Posts Tagged apricots

Apricots vs raspberries vs strawberries

Each time I think I have a favorite jam, another one comes along and bumps it off the list, and this year I’m struggling to decide between three of my favorite summer fruits, strawberries, raspberries and apricots.

I fell in love with strawberry lavender jam when I made it early in the summer (I liked it so much that I made it twice), and then I fell in love with a raspberry lime jam made with fruit from the front yard.

My latest love affair is with apricots, and I haven’t even started thinking about last year’s favorite peach peppercorn jam yet.

I already blogged about the apricot jam I made one evening a couple of weeks ago, and there have been two more micro batches since, an apricot rosemary jam and an attempt to recreate the apricot redcurrant jam we’ve been making every year since we started this can-and-jam adventure. The apricot rosemary has a wonderful taste, and it certainly set like a charm. But it’s a little bit woodier than I would have liked, even though I thought I chopped the rosemary virtually to dust with my sharpest knife. Maybe I need to separate every single bit of stem even more carefully rather than just stripping the leaves off by hand and hoping I did it right, or maybe I need to find another herb.  And after almost burning my first apricot jam of the year, I think we were too cautious with the apricot redcurrant, which is a little runny and not really very redcurranty at all.

(Oh, and my thanks to the cat for again conceding to pose for the picture. Her name is Billie. The spouse complains that she’s getting rather fat, but I promise it’s not from jam.)

Other ventures in a quickfire Saturday morning can-o-rama were a tried and tested apricot lemon chutney (also a little runny), and a peach chutney from Doris and Jilly Cook that was a recommendation from the awesome Food in Jars Facebook feed (and web site). It’s also a little runny, if truth be told. We got impatient, perhaps.

There are so many bloggers/canners/jammers out there, that I really feel pretty insignificant.

And a question:

The blackberry bushes are almost as prolific as the raspberry ones were earlier this year (and the zucchini have got out of hand again). Do we just eat them fresh, or does anyone have a knock-your-socks off blackberry jam recipe to share?

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Jamming a small storm

I think this will be the year of small-scale experiments, partly because canning buddy has all the recipe books and partly because my temporary home has a small kitchen without much in the way of work surface.

But I just can’t go past the farmers’ markets without buying right now, and even I can’t eat all the fresh fruit I buy. Chutney takes time and recipes, so I’m a-jamming.

I started with apricots came first, because apricot jam is one of the easiest jams to make and to set and because apricots have such a scarily short season. The recipe, from a random blog that seemed to be more about computers than about jam, looked like a cinch, even if I was a little suspicious of the fact that she recommended 25 minutes boiling time. But the proportions seemed good, and I loved the idea of cracking apricot kernels with a hammer to get the little apricot almonds out. (It turns out there’s quite an art to this one — a proper whack smashes the kernel to smithereens, while a tap does nothing.)

Let’s just say my jam set like a charm after 10 minutes, and even then I have little streaks of black caramelized sugar where it started sticking to the pan as I looked away to maneuver jars out of their sterilizing water. It made four jars, a respectably small number.

My version of the recipe:

Apricot jam

5 cups stoned and quartered apricots
3-3/4 cups sugar
juice of 1-1/2 lemons
kernels from 8-10 apricots

Allow the first three ingredients to marinate for a couple of hours so the sugar half dissolves and the mixture is pretty liquid. Heat until the sugar dissolves completely, and then at a rolling boil for 10 minutes. Stir like crazy, so it doesn’t stick. Bottle in sterilized jars, with a couple of kernels inside each jar to offer an almondy bitterness.

From there I moved on to a yellow plum jam, because the yellow plums looked so good and because I’ve never made a jam out of yellow plums before. The first few recipes I found online talked about stewing the fruit with water first, and then passing the whole mess through a food mill, which didn’t seem like the way I wanted to go. I don’t add water to jams, I don’t have a food mill and I want texture not puree.

It was time for another experiment:

Yellow plum jam
5 cups yellow plums, stoned and quartered
3-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
juice of 1/2 a lemon
juice of 1 lime (I was out of lemons)

Same method as above. First it foams, then it boils, then it sets, just like that. Seven minutes boiling was plenty. Five might have been enough.

