Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Apricot Jam (and a bulk jamming primer)

Canning en masse feels so old-fashioned. Because it is, I suppose. Like the quilting bee or the barn raising, it's members of a community coming together to do something we couldn't do individually. The harvest comes on its own schedule, and we need to gather the fruit or else it falls to the slugs. Admittedly, my bulk canning results from a good deal on bulk fruit purchasing just as often as from harvesting laden trees, but the sentiment is close enough. And in the case of apricots, the gather-ye-rosebuds metaphor is pretty apt. Even though apricots are a cultivated rather than backyard fruit tree (at least in the Pacific Northwest), the season is painfully short. If you want apricot jam for the winter months, you've got to find some time in that brief window, gather your friends together, and stock up for the year. I'll admit that a stocked pantry isn't as impressive as a quilt or a barn. But again, the sentiment is the same: we can do some amazing things when we come together.

Recently I joined friends (and friends of friends) in canning 80 pounds of apricots. There's something so satisfying about canning that sheer volume of fruit. Especially apricots, so fragrant and golden. But it takes some effort. Having been the veteran of several all day jam sessions (hee!), I'm going to share some hard-learned tips on making these run as smoothly as possible:

1. Make sure you've got all the gear you need. Drag out your biggest pots, and have friends bring more if you don't have enough, especially those with nice heavy bottoms (burning jam is just so disappointing). Buy a 25 lb sack of sugar, bags of lemons, and pre-order your pectin in bulk. We found that it was easiest to have the host pick all this up (well, easiest for those of us who weren't the host). Everyone gave our host a count of their desired jam yield in advance, brought their own jars, and then paid a per-cup price for their share of the fruit, pectin, sugar and lemons.

2. Have jammers come in shifts. There are only so many burners on a stove, so many cutting boards, so much table space. And so many hours that someone wants to work. Staggering your jammers can help things move more smoothly.

3. Get things on the stove right away, with more on deck. Heating massive quantities of jam can take massive amounts of time, so start the pots going as soon as you can. We had our one main pot of jam going, and then had an "on-deck" pot on a lower heat behind it, slowly warming the fruit without any worry of scorching (or need for constant stirring). We also had bowls of sugar and pectin pre-mixed, at the ready as soon as our fruit came to a boil.

4. Write things down so that the math doesn't bite you in the butt. How much fruit was poured in that pot? Does that bowl of sugar have pectin sifted in already? Has lemon juice already been added to that apricot puree? Getting the answer wrong can suck. Especially if you have a lot of hands in the kitchen, labeling will be invaluable. You can lay a slip of paper on top of your bowls of dry ingredients, or write directly on the sides of pots and stainless steel bowls with a grease pencil. (I find writing on cookware somewhat thrilling, in a hope-mom-doesn't-catch me way.)

Apricot Jam
yields about 15 cups of jam

Although I'm loathe to write a product-specific recipe, all pectins behave differently, and have different sugar/acid requirements. I use Pomona, which gels based on a particular proportion of pectin and calcium water. Apricot kernels, the small amond-shaped seed hidden inside the pits, add a subtle bitter almond flavor to the jam (as well as a small amount of cyanide, but they tell me it's not enough to worry). It's best if the jam sits a few months for the kernel flavor to permeate, but it's fine to eat whenever.

12 cups chopped or pureed apricots (about 6 lbs raw fruit)
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup calcium water (see Pomona Pectin package for instruction)
6 cups sugar
3 Tbsp Pomona Pectin

- Sterilize enough jars to hold 15 cups of jam, either in a boiling water bath or your dishwasher.

- Combine the apricots, lemon juice, and calcium water in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to ensure it doesn't scorch.

- In the meanwhile, remove the kernels from the apricot stones. Gently smash the pits with a hammer (not too hard, or you'll smush the kernels). Remove the stones, and save a few dozen of the nicest ones. Drop a couple into each sterilized jar.

- Sift together the sugar and pectin (sift well -- unsifted pectin will clump in the jam). When the apricot mixture comes to a boil, stir in the sugar/pectin mixture, and return to a boil for a few minutes. Pour the jam into sterilized jars, wipe the rims clean, top with boiled lids and finger-tightened rings, and process in a boiling-water bath for 5 minutes (for pints and half-pints). Remove and let cool, and listen for that magic ping to let you know that the lid has sealed. Of course, you can test the lids later (the dimple in the center of the lid will be sucked into concavity by any jar that's properly sealed), but that satisfying sound is not to be missed. The jars will continue to set as they cool.

(many thanks to Alex for these photos -- I was a bit too sticky to be handling a camera that day)


  1. Sounds like a fun day. I think I would have searched out some apricot liqueur and made a night of it too :)

  2. OK, reading this post gave me confidence for upcoming peach canning this weekend! Even though there will only be two sets of hands, we're tackling 20 lb of fruit, not 80!