Blenheim Apricot Preserves

Blenheim apricot grower par excellence, like Cirone, is back at my local farmers’ market with this year’s crop, which means it’s time to pull out the canning equipment. Yes, the minute the brief apricot season begins, I start thinking about its end and how I will extend the season.

The more I learn about jamming and canning, the more I tinker with my Safta Rachel’s preserve recipe. Not gussying it up with add-ins and such, but revising technique, ratios, and canning process to better capture the honeyed, sweet-tart flavors of these apricots.

Blenheim apricots at farmers' market

I’ve reduced the sugar by a lot since my recipe was first published in the LA Times 15 years ago. In those days, I advocated a half pound of sugar to one pound of fruit, and thought that was pretty brazen, considering tradition calls for a one-to-one ratio.

I lowered the sugar some in the version that appears in The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook, but now I’m down to 2 pounds of sugar (4 cups) to 6 pounds of fruit (5 pounds pitted), or ¾ cup per pound of fruit, which better allows the apricot flavors to shine. Sugar is the preservative here, so I’m not going to go any lower. Sugar also acts as a thickener; in this case apricots, which are naturally pectin-rich, set up just fine with the lower amount of sugar.

After taking a couple of canning classes with Valerie Gordon and Kevin West, author of the brand-new canning book, Saving the Season, I reduced the macerating and cooking times to speed the process and get a much fresher taste. These brave canners also gave me the confidence to “put up,” not freeze, my summer preserves, a project that feeds my inner craftsy-ness.

Click here if you want to read more about Blenheim apricots, my grandma, my dad, and our apricot tree, but skip that earlier jam recipe and use Version 2.5 below. And get going; only two more weeks of Blenheims left….

Blenheim Apricot Preserves Pan

Safta Rachel’s Apricot Preserves, Version 2.5

Cut fruit into a mix of halves and quarters to get a nice, thick jam with lovely large pieces of preserved fruit, which you’ll especially appreciate come winter.

6 pounds apricots
4 cups sugar (2 pounds)
1 lemon, optional

Have tasting spoons close at hand.

Cut apricots in halves and quarters and place in a non-reactive bowl. You’ll have 5 pounds of fruit after pitting. Pour sugar over apricots and give a gentle stir. Don’t worry if things aren’t completely blended. Let the mixture stand at least 1 hour. You can do this the night before; if so, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before cooking.

Scrape the mixture into a wide pot. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often and skimming foam as needed. After about 15 minutes, the jam mixture should have come to a good boil, the foaming will have subsided, and the juices will be shiny and starting to thicken. Reduce the heat to medium-low as you get close to this point to have more control over your jam.

Dip a spoon in and let the mixture flow off the spoon. If some of the mixture clings to the spoon before slipping back into the pan, the jam is done. I find this point is usually reached after about 5 more minutes of cooking (20 minutes total). Or, test for doneness by spooning a bit of jam onto a plate and putting it into the freezer for a few minutes. Run your finger through the mixture. If it stays parted like the Red Sea, the jam is done. Either way, taste the cooling jam for a good sweet-acid balance and add lemon juice to taste.

Ladle the preserves into prepared ½- or 1-pint jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. (I follow Valerie and Kevin’s method of washing jars in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher and then storing the hot jars on a sheet pan in a 200-degree oven until I’m ready to fill them with hot preserves.)  

Here’s a link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s instructions on sealing and processing jam. Store preserves in a cool cupboard up to one year.

If you can’t can for one reason or another, allow the preserves to cool uncovered. When cool, cover, and store the preserves in the refrigerator up to 1 month, or freezer for up to 3 months (you can keep them longer than that, but they won’t be as perky).

Makes about 5 pints.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]