Monday, August 9, 2010

Delightful apricots - syrup, jam and spicy butter

My lovely sister (and fellow excellent cook) Amy was super duper awesome and picked a ton of apricots for me and even drove all the way down to deliver them.  Did I mention that she's awesome?  Because she is. 

Anyway, now that I have my spacious and lovely kitchen with an enormous stove top, I feel ready to tackle a lot more canning and preserving.  I'm a relative virgin at it - just a handful of batches of peaches and tomatoes under my belt from a few years ago - so this is a fun, new adventure.  We grew up preserving food, but I was always out in the garage facing the enormous heap of fruit, pitting and pitting and pitting until I was cross eyed.  I never really saw the other end of it.  It was a summer tradition to go to my grandparents' house in Utah and come back with crates of ripe apricots to put up.  Lots of memories tied up in that little fruit.  My mom is not a big believer in sugar, so she mostly bottled straight nectar and made fruit leather out it, which we affectionately dubbed boot leather, because if you dry it just a little bit too long that's about how easy it is to chew.
Saturday morning I faced the mounds of fruit and pondered how to tackle them.  I have been wanting this Victorio Food Mill for some time, but was waiting for my birthday at the end of this week.  The fruit, however, was impatient and demanded that I go get one sooner.  It is a very worthwhile gadget and reasonably priced - just over 50 dollars.  You simply pop the pit out, then throw the whole fruit into the hopper on top and crank away and watch the magic.
Good stuff out this chute.  I made so much at once that I couldn't process it quickly enough before it would have browned, so I measured off 8 cup increments, mixed in 6 T. of freshly squeezed lemon juice and poured it into gallon ziplock bags, squeezing out the excess air.  I processed the last of it today (two days later) and it was just fine.
Mucky pulpy waste out of the other end.  No fuss.  No blanching and peeling.  Just perfect sauce.  You can use this for raw tomatoes and several other fruits and vegetables, and there is even a berry screen with holes small enough to catch raspberry seeds.  Clean up takes a few minutes, so this is the sort of thing that you want to set up and crank your way through all of it in one go so that you don't have to tear it down and set it up again.  Money very well spent, in my opinion.
I looooooove my new extra wide 5 burner cooktop.  The middle burner is super big and a veritable bonfire.  It heats up that big pot in no time!  Unfortunately, one batch into my Saturday, the spark module went haywire and was clicking incessantly.  Bah.  So we wound up unplugging it, lighting it manually, and are waiting on a part to come.  Thankfully it is covered under warranty.
First things first:  run all of your jars through the dishwasher.  By the time they're done, you'll be ready to fill them.  You will also need jar tongs, a wide mouth funnel, a magnetic lid lifter (these things all come in a nicely packaged starter kit made by Ball for about 10 bucks), new lids, a canning pot with a rack, a thermometer (for some recipes), long handled wooden spoon, ladle, assorted bowls and measuring cups.  You will also need to start your water bath heating up so that it will be boiling when you're ready to pour your fruit into the jars.
Next, prepare your fruit.  This series of pictures is for apricot jam.  I will post instructions for syrup and butter made from puree at the bottom.  To make jam, choose ripe fruit.  If it's too green, it won't mash well and you may get a bitter cast to your jam.  Discard the pits and quarter the pieces.  Some recipes call for peeling them, but I didn't and it came out just fine.  The fruit I used were quite small and peeling them would have been horrid.
Mash the fruit up with the appropriate amount of lemon juice.  Still chunky is good.  You don't want it pureed.  Stir in the sugar.
I decided that plain apricot jam, while tasty, wasn't quite fulfilling my wildest dreams.  So I cut off a 2 inch piece of vanilla bean, slit it lengthwise, and scraped the seeds out of the pod.  I stirred in the seed paste and also tossed the pod in (to be removed before ladeling into jars).  This addition is a wonderful boost to the flavor and transforms the jam from serviceable to decadent.
Pour the sugar and fruit mixture into a large stockpot.  You want at least as much headspace as the mixture is deep because when it starts boiling it expands rapidly.  It might even suddenly crawl right out of the pot and all over your cooktop.  I wouldn't know that from experience or anything.  Just as it begins to boil, a layer of foam starts to form on top.  Skim it off with a spoon and discard it.  Once you get rid of that, the boiling expansion is far less.
I looked at several recipes.  Some were based on timing, and were in the 20-30 minute range, while others specified a temperature to cook up to - 220 degrees.  I wound up cooking my jam for far longer, more like 45-50 minutes and still never reached that magical 220 degrees.  I did notice that the chunks of apricot tended to get stuck in a big clump around the base of the thermometer so that may have had something to do with it, but the end result is that I noticed the character of the jam changing to a thicker syrup around 205 and took it off then.  The delicious scrapings from the bottom of the pan were plenty thick.  Amy made some and cooked it by time for 25 minutes, and hers was looser and fresher.  I like it both ways.  You'll notice that there's no pectin in these recipes, and I really like the texture that results from letting the fruit's natural pectin do the work.
While your jam is boiling away, put your lids into a shallow pan filled with enough water to cover them.  Bring it to a low simmer.  Do not boil or you'll ruin the rubber and they won't seal.

