Posts Tagged apricots

Apricots and lemons

It seems I’ve never blogged about my maybe-favourite chutney, a tasty mix of apricots and lemons that we’ve done at least once a year. But apricots and lemons go surprisingly well together — you use the whole lemon, rind and all, as though it was a marmalade, with heat from ginger and cayenne pepper, or this year from two tiny jalapenos gleaned from the garden.

Relatively quick boil, for chutney. Perhaps a little runny, but goes well with grilled vegetables, omelettes, meat, cheese. Just about anything in fact. I like.

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Moroccan apricot lemon chutney (from The complete book of pickling, by Jennifer MacKenzie)
(I’m not sure what’s Moroccan about this one except perhaps the cumin)

4 organic lemons, peel washed and cut into strips (or chunks in our case) and flesh seeded and roughly chopped
6 cups apricots, roughly chopped
2 cups chopped onions
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
2 small jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, roasted in a dry pan until they darken a little
1-1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cider vinegar

Put all the ingredients into a heavy pot and simmer until nice and thick – about 20-30 minutes. Bottle in sterlized jars.

That was easy.

Except that looking at the recipe just now, I see that we should have boiled the  peels up in water before adding them to the chutney (also like marmalade). It softens the peels, and removes some of the bitterness. I wonder what not boiling them will have done to the finished product.

Oh, and we also made about a dozen jars of apricot jam — half plain apricot, and half with a splash of redcurrant thrown in at the end for pretty pink streaks. Something to remind us of summer.

 

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Crazy colors

When you mix colors, blue paint plus yellow paint turns to green.

So why do blue-purple blueberries and yellow-orange peaches produce a jam that’s almost black, with a hint of purple, while blueberries and orange-red apricots mix to a similar color, although with a slightly redder tinge?

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 And why do they look so similar, yet taste so very different?

The two jams took advantage of early peaches and late apricots in the market today, although both fruits would have been easier to manage if they had been a little riper. But the jams would have been even sweeter then, so maybe not such a good idea.

We started with a peach blueberry jam, from a community farmers’ market web site, which was a pretty basic recipe that told you to simmer up peaches and blueberries, add quite a lot of sugar and boil to a sweetish, fairly dense jam that looks like blueberry jam, and tastes like peach. (Huh?) Paring back the recipe somewhat, we used 1.5 kilos of peaches, which we peeled and chopped roughly, and 3 cups of blueberries, along with something like 4 cups of sugar and the juice of one lemon. (The prep work reminded me how much easier it is to peel peaches when they are ripe, which these were not, so it was a little messy.) But the jam, seven jars of it, is nice, if sweet.

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Next up was peach apricot jam, from Madelaine Bullwinkel’s Gourmet Preserves. It called for 2 pounds of  apricots and one of blueberries, with the juice of one lemon and an amazingly skimpy single cup of sugar. A taste test midway through the boil hinted at a jam that was not sweet enough, even for me, so I cooled it down and threw in another quarter of a cup of sugar before bringing it up to boil again. It set nicely and is pleasantly tart.

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And then there was the stuff that wouldn’t quite fit in the jars, blending the tartness of the apricot-blueberry mix with the sweeter peach version.

We ate it with plain Greek yogurt.

Nice.

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Summer in a jar

I always forget how fast fruit jams. One minute there’s a punnet of apricots, sitting lushly on the counter, then there’s a bubbling, foaming mass of fruit, and minutes later it’s jarred and ready to enjoy. I exaggerate, but not by much.

Apricot jam is the ultimate beginner recipe, an easy-set, easy-make concoction that tastes like summer. And unless you get prime-ripe apricots, apricot jam tastes better than apricot fruit. My only warning: apricot jam is also the only jam I managed to burn (one minute it was bubbling away, and the next it was sticking to the pan). I called it caramelized apricot jam and pretended it was deliberate, but I didn’t give any jars away either.

