Last summer while working with my friend Kate in Southwest France, I played a curious little game in the name of straightening up the pantry. Kate, like me, is a bit of pack rat and her side pantry is chock full of interesting things – jars of confit, pickled and preserved bits made over the year, miscellaneous cooking equipment, tools of the charcuterie trade and countless jars and lids awaiting something delicious. The challenge becomes when you need to find a jar with a matching lid among the bins of supplies. Good luck. It’s there somewhere but digging through tub after tub to find a mate may take a while. So I lugged everything out to the terrasse and played a game I called “French Country Concentration”. I divided everything into three categories – large, medium, small – jars on one side of the table, lids on the other and went about finding mates. It was an exercise in the Three Little Bears, repeating too big, too small, just right over and over. At the end, any stray jars and lids went right into the recycling bin to continue their journey elsewhere. I may or may not have told Kate that but I didn’t want them kicking around, mucking up the place, no matter how interesting the lidless jar may have been. Instead, I washed everything thoroughly and put them all back together, nestled in their appropriate bins, awaiting some delicious tidbit.
Shortly thereafter, Kate came home from the market with some lovely apricots, fat and rosy nestled in their wooden flat. Over coffee one morning, she said “let’s make confiture.” So we did. The orange-pink hued beauties was pitted and sliced, dumped into a pot with some sugar and bit of lemon juice and left to sit overnight. The next day, we boiled the mixture until it was thickened but still retained that wonderful fresh, tart flavor and ladled them into one of the many now-matched jars. Most went back to the pantry for storage but one was held back for immediate consumption.
And immediately consume I did. I ate that jam every single day for the remainder of my stay on my morning toast and often as an afternoon snack. I simply could not get enough. Full of fresh flavor, tart and slightly chunky, this was unlike anything I’d ever had and miles above any purchased version. It was the essence of apricot on my toast each day and it made me smile with silly happiness. I brought a jar home for my mother as a Christmas present and she inhaled it, asking for more. That was going to be a bit difficult.
While in Budapest earlier this summer, the markets were full of fat rosy apricots and I bought several wondering if Kate was making confiture. I wished I had a kitchen to turn these beauties into jam. But who does that? Go on vacation, make jam and lug the jars several thousand miles home? Well, I probably would but that wasn’t an option. Wait a minute … I did do that but doing it in a friends home, even if it is on foreign soil, is different. This year I had to make do state-side. So I did.
Last weekend, I bought 20 bucks worth of gorgeous apricots and made some jam. I was with Kate in spirit, but followed this recipe for proportions. The whole process stretches out over a few days but is very simple and contains only three ingredients. But one of them has to be very very good. The fruit must always be perfectly ripe and full of flavor. The jam process isn’t going to make mediocre fruit spectatcular; for spectacular results you have to start with spectacular fruit so get your butt down to the farmers market and wait until everything is perfect. I attempted to buy apricots three weeks in a row before I felt they were right. Patience kids, patience.
The first day, combine the quartered apricots, sugar and lemon juice and refrigerate overnight. The goal is to cook the fruit as little as possible to keep that bright fresh flavor and this will help get those juices flowing. The second day, bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar, then refrigerate again overnight. The fruit will break down just a little and that’s ok. Finally, on the last day, bring the mixture back to a boil and simmer until its thickened and at the desired consistency. Now, I like my jam tart, a little loose with chunky bits of fruit – I will absolutely go for a looser texture if it means less cooking time and a fresher flavor. The longer you cook the jam, the more it reduces and the higher your chances of having a “cooked” flavor, which is fine if that’s your preference. I find, for my tastes, this part takes about 20-30 minutes.
Into the jars and a pot of hot water for processing and I ended up with around 11 or so pints. I will give most away but there will always be a secret stash, just for me to last until next summer. My mother called this “Sunshine in a Jar” and it’s good to know it’ll be there when the weather inevitably turns grey and the slow slog of winter begins yet again.
This is a great weekend project and with a good 3-day holiday ahead of us and the tail end of apricots in the market, I say do it now. You will be so happy that you did. If 11-12 pints seems a bit much for you, the recipe can be easily cut in half but the thing is, once you make this, you’ll realize 11 pints isn’t nearly enough. So just do it.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY! No joke. This one pleases me immensely over and over, throughout the year. Everytime I eat a bright orange spoonful on my toast, I’m instantly transported right back to Gascony. It’s a mini vacation in my mind. Not nearly as good as the real thing but you make due.
on this blog four years ago: Buttermilk Pancakes, Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad)
on this blog three years ago: Ginger Peach Hand Pies, Bacon Waffles
on this blog two years ago: Fresh Tomato Tart
on this blog one year ago: Bastille Day BBQ Sunday Lunch – Figgy BBQ Sauce
makes 10-12 pint jars
6 pounds ripe apricots
4 cups sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- Cut the apricots in half, remove the pit and cut into half again.
- In a glass or ceramic bowl, gently combine the apricots, sugar and lemon juice. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, place the apricots and sugar in a large pan and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the fruit starts to break down.
- Turn off the heat, cover and remove from the stove to cool.
- Once cool return to the refrigerator overnight.
- The following day, place a small plate in the freezer, place your jars in a large pot and cover with cold water by 1”.
- Add a splash of vinegar to the water and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes to sterilize then turn off the heat.
- Place the rings and new lids in a small pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat.
- For the jam, bring the pot to a gentle simmer and cook until it sets, about 20-30 minutes. You want the jam to reduce and thicken but don’t cook too much or it will lose that bright, fresh taste.
- To test the jam set, take the plate from the freezer and put a small spoonful of the jam on it. Set it aside for a few minutes then turn the plate upright. If set, the jam will move very slowly and if you run a finger through, it will pucker slightly. If it’s not there, put the plate back in the freezer and continue to simmer until the desired consistency. I actually like my jam a little on the loose side.
- When the jam is at the desired set, remove the jars from the hot water and place upside down on a lint free towel. Do the same with the rings/lids.
- Turn the jars rightside up and ladle the jam into the warm jars, leaving ½” headspace.
- With a slightly damp paper towel, wipe off the jar rims clean.
- Place the lids on the jars and lightly screw on the rings.
- Place the jars back in the waterbath, bring to a boil and set the timer for 10 minutes.
- Carefully remove from the water and place on a kitchen towel or wire rack to dry.
- The jars will begin to ping, a sure sign they’ve sealed. To check, press the center of the lid – if it pops back, it hasn’t sealed and must be stored in the fridge to use immediately. If the jars have sealed, store in a cool dark place at room temperature for up to a year. Probably more if it lasts that long.