Using your funnel, fill each jar until there is a 1/4" headspace.  Wipe the rims with a damp cloth.
Grab a lid for each jar with your nifty lid lifter and set in place.  Screw the rings on to just finger tight.

Line your lovely jars up in the water bath rack and lower it in.  Make sure there's enough water to cover the lids by an inch of depth.  Once the water bath gets back up to a full rolling boil, start your timer and process for the specified amount of time.  When the timer rings, use your jar tongs to remove them to a dish towel to cool off.  Within minutes you'll hear the satisfying pop of the lids sealing.
The trio of sauces:  apricot spice syrup, apricot vanilla bean jam, and apricot spice butter.  I modified each of these recipes to suit my own taste.  Without further ado, the abbreviated recipes:

Apricot Spice Syrup

8 cups apricot puree
1/2 cup water
6 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
8 cups of sugar (may reduce this to 6 cups for a lighter tasting syrup)
1/2 t. each cinnamon and ginger
2 inch segment vanilla bean pod, optional

Stir all ingredients together in a large stockpot and bring to a boil.  Boil and stir for 10 minutes, skimming the foam off.  Ladle into prepared jars, leaving 1/4" headspace, wipe rims, place lids and rings, then process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  This will yield about 5 pints.

Apricot Spice Butter

8 cups apricot puree
6 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cups sugar
1 t. each ginger and cinnamon

Simmer over medium low heat in a large pot until reduced by about 2/3 and is thick and syrupy.  Stir often to prevent burning on the bottom.  Ladle into prepared jars, leaving 1/4" headspace, wipe rims, place lids and rings, then process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  This will yield about 4 half pint size jars.

Apricot Vanilla Bean Jam

3 quarts crushed apricots
3 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
9 cups sugar
2 inch segment of vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped

Mix all ingredients together in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Cook rapidly until thick, 25 minutes for a looser set or up to 45 minutes for a thicker set, skimming foam off of the top.  Ladle into prepared jars, leaving 1/4" headspace, wipe rims, place lids and rings, then process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

For further canning reference, I recommend the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving as an excellent all purpose resource.  $6 very well spent.

I feel so domestic.


Quentin said...

In case you were wondering (I'm sure you weren't), the term "boot leather" came about when I took some of the aforementioned "fruit leather" to school (junior high) with my lunch, and it was quickly dubbed boot leather by some of my very mature colleagues. I told Mom about it, and the name stuck.

Nurse Heidi said...

Ha ha ha! No surprise there - junior high kids are so well known for their clever wit!

Amy said...

I've done a little more reading about making jam, and I think I have an explanation for the cooking temperature. Because we are at a higher elevation, I don't think it's possible to get it up to 220 degrees--at least that's what I've been able to gather from some of the sites I've visited.

I'll have to try some jam with vanilla bean. Looks delightful!

BTW--As far as leaving plenty of room for it to boil, I would also recommend not leaving it unattended to go out and water the garden for twenty minutes. If you do end of doing that, however, try and plan your day so that happens right before you have to go to work so your husband can do all of the clean up (including pulling out the stove to mop up the sticky mess underneath it).

Nurse Heidi said...

I *might* have left one of my batches while I took a quick shower and wound up with a thickly burned on layer at the bottom. Doh.

Interesting about the elevation. I've had the same sort of experience with candy making. It seems to take a really really long time to get it past 210.

HappyHobbit said...

Hi - I stumbled randomly onto your blog as I was given a glut of fresh apricots and was looking for a delicious apricot jam recipe and also tips for making jam to start with since I'd never tried to make jam before. I just wanted to say thanks, your recipes and hints gave me lots of good ideas!I loved your idea of adding cinnamon and ginger and vanilla so I did that and it was a huge success.
:-) HappyHobbit from South Australia

Nurse Heidi said...

Hello there! Thank you for commenting - I love to know where my readers come from :). I'm glad that you had good success with these recipes. I am down to my last jar of apricot vanilla bean jam already and it's going to be a long few months until apricot season hits is so delicious!

simoss said...

Looks delicious - can you tell me where you got your jars from? I have been looking everywhere for some as lovely.

Nurse Heidi said...

Honestly, I don't know. I kept buying jars every time I passed by them at the various grocery stores in the area last summer because I did a fair amount of canning. They're either Kerr or Ball brand, I know that much! Sorry that I can't be more helpful.