Monday, January 7, 2013

Apricot Jam

The apricot tree in our yard produced fruit for the first time this season.  I was so excited to finally get fruit.  I picked and weighed them to find out the total of the haul - 63 apricots (+12 that fell or were bird eaten) with a total weight of 4kgs.  After sorting the eating from the cooking (mostly just blemishes) , it was about half/half.  

My search began for jars to put the proposed jam into, and a recipe for awesome apricot jam.  I also needed to find out if I could seal the jars myself so that they would keep.  I found that the most recommended method is called a Boiling Water Bath, which does have fancy equipment you can buy but essentially you can do it with any pot that is taller than the jar you are wanting to use.  Likely you would have one in your cupboard.  Obviously the smaller the jars, the easier it will be to find a suitable pot.
I ended up buying Bormioli Rocco Quattro jars because they were the most readily available from a local store.  

I purchased 4 150ml jars @ $4ea and a Starter Set which had 4 250ml jars and 4 500ml jars for $30.  Not exactly cheap, but they are well made and lids are not that expensive to replace.  Let's hope they last many many years.  {I also now know why "homemade jams" are so expensive to buy - most of the cost would be in the jar itself.}

Searching for a recipe was the next step - there were not too many variations.  Most called for somewhere between equal quantities of fruit and sugar down to 3/4 sugar to 1 part fruit.  I didn't want a super sweet jam but I feared cutting too much sugar may mean it would not keep as well (especially once the jar was opened).  I decided on 1 part fruit to 4/5 sugar.  I especially liked that most recipes used lemon and didn't require pectin.  My main sources of recipe inspiration was {here}.
The second decision was whether to include vanilla.  Having not tasted it, I didn't know whether to risk 1kg of my precious fruit in case I didn't like it, but in the end I decided to use a little - the equivalent of one vanilla bean.  Afterall, I love vanilla so surely it couldn't be that bad. Here is the recipe I used:

Apricot and Vanilla Jam
{A.K.A Liquid Gold}
1kg Apricots
800g White Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Essence
1 tsp Vanilla Paste
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (approx 4tbsp)

Method:  Pit the apricots and trim any blemishes, then cut each half into 4 or 5 segments.  Place in a bowl (or saucepan, allowing for double the size) and add half the sugar (400g).

Stir occasionally for about 1hr until the sugar has dissolved into liquid.  Add the rest of the ingredients and place over medium heat. 

Place a small ceramic bowl in the freezer.  Stir occasionally and cook until it bubbles up and creates a foam.  Scoop off any foam (once you do this once it doesn't really make any more but it is just air bubbles that don't taste that great) and continue cooking about 20 mins or until the apricots are broken down and when you spoon a small amount onto the frozen bowl it gels into a jammy consistency within 30 seconds.

Taste it to check too - you may find you need more sugar.  If adding more sugar, you may need to cook a bit longer and may require a little more lemon juice to help it set.  This jam is seriously good!!!

I ended up with a little over 1L of jam, which I divided between the jars - I used the 4 small 150ml jars and a full 250ml jar, with the leftover jam in another 250ml jar which wasn't enough to seal up, so I just placed that jar into the fridge.  This jam should keep about a month in the fridge... I doubt it would be in there that long though.

Sterilizing: While the jam was cooking I used my biggest stockpot (5L) with a folded tea towel in the bottom, to sterilize my jars.  Place the jars on the tea towel (so it is not direct heat and to prevent breakage) and cover with water to about 5cm above the top of the rim of the jars.  Bring to a rolling boil and time for 10 minutes (This is the same method I used to sterilize baby bottles a few years ago).

Carefully remove the jars and drain on paper towel until required (I also dipped the lids into the boiling water for about 30 seconds - I was a bit afraid to leave them longer in case it wrecked the seal).  I found by the time the jars were done, my jam was done too. 

Sealing/Processing: The instructions for the jars tell you to fill them with cooled mixture and bring them up to a boil in the water, however since both the jars and the jam were hot I couldn't see any risk in adding the hot jam into the jars when it was done.  Fill the jars to the recommended level (normally leaving a small amount of space in the top) and tighten the lids how you would normally seal a jar - the recommendation is not to over-tighten.  Carefully place the jars back into the stockpot with the tea towel on the bottom, making sure all the jars are well covered with water.  Bring back to a rolling boil and time for 20 minutes (this was the recommendation for my jars although some recipes say to process for 10 minutes). 

Once the time is up, carefully remove them and let them rest (I placed them on a trivet to cool) and you will hear the lids 'ping' as they cool, indicating the vacuum seal is good (mine took anywhere from less than 2 minutes to about 15 minutes to 'ping').  Label the jars and enjoy later.

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