Early tastings:

Apricot jam is awesome. It concentrates the taste of the apricots in a perfect mixture of taste and texture. No formal rating yet, but this one is heading for a four. The caramel streaks are actually quite pretty, even if they are not supposed to be there.

Plum jam really did set, and it’s satisfyingly tart. But I can’t actually taste the ginger, and I can’t actually identify the tartness as plum at all. To make matters worse the plums have melted away to nothing, which leaves something almost like a pulp with skins, rather than a jam with chunks. It looks beautiful though. It will probably rate a 3.

I have lots of cherries to eat my way through too. But the cherry pitter is in a box somewhere with the rest of the stuff I was sure I wouldn’t need this summer. Any ideas of what to cook with cherries that still have pits?

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No fresh fruit: no problem

I dare not think how cold it is outside right now, but it’s a perfect time to be constructive indoors rather than freezing in the real world. The original plan was mango chutney, but it turns out that mangoes only get to Little India in March, so that scotched that one.

So we homed in on dried fruit, which is available at any time, even if the other ingredients might not be at their peak.

First off was a fig onion jam, which we made a couple of years ago, and which goes like a charm with a sharp cheese or a flavorful pate. It takes time — it always takes time to caramelize onions — but it’s worth the wait. I enjoyed watching the onions go from this

to this, with a bit of patient stirring and the addition of some sugar and vinegar.

The recipe came from my trusted Australian book again, and while I really don’t like buying tomatoes in January, sometimes a gal’s got to do what a gal’s got to do. I bought half the quantity I should have, so topped the quantities up with apple, which adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the finished product.

Fig, tomato and caramelized onion jam
1 tbsp olive oil
4 medium onions
2 tbsp white wine vinegar (we used cider vinegar)
1/4 cup sugar
6 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped (we used 3)
2 apples, peeled and chopped (not in the recipe)
3-1/2 cups dried figs, sliced
1/2 cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar

Fry onions til soft, then caramelize with the vinegar and 1/4 cup sugar until medium brown.

Combine tomato (and apple) and figs in a saucepan and simmer until soft — which means it goes from this

to this in 30 minutes or so.

Add the caramelized onions and the rest of the sugar. Heat gently til the sugar is dissolved, then boil til it sets, maybe 15 minutes.

Bottle and water bath for 10 minutes.

Next up was tigress’s chutney with attitude, which is basically an apple chutney with a lot of stuff to give it a kick. We used cherries, apricots and the rest of the figs as dried fruit, and threw in a pretty decent amount of chili and a lot of ginger.

As promised, it’s got a kick.

It tasted pretty good straight out of the jar. And it can only get better.

Starting to worry again. I need help in eating all these jars.

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Missing in action

I had my heart set on making marmalade today, and that symbol of winter preserving would have jibed so well with the blizzard that turned streets into a skating rink this morning. But Seville oranges have not made it to the Toronto market yet, and while you can use other citrus fruit to make a perfectly decent marmalade, I wanted that thick, bitter Seville orange peel for the right sort of thick, bitter slather on toast marmalade.

So I bought lemons instead, because I’ve not made decent preserved lemons for ages, and because I love the way they taste.

And that reminded me how scarily easy preserved lemons are to make. There’s no cooking, no slicing and dicing, just a little measuring, a lot of squeezing and then at least four weeks of patience at the end.

In a break with tradition, I actually cut the lemons in quarters rather than trying to leave them whole, and dipped the cut sides into the salt rather than trying to pack salt into an almost sliced lemon and then trying to force a recalcitrant lemon out of a narrow-necked jar at the end of the preserving session. You can fit more lemons into the jar that way. Now all I need to do is find room in the fridge and remember to turn the jar upside down every few days.

