We had a visit from my in-laws this week, on their way back from holidaying in France. It’s always lovely to see them, but this time was particularly special – they brought with them 2kg each of beautiful French apricots and plums. So today, my day off, was always going to be about preserving!
I wanted to make some really nice authentic French apricot jam, so this is as simple as it comes – apricots, sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice… and just a little ‘twist’!
- 2kg of French apricots (well, OK, anyone’s apricots will do, I suppose!) not too ripe.
- 2kg of golden caster sugar (as a general rule, I prefer to use the least-refined sugar that I can get away with in any given situation)
- 3 slightly sorry-looking lemons from the fruit bowl (the sorry state is not compulsory, and two nice big fresh juicy lemons will do well here!)
- Half a pint of water
- A couple of tablespoon measures of kirsch (or other eau-de-vie of your preference)
- Generous sized preserving pan, not aluminium
- Enough jam jars to contain your batch. I always wash and sterilise more than I think I’ll need, as it doesn’t do to run out at bottling time!
Obviously you can scale the quantities to suit your apricot supply – they’re very nice convenient multiples! I find 2kg of fruit is a good useful batch size, easily manageable with the equipment I’ve got, and makes enough jam to generously repay the investment in time and effort.
Wash your apricots, then halve them and remove the stones. Don’t throw the stones away just yet! Put all your half apricots into your pan, and add the half pint of water, and bring this to a gentle simmer. Stew the apricots very gently until they’re just soft, and the juice has run.
While your apricots are stewing, take your nutcracker (if you have one) and gently crack about a dozen of the reserved apricot stones. Inside you’ll find the kernels – they look like little almonds, and this is no coincidence, as almonds and apricots are closely related, so closely in fact that you shouldn’t grow apricot and almond trees nearby one another! You can add these to the jars of jam at bottling time (about one per jar), which will infuse a lovely subtle bitter-almond flavour into your jam – this is completely optional, of course, if you can’t be bothered with the faff (or can’t lay your hands on a nutcracker!).
Put your clean jam jars and lids into a cold oven and set it to 150C. Now add the sugar and heat gently until it’s all dissolved – you might find adding it in portions is easier and results in less trauma to the apricot pieces.
Now turn up the heat and boil the jam until it reaches a set. This didn’t seem to take very long at all for me (though I have to admit to being distracted by sorting and cleaning out the *next* batch of jars at this point) and the natural pectin in the apricots seemed to be adequate.
I tested the set using the cold-saucer technique (I often forget to freeze the saucer, so this is my usual approach – placing a saucer on top of a freezer block, the sort you’d use to keep a chill bag cool). I’m not after a firm set for this jam so I was satisfied as soon as I got a bit of a wrinkle on top of the sample. Once it looks like you’re getting there, juice the lemons and stir the juice into the jam. Get the first batch of jars out of the oven ready to go. Finally add the kirsch and stir in briskly.
Now start bottling your jam immediately, using a large-aperture funnel if you have one. If you’re doing this right, you’ll be able to see bubbles rising in your jam as it hits the hot glass of the jam jar.
Fill a small number of jars at a time (2 or 3), don’t forget to add a kernel or two to each jar before adding a wax disk (if you like). Secure the lids down tightly, before getting the next few jars out of the oven.
I was pleased with the yield of this batch, five good big jars with about a half litre capacity, five little mini-kilner-alikes (it would have been six, but one developed an alarming crack during sterilising!), and a cruet-worth for my breakfast over the next few days.
It’s gorgeous jam, too, with the subtle note of the kirsch just evident against the lovely deep rich apricot. The balance of sweet and acid is very pleasing. The set seems to have come out as I wanted – not a firm set, but not runny either, just like a traditional French apricot jam should be!
Now all I want is a crusty baguette, some unsalted butter, and an excuse to really tuck in!
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