Monday, August 24, 2009

Apricot Preserves

I bought about four pounds of pretty little apricots at the farmers market. I don't really like them raw, I think it's a texture thing, they have an off putting pasty consistency. My roommate had a jar of apricot preserves last year, and I fell in love with the almost-candied apricot halves suspended in the jam. 

The recipe I used is a composite based on research, with a little less sugar and a little more lemon. I wanted it saucy and gooey, not gelatinous at all, so I used no pectin.

4 lbs apricots, halved
1 1/3 c sugar
1/4 c water
1/4 c lemon juice 

Filled 3 1/2 Half-pint jars.

Added sugar and water together in a giant enameled pan (I read a straight up aluminum pan will give the fruit a metallic, off taste) over medium heat until it became translucent and a little syrupy.  

Because I wanted that balance of whole fruit in more spreadable jam, I added the fruit in two parts. For the first part, I threw in the halves that were riper and more falley-apartey, since they were just going to turn into mush anyway. I let these simmer, stirring frequently, for quite a while, until all the fruit had changed into a deep, sticky gold mess. 

Especially in the beginning, it created a lot of sweet froth, which I skimmed off into a glass and stirred into my yoghurt the next morning. 

Then I added the second portion, the firmer and less ripe halves. I cooked the mixture for about another half hour, until the thickest bits of apricot had turned color and were almost falling apart.

I smashed open some of the apricot pits with a hammer. The shards of shell are sharp, and fly everywhere, so I covered them with a cloth while hammering to prevent blindness. Inside is a fragrant, bitter little seed which looks exactly like a baby almond. I've heard that 70% of what we taste is smell, and biting into one of these was reminiscent of inhaling almond extract. That's because it contains benzaldehyde, also found in almonds, and used to make cyanide. Some people think it prevents or cures cancer. 

It made me think of the opening line of Love in a Time of Cholera:

 "It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love...[he] had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide." 

From what I read, it's also the secret to apricot jam, giving it a subtle bitterness and flowery fragrance. Over-consumed, they could lead to cyanide toxicity. An average kernel contains only 0.5mg of cyanide, so used sparingly, it's totally safe. 

I grated about four into the bubbling fruit. 

About ten minutes before it was done, I stirred in the strained lemon juice. Some fruit started burning on the bottom of the pan (I blame the sugar, trying to turn into candy), so when I was pouring  it into my sterilized jars, I was careful not to scrape it in since it was an ugly color. I did, though, after all the liquid was gone--it was like apricot candy. 

I sealed the jars and water-bathed them for a little more than ten minutes. 

They're quite strong tasting. I was worried because, since it's late August, most of the fruit I bought was at the peak of sweet ripeness, that the sugar coupled with the long brewing would reduce it to a too-sweet mush, but it's perfect. The extra lemon gave it more bite, and I might use a few more kernels next time. 

No comments:

Post a Comment