Preserved lemons
(Adapted slightly from “Pickles, Chutneys and Relishes”, a slim Australian number that has yet to let me down.)
6-8 small organic lemons, quartered lengthwise
2 tbsp coarse salt
1 cinammon stick
1 tsp cardamon seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds (I used black)
1 bay leaf (I was flat out of bay leaves, so omitted that one)

Dip the cut side of the lemons into the salt, and then pack tightly into a sterilized jar. Add spices. Pour in lemon juice to cover completely.
Store in the fridge, shaking and turning the jar every few days, for at least 4 weeks.
You use the rind only, sliced to taste, and added to whatever you feel like adding it to. But I admit I save the salty lemon juice too once the lemons are gone. A teaspoon adds a kick to any number of dishes. Ideas welcome.

And while I’m posting, here are a few ratings from the season, just to prove that not all the experiments work.

Strawberry rhubarb jam
We made 10 jars of this baby, but I suspect I gave a lot of them away, and if others are as disappointed as I am, I do apologise. I mean this jam is nice enough, but for me it doesn’t quite come together. The first time we made this it was a strawberry jam, with melted-down rhubarb adding an extra bite. It was yummy. This time the recipe called for macerating the rhubarb overnight before adding strawberries to the mix, and we ended up with little cubes of fairly sweet rhubarb floating in a strawberry-vanilla syrup. Tasty. Not special.
Rating: 3 (out of five)

Apricot cherry jam
A use-up-the-leftovers experiment, where we threw cherries and apricots together to see how they would work. The set is perfect, but sadly that’s where the perfection ends. Again, the taste is nice enough, but there are two tastes, not one. One mouthful is glorious apricot, and the next is slightly chewy cherry. If I close my eyes, I am honestly not sure I would know what I’m eating. That is sad.
I think this is crying out to be turned into thumbprint cookies. It might be better there.
Rating: 2-1/2 (out of five). It gains points for the set, and because the husband loves it. It loses points because I can’t quite figure out what it is.

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It’s all about cranberries

It’s not even the jamming season, and I’ve managed three weeks in a row of creativity, with at least one jackpot, a jam/chutney/marmalade combo that was knock-your-socks off good.

Inspired, I think, by two weeks in a row of a quince-cranberry creation, and by the the latest of my internet blog browsing, I settled for a cranberry, orange, apricot concoction that reads like a preserve and tastes more like a chutney. I tweaked the recipe a little to replace most of the honey with easier to handle sugar and threw in a splash of balsamic vinegar to add a kick. It was an almost-chutney without onions and without much vinegar. Did I mention that it was good?

Cranberry Apricot Marmalade

1 cup orange juice
3 cups fresh cranberries
1 orange, seeded and finely chopped (including peel)
1 tart apple, cored and minced (I peeled it as well)
12 dried apricots, chopped
1/3 cup honey
1 scant cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Splash of balsamic vinegar

Combine orange juice, cranberries and chopped orange and simmer until the cranberries begin to burst.

Add the apple, apricots, honey, sugar and cardamom and cook for approximately 20 minutes, until the orange rinds are tender and the chutney has thickened. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar, for the sheer hell of it.

Bottle in sterilized jars.

Waterbath for 10 minutes if you feel so inclined.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Even fresh out of the jar, this was a relish to die for. I served it with barely grilled organic salmon, dusted with curry powder and salt and pepper, along with barely steamed green beans, braised with butter and garlic, and the lemony sweet potato salad/side dish from a while back. There were four of us, and we just about polished off the jar as well as hoovering up all the salmon, most of the beans and almost all the sweet potatoes.

I don’t think I’m going to be giving many of these away.

Oh, and I also made a few more jars of that pink grapefruit marmalade from a couple of weeks back. It’s just so pretty, a  coral red with sliced up bits of pinker peel.

Rating to come.

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This is not a chutney

Instead, let me present today’s result of a semi professional cooking class that I started this fall, a crab quiche with a crumbly all-butter pastry, and I’m damn well going to eat it with a chutney. Besides it gives me an excuse to update an almost dormant blog with some ratings from a summer of canning and jamming, with a few stars and a couple of so-whats. There already were wonderful successes like tomato basil jam, and the peach peppercorn concoction I took to Santa Fe for sharing there. But what about everything else we made?

Here some comments (in alphabetical order, to avoid any semblance of favoritism for the jars that I really liked.)

