The inspiration for my Apricot Preserves came from Patricia Wells’ lovely book,The Provence Cookbook. Alas, apricots bloom too early to grow successfully in Texas, so I have to buy them. When fresh apricots first appear in markets, I bring home a big bag of the prettiest ones I can find and make my preserves and the bonus recipes that follow.
Apricots are easy to work with, as they don’t need peeling and the pits are easily removed.
This jam has a much lower percentage of sugar than the usual. I’m not a professional nutritionist, but I can do math and it came up to about 25 calories per tablespoon, as opposed to the 40 to 50 calories for conventional recipes.
Makes 8 half-pint jars
• 4 pounds fresh, ripe apricots
• 2 ½ cups cane sugar
Directions – Day 1:
1. Wash and then cut the apricots in half, following the natural crease. Save out a dozen pits, discard the rest.
2. With a nut cracker, crack open the saved pits to reveal the almond-like nut in the center. *
3. In your jam pot, combine all the apricots, the sugar and the nuts from the pits. Stir to mix in the sugar, pressing or “chopping” with your spoon, then let it rest a few minutes until the juices start and the sugar begins to dissolve.
4. Put the pot on a burner over low-moderate heat. Continue to stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is soupy. Bring to a slow boil, just bubbling but not rising up or foaming. Cook, stirring frequently for an hour. Stir over the entire bottom of the pot to make sure it’s not sticking. I keep a timer with me and set for 10 minutes each time. You’ll see that the apricots are melting into a chunky puree. You can help them break up by pressing them against the side of the pot.
5. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool, then cover. If your jam pot doesn’t have a lid, cover with plastic. My jam pot is pretty big, so I just slip it, after it’s cool, into a plastic bag and tie it closed. Let the jam rest overnight to develop more flavor.
Directions – Day 2:
1. The next day, prepare your jars, lids, funnel and utensils by washing in very hot water or the dishwasher. Fill your waterbath pot and begin heating the water. When the water comes to a boil, dip your clean jars, funnel and ladle in the waterbath to sterilize them. Set them upside down on a clean towel next to the stove.
2. Retrieve the nuts from the jam, counting to make sure you have 12. Put the jam pot back over moderate heat and, slowly stirring to make sure the jam doesn’t stick or scorch, bring the jam back to a low boil.
3. Ladle the jam into the jars, filling to ¼ inch from the top. Wipe the rims if necessary, then put on the lids to seal them. Process in boiling hot water bath for 7 minutes.
Jams keep in the pantry for a year or more, but in a year, you’ll notice that it’s darkening. Use it up, give some as gifts and make more next year.
*Note: On the controversy concerning apricot pits: Yes, they do contain a very small quantity of cyanide. Do not consider cracking them all and eating them as almonds — they taste very bitter and might be hazardous to eat in quantity.
And no, they do not cure cancer. However, a dozen steeped in a whole potful of jam would not be harmful, but does impart a natural almond-like flavor that enhances the apricots.
When I make a full batch of this preserve, I hold back about a third of it in the preserving pan to make this tangy glaze. It goes well on pork, shrimp and chicken.
• 1 quart apricot jam, reserved in the jam pot
• ¼ tsp hot pepper powder such as chipotle, cayenne, or Piment d’Espelette, more in reserve
• 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1. To a quart of preserves, stir in the balsamic, then judiciously add hot pepper powder. I start with ¼ teaspoon. Be cautious — you can add more, but you can’t take it out. Add a little at a time, stir well, then taste.
2. Bring the jam back to a simmer and taste. Pepper gets hotter when you heat it, so a little can go a long way. When the preserve is spicy-hot enough for your taste, pour into jars and process in a water bath the same as the rest of the preserves. Be sure to mark the jars so you know which is which!
3. Brush the glaze on the meat when it’s nearly cooked through and grill, turning until the glaze is set. For shrimp, start with raw. Shrimp should be cooked through but not overcooked.
Years ago, I had the good fortune to be in Provence, the South of France, during apricot season. I yearned for my jam pot, but frequently made this delectable bread pudding .
• Half a day-old baguette, leftover country boule, or other crusty artisan-type bread
• 4 tbsp unsalted butter
• 2 eggs
• ¼ cup sugar
• 2 cups milk
• pinch of salt
• several grates of nutmeg
• 8-10 apricots, cut into quarters, pits removed
• 2-3 Tbsp coarse sugar, such as turbinado
1. Generously butter a 9-inch square baking dish or deep pie plate.
2. Slice the bread about ½ inch thick and butter the slices. Then, cut the slices into cubes. You should have about 6 cups.
3. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the pinch of salt and grate a little nutmeg into the mix. Stir in the milk.
4. Put half the bread cubes into the baking pan and top with half the apricots. Add the rest of the bread on top.
5. Pour the milk mixture over, covering the bread. Push the cubes down into the milk until they’re evenly saturated.
6. Top with the remaining apricots, in a pretty pattern.
7. Sprinkle on the coarse sugar.
8. Bake the pudding at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle is clean.
You can top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream if you wish. It doesn’t really need it.
Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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