll have one thing left to remind me of these warm summer days: my homemade apricot jam.
My mother and grandmother have been making apricot jam for as long as I can remember. In fact, it is highly unusual for my mom to buy jam at the store, we have jar upon jar in the cellar. Through experience we have learned that it is best to let the harvest dictate what jam we will make each year. If the peaches are particularly good we will set about making peach basil jam, or, if the strawberries are especially ripe, we'll make a strawberry/raspberry variety. Sometimes we'll just do them all. This year, we were thrilled to discover that our favorite little apricots were perfectly plump and sweet, and decided a fresh batch of apricot jam was in order.
There are three essential elements to making jam: fruit, sugar and pectin. In this recipe, adopted from a Patricia Wells cookbook, we opted to harvest the kernels from the apricot pits to let the natural pectin work in lieu of an additive. We also liked the fact that the kernels imbued the jam with a subtle almond flavor that boosted the natural sweetness of the apricots. Harvesting the kernels may sound like a lot of work, but it is not. I merely asked my brother, Uncle Will, to help out and he set to work with a small hammer. The kernels were out within minutes.
Making jam is really a very simple process, though this version is slightly labor intensive. When I made this last week I stirred the apricots in a giant stockpot/cauldron for an hour straight - easily the best upper arm workout ever - until they dissolved into a delicious sugary jam. Once that part was over, it got much easier. The jam sat overnight at room temperature, until I heated it up the next day for one last stir. At that point I removed the kernels, ladled the jam into the jars and sealed them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
The best part about having a dozen jars of fresh apricot jam is that I won't have to suffer through short winter days pining away for fresh fruits. What Amanda and Shauna say is completely true, canning and preserving fruits is the best ways to enjoy seasonal fruits year-round. I know that I, for one, will be grateful that I put in the effort in August, so that I can enjoy summer apricots even when the snow falls outside my window.
ps - I am submitting this to the Under The High Chair Jam Swap '09
Perfect Apricot Jam
adapted from The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells
2 lbs apricots, washed, halved and pitted (reserve the pits)
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 8oz. canning jars with lids and rims*
7 lbs apricots, washed, halved and pitted (reserve the pits)
5 c. sugar
10-12 8oz. canning jars, with lids and rims*
*Sterilize jars, rims and lids by running them through one full cycle of the dishwasher without dish soap.
1. Using a small hammer, or heavy object, crack 35 pits and remove the kernels. Reserve these kernels and discard all remaining pits.
2. In a large stockpot combine apricots, nuts and sugar. Stir the sugar into the apricots and allow pot to sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Then, cook apricots over medium heat for one hour, stirring constantly. As you stir be sure to scrape the bottom so that the apricots don't burn. I find it useful to wear a heatproof glove or mitt to protect my hand or arm from any splattering liquid. By the end of the hour the apricots will dissolve into a deep orange colored puree. Transfer hot liquid to a heatproof bowl and allow to sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
3. After 24 hours have passed, reheat the mixture over medium heat until jam is very thick. I found this only takes about 5-10 minutes. Ladle warm mixture into prepared canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headroom at the top of the jar, and close with lids and rims. Seal jars according to manufacturers instructions. (I usually use the jars that are immersed in a hot water bath to be sealed).
Naptime Recipe Props: Despite the stirring, this is a very easy jam recipe. I love how well the kernels imbued the jam with such a delicious almond like flavor. It is simple and delicious.
Naptime Stopwatch: Though the stirring takes an hour, this jam is relatively easy to prepare over the course of a 24-hour period. I did both parts during my daughter's naptime over two days.
Naptime Reviews: Everyone who has tasted this jam adores it, it is especially good on breakfast breads.