Wednesday, 3 December 2014
apricot jam recipe
I make apricot jam every year. There is nothing like homemade apricot jam, have you tried it? It is delicious, like golden summer in a jar. I savour mine all year on my toast until that last precious jar runs out.
Because of the timing of the apricot season it is a tradition that marks for me the last weeks of the year when everything is on fast forward and the lovely slow days of summer holidays beckon. Its always hard to fit a batch of jam into that crazy mix, but its imperative, because I'm away after that and its my only chance for a year of jamminess.
On the weekend I made my annual batch of apricot jam. It was quick and easy and worked beautifully. The jam gods were smiling on me.
I looked at those lovely glowing jars, and I thought about all the people I know who love apricot jam, and the smiles on their face when I gift a jar, and I decided to make another two batches. In my experience small batches work best, I've been burned trying to double or triple up so I don't do it anymore.
So jam making is really not that hard. And if you haven't made jam before then apricot is the perfect place to start. My recipe is cobbled together from a few places, jam recipes are basically half fruit/half sugar. This year I based my quantities and most of the technique on Stephanie Alexander's recipe from the Cooks Companion (here on Nigella's site).
This is how I make it.
1.5kg apricots, quartered, seed and stem removed.
1 cup water
juice from half a lemon, abt 2tbsp
Take the apricots and rip them open to remove the stone and stem, then rip them into smaller pieces. You can do this with a knife but I find it quicker and easier with my hands (that photo above of neatly cut apricots is from another year!).
Put those apricots in a big stock pot. You want a big pot for jam so when it bubbles up it doesn't overflow.
Add the juice of half a lemon, about two tablespoons, and one cup of water. Put the pan on to simmer till the apricots are soft, about twenty minutes.
Meanwhile warm the sugar in a low oven (about 100 degrees celsius) for about ten minutes, till its warm to the touch. You don't have to do this but its a simple step and it keeps the jam from cooling.
Take the stones from about half the apricots and crack them open to reveal the kernels then wrap these kernels in a piece of muslin or light cotton (vintage sheets make a good muslin bag) and throw into the pot. The kernels help impart pectin which is the magic setting ingredient. The lemon juice does this too.
Once the apricots collapse squish them up a bit and add the warm sugar, stirring so it mixes through.
Then turn the heat up to high and bring to a rapid boil. You want your jam really hot so it reaches setting point. This takes about 15-20 minutes. Keep stirring so it doesn't burn on the bottom of the pot. I use the Sally Wise hint about adding a couple of stainless steel forks to the pot to help avoid sticking.
Don't walk away and leave the jam at this point. You do not want to burn your jam!
I test jam set by putting two saucers in the freezer and when I think the jam is set I take one out and smear a bit on a my very cold saucer. Leave for a moment and then run your finger through the jam and if it doesn't flood back in where your finger has been, and if you can sort of push the jam so it wrinkles up then your jam is set. Don't worry if it doesn't seem fully firm when you put it in jars as this process continues as it cools. Keep trying this every few minutes swapping the saucers back into the freezer until you have success.
Checking set is really the only tricky bit in this process, but you get more confident about it as you make more jam. You can also put a tablespoon of jam in a small bowl and put it in the fridge, this should set a bit and show you are on the right track.
I watch the jam as it boils and there is a point where you see the bubbles change texture, they look stronger, more toffee like. The foamy watery layer has died down and you can see the sugars turn glossy.
To sterilise my jars I put them sitting upright in a big stock pot with watering covering, lids off but in the pot as well. Bring them to the boil and boil for at least ten minutes. Its easy to have them on another hotplate as you make your jam so they are ready at the same time. Turn the burner off when they are done and take them out with tongs when you are ready to bottle.
Remove the muslin bag and forks, and jar up the jam while its warm. This helps to seal the jars. I save my jars obsessively all year round, I like the recycling aspect, and I love a mishmash of jars, but you could buy some from a kitchen shop if you wanted them all to match!
Now stand back and admire your beautiful golden orange apricot jam. Perfect on a piece of pane di casa from the local bread shop!