Apricot lemon chutney: 4 (out of 5)
This was a bit less chunky than last year, perhaps because the apricots were riper and fruitier. It is a glorious yellow orange, with soft lemon rinds adding a welcome tang and enough heft to pair even with the strongest cheese. I’m rather fond of it with with a creamy goat cheese for a lunchtime sandwich, preferably with avocado or arugula too. But it still needs a bit more zip.

Apple onion relish: 2 (out of 5)
It may be too early to judge this one — we only made it a couple of weeks ago — but it strikes me as not quite rewarding the 2-day process. You slice onions wafer thin and salt them, soak them overnight, rinse, squeeze, rinse, repeat, then add the other ingredients, including two sorts of apples at two stages of the cooking process. It’s nice enough, with a five-spice tang. But so many other things are so much better.

Apricot redcurrant jam: 4 (out of 5)
Also a good set and a lovely apricot tang. It loses a point because the redcurrants in our made-up recipe really only add color and not taste.

Crabapple jelly: 2-1/2 (out of 5)
I made two small batches of this one, and while I’ve only tasted one, I also admit to being a little disappointed. There’s something very satisfying about a jam (or jelly) where most of the ingredients were free, gleaned from a crabapple tree by the side of the road. But it’s a little too sweet and a little too solid. Maybe wild crabapples need to be treated differently from the ones you buy in the store.

Crushed tomatoes
I’m not rating these, because they just taste of very nice crushed tomatoes. But I admit I love the idea that I made them, and I know exactly what went into them. I’ve used two jars in two somewhat different soups, and both were good. Depending on how many soups I make, they may even last out the winter. Something to make again, perhaps in larger quantity.

Pickled fruit 2 (out of 5)
I think I threw a few too many things in this one, with allspice berries, dried orange peel, peppercorns, cinnamon and I can’t remember what else. It works in my breakfast cereal when there’s no stewed fruit to add, but it’s not really special enough to make again. It used a mixture of peaches and plums, canned in vinegar-spice-sugar syrup and it’s a bit of a disappointment. But there’s only one jar left, so it can’t be all bad.

Plum ginger jam: 4 (out of 5)
Careful here. I admit I’m critiquing a jam that canning buddy made. Nice taste, nice color, nice set with seriously big chunks of pleasantly crunchy preserved ginger. But ginger fan that I am, I’m somehow not 100 percent sure about those chunks. I’m voting for grated raw ginger next time.

Raspberry redcurrant jam: 3-1/2 (out of 5)
This was a 2009 jam that somehow managed not to get eaten last year. I think we used redcurrant juice with the raspberries, and they added a welcome tartness. But while the taste is knock your socks off awesome, it actually lost points for being too dense. It’s a bit ironic really, after all those complaints about jams running off the plate. But I like a jam that I can spread, not one that I can cut with a knife.

Strawberry gooseberry jam: 4-1/2 (out of 5)
Saving the best for last, and this one reminds me of summer, with the sharpness of the gooseberries combining well with the strawberry sweetness, and probably giving several extra notches of set as well. It’s a nice rich red with a lot of satisfying fruity lumps, but I can’t quite give it the jackpot, perhaps because jammed strawberries have a slightly overdense texture. But I’ll make this one again. It’s too good not to.

Any requests for next year?

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Thirty five jars?

Now I know it’s fresh fruit season and all that, but whatever possessed me to end up with 35 jars (some of them small) after a marathon canning session today? OK, I am only keeping half of them, and OK I expect to give a lot away, but that’s still a lot of jam. But the fruit at the market was so wonderful, it’s the end of the cherry season, and the apricots have taste this year, so I couldn’t resist. Here, in no particular order, is what we made in a 3-1/2 hour session after an early morning trip to the glorious farmers’ market.

1. Apricot lemon chutney.
This is an old favorite from last year, a deliciously sweet-sour concoction from a recipe book I got at Costco last year. It includes softened lemon peel for tang and ginger and cayenne for bite. We notched the spices up a little, with extra ginger and a little extra cayenne and will wait for a month before tasting. From memory, it’s a chutney that goes amazingly well with both meat and fruit. You can almost eat it by itself, straight from the jar.

