You think we’re getting apricots this year? Filmishmish! “In apricot season!” As they say in Egypt, slang for “wishful thinking.” Dream on. Thank you, I will. Of course we’re going to get apricots in apricot season, at least locally, if we get them at all. Our season is so fleeting that you might miss an entire year by not haunting the right farmers’ market one week. The farmer who sold me this year’s supply had none last year. Squirrels absconded with them all before he could pick them from the tree. So, as I do with local cherries in June, I sleuth for apricots in July to put up for the pantry.
Plain apricot jam is very useful in cooking since it acts as a base for glazes applied to sweet and savory dishes. However, I tend to preserve so little that I make specialty jams, like the hauntingly aromatic and slightly mysterious Apricot-Lavender Jam of two years ago, or this delicious Apricot-Vanilla Jam, speckled with tiny black vanilla seeds. Or Apricot-Currant Jam that I recently made.
Just as with other stone fruit, especially cherry but also peaches, I crack open the hard pit to reveal a meaty little kernel that’s reminiscent of almonds. In fact, apricot kernels are the basis of the liqueur Amaretto, which comes from the Italian word for bitter, associated with bitter almonds and often thought of as an almond liqueur. The reason for this similarity is that many of these fruits, and some that we call nuts (almonds, walnuts for example) are “drupes” botanically speaking. They consist of a fleshy outer body surrounding a hard shell, inside of which is the kernel. To free the kernel, you need to crack the hard shell, which I do by covering the nuts with cloth and tapping them strategically with a hammer. You don’t want the hard shell shards to fly and you don’t want to pulverize the kernels. The kernels, like unblanched almonds, have a papery brown skin, which is removed by pouring boiling water over them (i.e., blanching them), and then slipping the skin off.
For this jam, much like the sour cherry jam that I made in June, I buried a little muslin bag of lemon seeds, lemon peel and apricot kernels in the apricots first as they macerate and then as they cook. This boosts the pectin that creates gel, allowing you to cook the jam for a little less time than otherwise.
I chopped the almond kernels to a fine dice and added a few to some of the jars just before canning. I also “recycled” the vanilla beans by immersing them with their cousins into a jar of sugar.
2 lb fresh apricots
2 c sugar
½ c water
Juice of 1/2 lemon, pits and peel reserved
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
Rinse and dry the apricots. Quarter them lengthwise, removing the pits. (You can crack open the pits to reveal a flavorful kernel that you can use in this jam, or for another purpose, or discard them. If using them, douse them with boiling water to release the white kernel from its bitter brown skin.) Tie the reserved lemon seeds, peel from about half the lemon and the apricot kernels, if using, into a muslin sack. The lemon pits and peel will release their pectin into the fruit to help the jam gel.
Combine all ingredients, including the sack of seeds, in a bowl and stir well. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans. Let the apricots macerate at room temperature for an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure that the sugar is dissolving.
Add the apricots and their liquid to a saucepan and bring just to a bare simmer. Pour the mixture back into the apricot bowl. Let cool, cover with crinkled parchment paper and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to make the preserves, prepare the canner, jars and lids if you’re going to process them via water bath. Place a saucer into the freezer for testing the gel.
Place the apricot mixture into a wide saucepan, bring to a boil and cook until the temperature approaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer and/or the liquid tests for gel when a drop is placed on the frozen saucer. Do not overcook. Apricots foam a lot so you can add a dab of butter to the pot to control that, or plan on skimming the finished preserves before jarring them. Remove the vanilla bean and sack of seeds. Depending on the firmness of the apricots, the mixture might be smooth or chunky. If you want a smooth jam, use an immersion blender or whisk to break up any chunks.
If you are adding apricot kernels, cut them into tiny pieces and add them to the jam. (I added them only to a couple of jars.)
Ladle into hot prepared jars and cap them. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes
Makes 4 eight-ounce jars or 8 four-ounce jars.