You can jazz it up too, with the jalapeno we timidly flirted with last year, or with a few apricot kernels for a bitter tang. On a brave day, I’d like to add herbs; thyme perhaps, or maybe rosemary or finely chopped sage. But this weekend we made plain, simple apricot jam, with five kernels to add an almondy tang. There’s some debate in the internet about the safety of apricot kernels, and some talk of using them as a miracle anti cancer drug, along with an equal number of articles saying how stupid that is. But I reckon 5 well-cooked apricot kernels in 10 jars of jam isn’t going to kill anyone. Canning buddy made sure none of her jars contained a kernel, for fear of choking a child.

It’s a pretty, pretty jam, made, like almost all the others this year, from a 3:2:1 ratio, in this case 9 generous cups coarsely chopped apricots, six skimpy cups sugar and the juice of two lemons. Heat until the sugar dissolves, boil hard until it sets (it will foam like mad at the start), pour into sterilized jars and water bath.

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Maybe next weekend I’ll go wild and try again with sage. Or is there another herb that will work better?

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Quality counts

A while back, as I fretted that late frosts could have killed off all the Ontario apricots this year, I made some apricot raspberry jam from a clamshell pack of California apricots. It was early in the jam-making season, and at the time I thought it was pretty good.

Well I opened a jar this week, and admit to deep disappointment. It’s not that it’s bad, but apricot jam is usually one of my favorites, and this one doesn’t cut it. The set and the texture are good, and it’s pleasantly chunky, which is always a good thing. But the taste just isn’t quite there. It’s not as wishy washy as the apricots that it came from in the first place, but if I closed my eyes I am not even sure I would be able to guess what fruit it is, and I can’t taste the raspberry taste at all. The color has morphed from the red and orange that it started as to a dark, rusty orange. No, there’s nothing absolutely wrong with it, but it’s just not that good.

Rating: 2-1/2 (out of 5). Texture good, set good. Taste lacks the wow factor that apricots ought to have.

Luckily there were only 3 jars of it to start with, and I suspect I might even have given one away.

Lesson: good quality fruit makes good quality jam. It’s as simple as that.

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Yellow plums with fennel; coriander-cukes

Our backyard, as anyone who followed our home renovation blog will know, is far too small for us to live on the produce, but we are growing heirloom tomatoes on the third floor deck, as well as a riot of herbs and salad greens at ground level. We had many meals of  lettuce and mustard greens before they decided to go to seed, and the chard is ready for harvest.

But we also have two fennel plants that are trying hard to go to seed rather than to bulb, and Vietnamese coriander that has taken over a large chunk of precious real estate. If I cut back the coriander, can I use that instead of dill in my newest batch of modified bread and butter pickles? And what about fennel flavored jam, given that fennel is like aniseed, and aniseed works with fruit?

So yellow plum fennel jam and coriander cucumber pickles were the two experiments today.

I salted the cukes, a la New York Times recommendation, and then layered them in a jar with biting Vietnamese coriander and  mustard greens before pouring in a vinegar/sugar/peppercorn/coriander/allspice mix. (I’ve been cutting the sugar each time I make these pickles; I’m down to about half of the NY Times recipe by now.)

It will take a day or so to see how well that experiment worked.

Edit: Vietnamese coriander and cukes is perhaps not the most inspired combination. The cucumbers seem to have more burn and bite than actual taste, and I can’t even taste the (also biting) mustard greens I threw in at the last minute. But I have a lot of Vietnamese coriander. There must be some other recipes out there that work.

Rating: 3 (out of 5)
It’s getting better day by day

But let me say that the jam is good. It was bright yellow before I added the finely chopped fennel flowers/buds/baby seeds, and the last minute addition turned it into a delicate yellow-kiwi, with flecks and tiny strands of green, like the saffron strands in a really good risotto. It’s a subtle hint of aniseed in a tart, but very plum-like jam.

My inspiration was Culinaria Eugenius, who took blue zwetschgen plums  and added fennel seeds and slivovic in a jam venture that took 45 minutes to boil down. Mine was a smaller batch and a faster boil, with just 10 minutes rolling boil for a surprisingly firm set. A silly experiment that ended up well.