2. Sour cherry jam. This is a pretty straightforward creation, easy to make (especially when there’s a volunteer to pit the cherries), and relatively quick to set. Simmer cherries with lemon juice, add sugar, simmer, boil hard, add pectin, boil some more, bottle and enjoy. It will work best with yogurt or vanilla ice cream on a hot summer’s day, of which we seem to have many right now.

3. Sweet cherry jam. This was an experiment from the internet, from a link from a seriously enjoyable blog that I’ve been following off-and-on for a while. Tigress in a Jam sets her readers a monthly challenge of making something to follow a particular theme and another blogger, the aptly named Sugarcrafter, offered a recipe last month for an enticing sounding cherry jam with cardamon, cinammon and rum. I mean how can you go wrong with ingredients like that? We didn’t have rum, so threw in cointreau instead, which seemed sensible at the time. No tasting yet. It filled exactly six jars, two of them little giveaway jars.

4. Apricot redcurrant jam. We made this a couple of years ago, throwing in redcurrants at the last minute after an apricot jam declined to set and then failed to recreate it last year by adding too many redcurrants too early and then letting the jam stick to the bottom of the pan. (This did add a caramel taste). So this time we went back to the original, which was a basic apricot jam (apricots, sugar, lemon juice), with a handful of redcurrants thrown in as we took it off the boil. It’s a brilliant orange with little red spots that don’t really show in the picture. I’m looking forward to trying it.

5. And now things got silly. There were loads of sour cherries left, and lots of apricots too, so we just threw them together for an instant experiment. Three cups sour cherries, two cups chopped apricots, a bit of lemon juice, simmer a little, add 4 cups of sugar and boil until it jams. No clue what it will taste like, but the jewel like color is good.

For those in Toronto, jams are available on request. For those outside Toronto, suggestions on what we could have done better are welcome.

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By popular request

I know, I know, I know. It’s several gazillion degrees below freezing here, and that means it’s a long way to the apricot season in this part of the world. But here, by popular request, is the recipe for that yummy apricot lemon chutney. It comes from the Complete Book of Pickling, a $14.99 special at Costco this summer. You know that preserving is hot when even Costco sells the recipe books. Just think. I only have 249 recipes to work my way through from that book.

Interestingly this one works from the get-go, unlike most chutneys which seem to need a month or so to mellow and develop the requisite amount of taste. It goes very well with cheese of all shapes and sizes, and I suspect it would be seriously awesome with fish or chicken too. It really does make me want the apricot season to start.

Moroccan apricot lemon chutney

4 lemons
1tsp ground coriander, 1tsp ground cumin
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
6 cups chopped apricots
1-1/2 cups chopped onions
1 tbsp minced ginger root
2-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp black peper
1 cup white vinegar

Scoop flesh from the lemons and chop the peel into thin strips. Measure out half a cup of rinds, and 1 cup of coarsely chopped flesh.

Simmer lemon rinds with 2 cups of water for 10 minutes until rinds are very soft. Drain off liquid and return rinds to pot.

Roast the spices in a dry pan until they are fragrant and slightly darker in color. Put in preserving kettle, add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil under medium heat, stirring often. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until onions are translucent and mixture reaches a thin, jammy consistency. (Don’t overcook this one. It needs to keep the orange-yellow of apricots and lemons and not boil itself to brown like most chutneys do.)

Bottle in hot jars.

Boil in water bath for another 10 minutes if you feel that way inclined, or if you want to reach all the USDA recommendations.


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More about lemons

I opened a jar of apricot-lemon chutney from the storage shelf this week, and am again pleasantly baffled at the way it tickles the taste buds. It has whole chunks of lemon peel that melt quite pleasantly in the mouth (reminds me of the what the preserved lemons will taste like when I get round to opening the bottle), and it works particularly well with cheese. Nice color too — a rich yellowy apricot orange — unlike the average chutney which is often boiled to brown.  Definitely one to put on the list for next year, although I admit it might taste better with a little more of an add-spice kick.

Memo to self: be brave, buy fresh chili and add generously where appropriate. What’s the worst thing that can happen after all?

Rating: 4 (out of 5). It gets an extra half point for that wonderful lemon taste, loses it again for not quite having enough of a kick.

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