Dennis and I picked apricots last weekend, and I’ve been making jam, pie filling, and canning apricot halves. This is a good fruit year for our high desert valley, and all the old apricot trees around town are just loaded. The fruit is small, because these trees are neglected, but it is good.
We picked at three places in Susanville this year: the old, historic Lassen County Jail, the old Superior Court building, and at a private residence. We had picked at the old courthouse and then moved to the old jail and were picking there when a passerby told us about a house that had been foreclosed on a month before which had an apricot tree hanging over into the alley. “I’ve been picking every day,” she said, “but there are just so many! You should come over and pick there.” How nice! We thanked her and said we’d check it out. And we did end up picking a few there because they were easy to get to and nice and ripe.
We had one other interaction with a passerby that was amusing and dismaying at the same time. When we were picking at the old courthouse, a group of three young people, perhaps in their twenties, walked by. One of the young men stopped and asked quite politely, “What is that in that tree?” The fruit was all over the ground, and if you’ve ever eaten an apricot, it was obvious what it was. But I told him, and I told him how good they were. “Huh,” he said, and looked a little mystified, as if the idea of picking food off a tree, as opposed to picking up a package of it in a grocery store, were a new one to him. That might not have been what he was thinking, but I have encountered that sort of perplexed attitude in the young toward foraged food. But just maybe he’d never actually eaten an apricot before.
We came home with about 40 lbs. of apricots. I want to share my apricot jam recipe in hopes that others will be inspired to pick and preserve this abundant fruit. (If you’re not going to make it yourself, I have some for sale to local buyers. You can see all the varieties of jams and jellies for sale at www.gardenforestfield.com/jeanies-jams.)
This recipe was adapted from one in Lisa Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation, a canning book I highly recommend.
3 lbs. of fresh apricots
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
For a small batch, start with 3 lbs. of fresh apricots. This will make about 5 half-pints of jam. If you want to make a larger batch, double everything in the recipe, but make sure you use a larger enough pot to prevent boiling over. Get your jars washed first and heating in your water bath canner while you work on your apricots. The jars should be sterilized for 10 minutes in boiling water before you add the jam and process them, and it takes a while to get a big canner full of water to the boil.
I love making jam with apricots because it is one of the easiest of stone fruits to work with. You don’t have to peel them, and they are freestone, which means the pit doesn’t cling to the flesh but comes away easily when you halve them. So the first step to making apricot jam is to wash, halve, and pit the fruit. Also cut off any dark spots from skin or flesh, because this jam is such a pretty color, you don’t want any dark bits to spoil the look of it. Always cut away any moldy spots from the skin, if there are any. If you find mold inside the fruit, around the pit, discard that piece of fruit, for it will taint your whole batch.
The next step is to dice the fruit. You can do this by hand, but my hands don’t work very well anymore, so I do it in a food processor, pulsing until the fruit is chopped. Don’t puree it. The apricots cook down a lot, so a few bigger pieces are fine.
Put the chopped fruit into a large, stainless steel or enamel-coated or porcelain pot and add 1 ½ cups sugar and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. I usually use freshly squeezed lemon juice, but I have used bottled in a pinch, and it doesn’t seem to change anything, so it’s your choice. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring constantly, then reduce to medium and continue to cook for about 25 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking, but you can walk away from this for a few minutes at a time. As the jam thickens, I start reducing the heat bit by bit so it doesn’t blurp all over me, the wall, the counter, and stove. It really burns if it blurps on your skin, so wearing clean oven mitts while stirring is a good idea.
The trickiest part of making this jam is how to tell when it has cooked enough. Apricot skins contain enough pectin to make a soft-set jam, but it won’t set hard like a jelly. I use the plate in the freezer method to tell if the jam has cooked enough. At the beginning of the cooking time, I put a small plate or saucer into the freezer to chill. When the cooking time has expired, I start testing the jam by dropping a small dab from a spoon onto the chilled plate and putting it back in the freezer for one minute. After that minute, I test the dab of jam by pushing it with my finger. If it feels thickish and has a bit of wrinkle on the surface when it’s pushed, it’s ready. But that’s not the only thing I look for. When jam is ready to jar, it takes on a very glossy look. It thickens, of course, but the glossy surface is a key for me. As you watch the jam cook, stirring it frequently, you’ll see this glossiness develop. The gloss in combination with how it behaves on the plate tells me when jam is ready to go in the jar. Reduce the heat to low and keep the jam at a simmer while you fill the jars.
Fill the sterilized jars with simmering jam to within ¼” of the rim. (Do use a canning funnel and a good ladle. It will make your life so much easier.) As you fill each jar, wipe the rim with a damp cloth or paper towel, and put the flat and ring on, tightening the ring only hand tight. Place the filled jar in the boiling water bath and move on to the next jar. This ensures that your jam doesn’t cool off too much before you start your processing time. When all the jars are full and capped and in the canner’s rack, lower them completely into the boiling water and put the lid on the canner. You should always have enough water in the canner to cover the tops of the jars by at least an inch when they are completely submerged. It will probably take a couple of minutes to bring the water back up to boiling. Don’t start timing until the water is boiling. At sea level, this jam only needs to process for 5 minutes. I add processing time because my elevation is over 4000 feet. Always adjust your processing time for your altitude. There’s a handy altitude chart at https://www.freshpreserving.com/altitude-adjusting.html.
When the processing time is finished, use jar tongs remove the jars to a towel-covered surface to cool and do not touch them until they are completely cool. Don’t push on the lids. You’ll hear pings and pongs as the jars seal, but when they are completely cool, it’s a good idea to remove the rings, wash away any spillage, and test the seal on each jar by prying gently with your fingertips. If the lid didn’t seal, refrigerate that jar and eat it first. If you fill the jars to the correct level and clean the rims thoroughly before adding the flat and ring, you shouldn’t have any problems with failure to seal.
This jam has no commercial pectin or preservatives in it, other than the sugar and lemon juice (both of those are somewhat preservative), so it should be enjoyed within a year or so. It will be good longer than that, but I’ve noticed that mine tends to darken a bit on the surface of the jam after a year. It still tastes fine, but just isn’t as pretty in the jar. I always, always write the date on the top of the jar flat with a Sharpie before I put the jam away.
I hope somebody out there will go pick apricots and make some jam! As for me, I’m on to making pie filling for the freezer, canning apricot halves in light syrup, and dehydrating some halves for quick snacks. I do love apricots!