Yellow plum jam with fennel
3 cups yellow plums, pitted and quartered (I used a quart of fruit, so  just over 3 squished down cups)
2 cups sugar (well, maybe 2-1/4 cups)
juice of one lemon
about 2 tbsp of finely chopped fennel flowers (chopped from my two fennel plants in the hope they will  grow into nice fennel bulbs one day)

Mix fruit, sugar and lemon and let it sit around for an hour or so until the sugar starts to melt. Heat, slowly until the sugar is all dissolved, and then at a rapid boil until it sets. Add the chopped up fennel and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Bottle in sterilized jars. I didn’t bother to water bath. I got just 2-1/2 jars, and they will be just fine by themselves.

My final venture was an attempt to use up last final jalapeno after buying two for last week’s peach jalapeno jam and wimpily only using one of them. I carefully donned rubber gloves to chop the jalapeno, and used it in a rather-runny apricot jalapeno jam. I think the fruit was too ripe, and I made midweek and decided 10 minutes of boiling would be enough. I can’t give you the recipe as I can’t remember the proportions, and the bite seems a little tame. I’ve got to be less wimpy with jalapeno.

But it does look very pretty — a brilliant orange with little flecks of green. The plum fennel venture is on the left.

Aug 3 edit: The apricot jalapeno venture really is rather nice. The main taste is one of apricot, which always was one of my favorite jams, but there’s also a very, very gentle kick. Interestingly, I can’t taste the bitter almond flavor from the apricot kernels at all. Maybe that one takes more time to emerge.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)
It loses a point for being a little too runny to put on bread (which doesn’t matter when I slop it into plain Greek yogurt), but it wins on  taste and color and even for that gentle bite. Maybe I’ll live dangerously and try 1-1/2 jalapenos next time.

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Kicking it up a notch

A while back I made a peach white peppercorn preserve that wowed me with its gentle hint of subtle fire. I tried it again a year later with nectarines and black pepper, and it didn’t quite cut it. But then the peach season rolled around again, and it was time to expermiment.

The main event between times was a short trip to Santa Fe, and its absolutely amazing farmers’ market. The stalls there offered so many different sorts of hot pepper, that my peaches and peppercorns venture seemed sort of tame. So while we redid the white pepper jam because it was so damn good, I voted for something with jalapenos too this time, and because it’s my kitchen when the vote is one-to-one, I win. (Well, if truth be told, canning buddy didn’t actually complain)

I did a bit of internet searching, and rejected everything that used pectin, as well as one recipe that told me to puree the peaches in a food processor before getting the jam under way. (I like chunks in my jam.) But then I blundered into Homesicktexan, who seemed to meet all my peach jalapeno jam criteria, including not proposing an indecently large volume of jam, in case we ended up not liking it.

Here’s what we did, which is close to the recipe in the link, but not quite there because we ran out of peaches, and I wimped out on the jalapeno.

Peach jalapeno jam (based on Homesick Texan’s recipe)
Just over 2 lbs peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
Just under 2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced

Add sugar to peaches and let it sit around for a bit until the sugar is mostly dissolved. (It was a hot day, it took about an hour). Add lemon juice and chopped up jalapeno and boil until it sets. Lisa suggests simmering for 40 minutes; ours was ready in about 20. Bottle in hot jars, water bath, if you are waterbathing sort of person.

It’s a little lemony (that was the only bit of the recipe we didn’t change), and it has a very gentle, very subtle bite.

We’re kicking up the jamming, just one notch.

From there we went to the hugely successful apricot lemon chutney from previous years and to a corn red pepper relish, because the corn has just come into season and I wanted to roast peppers on the new gas stove and try out my  new corn zipper.

First off, let me say the corn zipper works like a charm, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.

The relish seems a little sweet right now, but it might mature.

