I have 2 small confessions for you. One, I had my first bite of an apricot a few days ago. Two, I didn’t like it. How did I get through my life without trying an apricot? Well, that would be an insanely long story that basically boils down to the fact that me and fruit have always had a tumultuous relationship. Sour fruits like Granny Smith apples, pineapples, blackberries and raspberries have always been perfect pals, but my relationship with other fruits haven’t been so tight. Some of it has to do with the fact that instead of paying me an allowance, my parents decided that it would be better if we sold the pears from our backyard tree door to door. I don’t think my brother and I ever sold a basket to anyone. Being a door-to-door pear salesman was humiliating and not something I’d recommend for other ten year olds. I could also tell you that one summer, my brother and I spent the first few weeks of our vacation picking strawberries for a couple of bucks. We made enough to buy a bag of chips at the farm store and that pretty much wiped out our strawberry picking income for the day. I only started coming around to strawberries 10 years ago and I still pretty much have a strong hatred for pears. But for most of my life, I never really crossed paths with apricots. When I asked my husband what they tasted like, he said “like a bad peach” which isn’t really a ringing apricot endorsement.
So in an effort to ditch all my childhood fruit hang-ups, I thought I’d give apricots a try. I picked up a batch of organic Skaha apricots from a farmer who drives into Vancouver on a regular basis. They looked beautiful – bright orange globes with a gentle blush of pink. I took my first bite and was sorely disappointed. They weren’t juicy or flavourful or interesting in any way. So I hopped onto Twitter to complain and almost everyone said cook the damn things and they’d be wonderful. Luisa, of The Wednesday Chef, even passed me the link to Olga’s blog which had a recipe for apricot jam. Olga uses a recipe from David Tanis’ wonderful book Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys. Lucky me, I had fallen in love with the very same book when I borrowed it from the library and purchased it soon after I returned it, so I felt it was totally fortuitous to try out the recipe myself.
I felt pretty confident making this despite the fact that as David Tanis writes it, it’s more of a story than a cut and dried recipe – but that’s part of the charm of his book. I have made a couple rounds of blackberry jam in my day and like David, I’m all for making small batch jams for breakfast rather than preserving the summer for posterity. I knew I could do this apricot jam thing and perhaps I might give apricots another chance. So I got to work and it was all pretty simple stuff: sugar, fruit and a bit of water. I decided to add a vanilla bean since I figured these babies needed all the help they could get. As the jam was simmering away, David notes that things will start to “smell really, really good and look even better”. Uh oh, I was worried because despite my Class A sniffer, I couldn’t smell a damn thing besides the sugar and the vanilla bean. It also just looked like apricots floating in a sugar syrup. Here is where Twitter again came to the rescue. I was told not to panic but to continue giving the jam a bit more heat. So I did, I let the thing simmer briskly for a while longer before turning it down to a low simmer. My jam panic was subsiding and I began to trust in my instincts.
Re-reading David’s “making a little jam” story he says that judging by eye is the key to making this jam and I have to agree. It’s not one of those things that require 20 minutes of heat and an 45 minutes of cool down. This isn’t a science experiment where exact measures and temperatures are required. Making this jam is more of a craft. But don’t worry about it being a complicated process – you’ll get the gist of it soon enough – just trust your gut. And leaning on Twitter also provides some welcoming reassurance.
And how were those boring bland apricots? Delicious! The jam turned out beautifully and the jammy taste is bright, sweet and almost floral. Apricot jam is a win! Seriously, how could you look at all that bright sunshine spread over toast and not be happy in the mornings. It’s completely impossible. Thanks apricots for showing me something new.
A few notes. According to David Tanis, do not be tempted to reduce the sugar as apricots are never sweet enough for jam. Also, this jam tastes best the week it is made, so make up a small batch and enjoy it every morning over toast until it’s gone and share it with friends. It will, however, last for about a month in the fridge.
simple vanilla bean apricot jam
(Adapted from Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys)
2 c organic sugar
2 c organic apricots (about 8 apricots)
1 vanilla bean
Cut apricots in half, removing pits, but leaving the skin on. Place in a large heavy pot and add in sugar. Lightly give the mixture a stir so that the apricots help to moisten the sugar. Place over low heat with a 1/2 cup of water. Scrape the seeds of 1 vanilla bean into the pot, stirring until combined. When the sugar melts, turn up the heat to medium and let it simmer rapidly, scraping off any foam that gathers on top, giving it a stir now and then.
Bring the heat down to low and let it simmer for about 30 – 45 minutes or until the apricots begin to soften and melt. Stir frequently which will help get those fruit a-melting. When the jam coats the back of a spoon and starts to look “right”, you’re there! Remove from heat and let the jam cool down to room temperature. Spoon into jars and refrigerate, or process if you plan on canning this batch.