Apricots bring in the first part of summers, with their deep sunny hue and taste of heaven, before the novelty of the kids’ summer break has evaporated or we have felt oppressed by the heat. Well intentioned I was, expecting to bloom my kitchen full of jam at the start of summer, failing to start midst my temporary disappearance of taste and a raucous cough, cough drops running through my blood, and my taste buds subsequently burned with menthol. The flat of apricots I bought at the farmers’ market were destined for this jam, I thought just as that cough ramped up. I realized my sense of taste had disappeared when those luscious apricots were all but texture and juice in my mouth. A travesty, I couldn’t even enjoy eating them raw. Ack!
Into the freezer they went. After I ate about 5 pounds of them anyway. Because apricots.
Post-freezer and post-cough (mostly), I finally did a small batch jam. It wasn’t enough to distribute to friends at work like the plum-cardamom jam, but enough to conjure up the memory of color and summer.
Flicking the noisy, slow June bugs from the back patio screen after a summer dusk was a favorite activity as a child. I’d be cool and damp after a bath, a gentle breeze coming in from the outside, still humid and hanging in the air enough to appreciate the cool, clean sheets on my bed those nights. The triumvirate of comfort on a summer night: body bathed, freshly washed sheets, and a clean nightgown. I would settle to sleep so well those nights, remembering the busy day in the sun, catching grasshoppers, picking fresh peas from my parents’ garden, swinging from branches on our willow tree. After living in the house for years, we were lucky and surprised for two summers when the barren apricot tree bore fruit. The branches hung heavy with the fruit, and we could not eat it fast enough without some of it falling to the ground, bruised and attracting flies. It was my first taste of heaven.
Perhaps it is that memory that gives me such fondness for apricots. My kids and husband pause and wrinkle noses when apricots are mentioned in the house, my foisting any on them comes up for naught. But then, I’m not too disappointed. More for me.
When I discovered that magical combination of Earl Grey tea and apricots (see my apricot-earl grey tea pâte de fruit post), I knew I had to eventually try it again in jam. I didn’t overdo the tea in the jam: it’s just enough to perk up and wonder what the extra flavor is with the apricots. Bergamot (“prince’s pear” of Turkish origin), a bitter orange essential for the distinctive flavor in Earl Grey Tea, pairs nicely with many scents, used in perfumes also. Here, it brings out my heaven more, recounting the colors and scents of summers’ past.
Author: story of a kitchen based off of my plum-cardamom jam recipe from Serious Eats)
Recipe type: Dessert
From Kenji's recipe: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/07/easy-homemade-plum-jam-recipe.html
4 pounds fresh, ripe organic apricots, chopped
1½ pounds sugar (depending on how sweet your apricots are, you may need to add more. I tend to like jam more tart.)
1 tablespoon Pomona's Universal pectin (the SureJell and Ball will not work here -- see my notes below)*
1½ tablespoons calcium water (this is in the Pomona pectin box, with instructions on how to make it -- see insert)
⅓ cup + 2 tablespoons strong Earl Grey tea (I used 3 tea bags)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter
Macerate apricots, pectin, and sugar overnight in a large, wide pot.
The next morning, put two or three metal spoons in the freezer.
Cook apricot mixture on medium heat, adding the calcium water. Simmer mixture to soften fruit.
Using a blender or food mill, blend about half of the fruit mixture and put it back into the pot to cook.
Foam will form on the top of the jam mixture. Skim this off with a spoon and set aside (you can discard or save it for smoothies.
Add butter, which also calms the foaming.
Continue to cook, stirring occasionally to prevent bottom scorching, until foaming has subsided, about 15 minutes longer.
While the jam is cooking, get another large pot, fill with water, and heat to boil for processing the jam jars later.
Fill a small saucepan halfway with water and place jar caps (not the screwtop parts) in to warm over heat to almost boiling. This step softens the orange rim of the caps, helping the vacuum seal form.
Add lemon juice and tea concentrate.
Cook while stirring more frequently, until jam is glossy and shiny, about 10 minutes longer.
Kenji's advice to test for doneness, "spoon a small amount of jam onto one of the frozen spoons and return to freezer for 5 minutes. Remove from freezer and check. The jam is ready when it's spreadable, but not runny. Cook until this texture is reached." I've made this jam and the plum-cardamom jam with this method, and it's pretty spot on with testing and the right consistency.
Transfer jam into washed and warm mason jars, filling them to leave ¼ inch to ½ inch headspace. Make sure the jar lips are free of liquid or jam (wipe with clean washcloth, if needed), put on top, and screw on other cap piece to fingertip tightness.
Seal jars and process according to manufacturer's instructions. My instructions were to put sealed jars into a processing pot to immerse each underwater, and boil for 10 minutes. The displacement of the jars may force to remove some water; just make sure they are covered. Remove promptly and allow jars to cool completely, undisturbed on the counter. Listen for the gentle ping of the lids popping into vacuum.
Use when cool. Store for up to a year at room temperature. After opened, store in the fridge for up to about 1 month. Wonderful on toasted bread, with another dose of hot tea to sip.
* Pectin is different from brand to brand. I talked about this in my plum-cardamom jam recipe also. Unless you are pectin expert, don't swap out different pectins in jam recipes -- it won't work. I've tried.