Corn, pepper, basil relish (adapted, to add fire and remove celery, from The Complete Book of Pickling)
4 chopped, roasted red peppers, skin removed
1-3/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp dill seeds
3 cups cider vinegar
8 cups corn kernels
2 cups chopped onions
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
1/4 cup finely chopped basil (we used a mix of Thai, lemon and regular)

Roast the peppers by putting them directly on the gas burner and turning them round as they sizzle and char. Dunk in cold water, and peel off most of the skin, and then chop them and set aside.

Put all the ingredients except the red pepper and basil in a preserving kettle or heavy saucepan, heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then simmer for 30 minutes or so until it thickens. Add the peppers and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in basil and ladle into hot jars. Water bath for 15 minutes.

Aug 3 edit: It might have been a mistake to crack these open while fresh corn is still in season, but I admit I’m underwhelmed. There’s a nice spice undertone, but the overwhelming taste is sugar and bought canned peppers. No indication of the tender loving care that went into the preparation, and far too much sweetness for me.

Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Not one I’m going to bother to make again unless I tweak the recipe very violently.

And finally, I introduced canning buddy to the keep-in-the-fridge bread-and-butter pickles, making my third venture for this one in just three weeks. I’ve been taking slices into the office with me to kick up my lunch, and I even had a very small pickle sandwich (pickles and a single slice of bread) before today’s horribly hot and humid 64km bike ride. It helped keep me going for 47 of those kilometers and then I heat-stroked/bonked.

Here were the pickles, after their first introduction to the spice/vinegar/dill/garlic mix.

And this was the overall fruits of a morning of pretty intensive labor. Canning buddy is away for a month now, so I need to work out what I want to do solo before she returns.

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Simple small-batch stuff

Last year I discovered the small-batch jam, throwing together the ingredients needed for 2-3 jars and giving the botulism killing waterbath a miss because I knew I’d eat it all up so fast. And it was such fun that I’ve kept the process going this year, even though I’m also back with the bigger-volume madness like last month’s massive raspberry-plus adventure.

The sour cherry vanilla jam I wrote about here was one example of the small-scale stuff, and I riffed on that last week with a  similar cherry-redcurrant venture.  I added a cup of redcurrants instead of one of the apples, and I boosted the sugar too, because I was afraid of too much bite. It set within minutes.

Sour cherry redcurrant jam (based on last week’s recipe that was in turn based on Madelaine Bullwinkle’s Gourmet Preserves)
1 quart pitted sour cherries (I think it came out as 4 cups)
1 chopped, peeled apple
1 cup redcurrants
3 (and a bit) cups sugar

Simmer fruit for 15 minutes until they are soft. Add sugar, in 3-4  batches,  bringing back to a simmer between each lot of sugar and making sure one batch has dissolved before adding the next one.

Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 5 minutes until it sets.

Lovely taste, but a notch too much of a set, and it’s a little sweet. Three cups of sugar would  have been plenty. Maybe even two and a half.

It’s still a cherry jam though. I still suspect that cherries are best enjoyed raw.

So given that the super-short sour cherry season is already over, I moved on to apricots, after finding a farm stand in Niagara that had clearly escaped the apricot eating frost we got earlier this year.

I mixed a couple of recipes, did a lot of guesstimating and ended up with this.

It was actually a three-day recipe, because I chopped the apricots up on Sunday and let them sit with the sugar in the fridge until Tuesday because I didn’t think I had time to cook them up.

And then, of course, I realised that apricot jam takes no time at all to cook. I won’t post a recipe, because it was all a bit hit and miss, but basically I chopped up 2 quarts of apricots, added 3 cups of sugar and the juice of a lemon and a bit and let it sit around for a while. Then today, I cracked open the apricot stones to get the kernels and threw a couple of bitter kernels into each of my five sterilized jars.

Next stage was the boil, which took maybe 5 minutes, because the sugar was more or less melted before I started, and finally I threw in a handful of redcurrants to produce the red streaks we liked so much a few years back.

Curious factoids about apricot jam. It foams like mad at the start, but the foam disappears to produce a clear, apricot-colored jam. Watch it carefully. Apricot jam sets fast. Before you know it, it can burn.

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