Friday, August 18, 2006

Cheese, books, and apricot jam

Today's three good things:

--Daniel (aka Lemony Snickett) Handler's new novel Adverbs, definitely worth getting out of your fine local public library for a fast, fun read,

--Ten-year-old Wisconsin cheddar, sold at Smith Street's new Stinky Bklyn cheese store (and nowhere else in the metropolitan area), especially paired with Mazzola's killer garlic loaf and some of Chestnut's homemade pickles, all waiting to drop into your hot little hands chez Stinky,

--Homemade apricot jam! You can make this, yes you can.

Here's the short version: pit and quarter some apricots, mix them with sugar, let sit for a few hours. Pour fruit into a pot, add lemon juice, bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Pour back in the bowl, let stand again. Boil up a second time, simmer a few minutes until thickened. Pour into clean jars. Let cool, then eat. Simple as that!

What you need: 1 quart box of little ripe fresh apricots (alas, I didn't have a scale to weigh them, and the farm stand was selling them by the quart, not by the pound. But enough to fill two strawberry pint boxes, if you can visualize that); 3/4 to 1 cup sugar, juice of 1 lemon.

If anyone at your local farmers' market is selling Royal Blenheim apricots, you MUST thank them profusely for growing these, buy a lot and make jam. Royal Blenheims (aka Royals or Blenheims) are small, freckly, greenish-orangey-red apricots that ripen from the inside out, so that the outside may not look quite ripe while the inside is pure jammy goodness. Hard to find, since they've mostly been shouldered out by the big, bland, standardized Pattersons (your typical solid-orange supermarket apricot), but they have a fantastically pure, deep apricot taste when cooked and make the best jam by far.

Wash, pit, and quarter the apricots. Put them in a ceramic or glass bowl and stir in the sugar. Put a plate on top and let sit at room temp for several hours, or overnight in the fridge. (Room temp is better, because the sugar dissolves faster.) When the sugar has dissolved and formed a bunch of syrup around the fruit, add the lemon juice and dump the whole thing into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn down the heat when it starts to froth up and make a fuss. Let simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Pour back into bowl, cover and let sit for another few hours. Wander off, go to the library, eat some cheese.

When you are ready to finish the jam, make sure you have 3 clean empty jars available (old jam, honey, or mayo jars work well). My batch made about 2 1/2 cups of jam, so pick your jars accordingly. To make sure the jars are super-clean, run them through the dishwasher or submerge them completely in a deep pot filled with water and boil them for 10 minutes.

Pour the jam mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a gentle boil again. Let simmer for a few minutes, stirring often. When the syrup is still liquid but thicker than it was and the fruit pieces look translucent, start picking up a spoonful of syrup and letting it run off the long side of the spoon. When the drops of syrup run together into one or two sticky-looking drops, it's done (it will thicken up further as it cools). This isn't a hard-gelling jam; it's more like a soft, chunky preserve. Turn off the heat and scoop the hot jam into the jars. Put on the lids and let cool at room temp. When the jars are cold, store in the fridge and eat within a month.

Actual work time on this jam is less than 30 minutes overall, with only one bowl and one pot to rinse out. And it's heaven on toast or stirred into yogurt.

You can, of course, "can" this jam for longer storage, using proper canning (aka Mason or ball) jars, the ones with the two-part lids-- a flat metal circle with a ring of rubbery sealing compound inside the rim and a wide screw-on band. Follow the same instructions for sterilizing the jars, rinsing the lids with boiling water as well just before use. Fill jars with hot jam to within 1/4" of the top. Wipe top rim of jar with a paper towel dipped in boiling water. Drop on lid and tighten band until it is just finger-tight. Return filled jars to pot of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes (this is to ensure a tight seal). Remove jars from water and let cool without disturbing the jars until they are stone cold. Press down in the middle of each lid to make sure it has sealed properly--if the lid pops up and down under your finger, it didn't seal and should be stored in the fridge. Otherwise, sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dry place for several months. Once open, store in the fridge and eat within a month.

Canning jars are sold in most hardware stores and many supermarkets. Half-pint (8 oz/1 cup) jars are the most useful for jam. Remember, you can re-use the jars and the metal screw-on bands, but you must use a brand-new flat lid for each batch. The flat lids can be purchased separately in small packs of a dozen each.

1 comment:

Karen said...

My grandmother used to make jars and jars of apricot jam every summer. Taste of it still brings me back. I'll have to give this a try myself.