Sunny Apricot Preserve

Apricot is my husband's absolute favorite.  So when he asked me to make him apricot preserves - how could I refuse! This is a pretty basic recipe but it's virtually fail-proof and the final result comes out absolutely beautiful - plump little apricot rounds suspended in thick orange syrup. According to my better half, it's heaven on a spoon. 

The proportion of fruit and sugar for this recipe is 1 to 1 - 1 kilo of pitted (this is important!) apricots and 1 kilo of sugar. Also for each kilo of fruit you will need 1 cup (250 ml) of water and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (fresh squeezed, not the bottled stuff).  I had 2.2 kilos (5 pounds) of pitted apricots and it came out to 6.5 pints of preserves.  

Directions:

Wash and pit the apricots.  Using paring knife, slice the fruit open along the natural divide and take out the stone.  Don't throw the stones out just yet - we'll get back to them in a bit.  Weigh the pitted fruit to determine how much sugar and water you will need.

In a large thick-bottomed pan (copper is best but you can use whatever you have) prepare base syrup - mix sugar and water and heat on medium flame until sugar is completely dissolved.  You need to keep an eye on it and stir fairly frequently so it doesn't burn. 

Once the syrup is ready, drop (carefully!) the apricot halves in and stir to make sure they are all coated and covered as much as possible (they will float a bit in the beginning and that's fine) and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Turn off the heat and let cool completely, preferably overnight. Since it's made inside and there are no bugs or bees around there is no need to cover it, but if you want to you can throw a dish towel over the pot.  Covering it with a lid will cause steam to condensate and drop back into the preserves and we don't want that to happen. 

While the apricots are cooling, break about a dozen pits - they are pretty tough so you will need a mallet or a hammer.  We are trying to get to the little nuts inside the pits. These have the smell and taste of bitter almonds and can add wonderful amaretto-like notes to your preserves - if you want.  Once you get the nuts (and it's absolutely fine if you smash them a bit), put them in a small container and set aside.  

In a few hours - or the next morning - when your pot and its contents are completely cooled down - turn the heat back on (medium to high) and bring the pot to a boil again, than reduce the heat to low and cook another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn the heat off and let cool completely again.  

The cook/cool method allows the fruit to soak up the syrup and become more stable - if you just cook it all the way right off the bat it will become jam, not whole-fruit preserve.  And that's fine if you want to make jam but we are making the Sunny Apricot this time around. 

Third time is when you really cook your preserve down.  Once again, bring it to a boil on medium to high heat, than reduce to low and cook for at least 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. This is when you will add the lemon juice (and the apricot stone nuts if you want). The liquid should reduce significantly - by about half.  There are two ways I check for syrup thickness - the drop method and the streak method.  The drop method is just what it sounds like - take a small plate and chill it, then drop a little of the syrup on it and let sit for 5 minutes - if the drop doesn't spread and remains plump and round, it's ready.  Streak is even simpler than that - dip a wooden spatula into the syrup so it's coated, and once it's cook to touch, streak your fingertip or a spoon tip through the coating - if you see a clear streak in the syrup, you are done. 


The last round of cooking is the perfect time to prepare your jars.  I use pint-sized Ball mason jars, wide mouth if I have them, but regular work just as well.  Sterilize and dry the jars, lids and bands before decanting the preserves, then process them in boiling water again for 5-10 minutes. Cool upside down.  I don’t know about you, but we never have the patience to wait until ‘later’ and one jar is usually opened right away. 

Have fun making it and enjoy!

No Pectin Strawberry Jam

I have to thank the wonderful Marina Levin for this recipe - it's easy, delicious and pectin-free.  I tried it once and was completely hooked.  Check out Marina's awesome blog Make Meals Mama and you will find a treasure trove of amazing recipes 

https://makemealsmama.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/strawberry-jam-no-pectin/

Makes 8 pints

5 pound of fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered (resulting in about  4.5 pounds)
*note - I had very small farm-picked strawberries and I left them whole, so it gave the jam amasing texture
zest of 4 lemons
juice of 4 lemons
4 cups granulated sugar
2 granny smith apples, peeled and coarsely grated
 
Directions:
 
1. In a large heavy bottomed pot, combine all of the ingredients.
2. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to ensure that the sugar has dissolved. Turn down to medium and let the strawberries gently bubble.
3. Place a small plate into the freezer (Just do it. Trust me, you’re going to need it)
4. Stir occasionally and let the strawberries reduce by about 1/2. This will take almost an hour.
5. Perform a gel test: Remove the plate from the freezer. Place a spoonful of the jam on the plate and return to freezer. Wait 1 to 2 minutes; remove plate from freezer, and gently press jam with fingertip; it should not be runny, it should wrinkle slightly.

For storage I sterilized wide-mouth pint jars, rings and lids, dispensed the jam into still-warm jars, sealed and sterilized again for about 10 minutes.  

Crabapple Jam

Last year my son spent the summer in a sleepaway camp in Pennsilvania.  So to drop him off and pick him up we drove four hours each way through Jersey and PA farmlands and, of course, passed a million farmer's markets.  Now, I'm food shopping addict, and if you let me loose in a farmer's market, you may never see me again.  One particular stop just made my whole summer.  The stand we passed held several beautiful baskets with bright red crabapples. Now to many, these are just a decorative fruit that litters the yard once it's ripe and fallen. To me, crabapples are the fondest and tastiest childhood memories. So it was with enormous glee that I picked up EVERYTHING that lady had on her stand and coudln't wait to get home to start making these preserves. The recipe below is translated from Russian so it's in metrics, but the important thing is to remember the proportion - a one-to-one ratio between the fruit and the sugar and half a cup of water per kilo (or less than a quarter cup per pound) of fruit. 

Ingredients:

1 kilo crabapples

1 kilo sugar

1/2 cup water

Juice from half a lemon

Method

Clean and pick through the apples. Make sure there are no rot spots, etc. Prick each Apple with a toothpick or anything thin and sharp. Put sugar in a pot, add water and bring to a boil on a low heat. Turn off the heat, add apples, stir to cover and let sit for 24 hrs. Next day again bring to a boil on low heat, remove from heat and leave for 24 hrs. On the third day again bring to a boil on low heat and cook for 10-15 min and add lemon juice. Place in sterilized jars, seal, cool and store.

Fig and Honey Jam

Figs weren’t a staple for me growing up.  In fact, I didn’t get to see or try them until I came to live in the States in my early 20-s, but I have to say it was love at first taste.  I’ve grilled them, roasted them, used them in salads, wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed them with blue cheese, but for some reason I never thought of making my own preserves until last summer.

I was working late and on my way to the bus stop I saw a street fruit vendor starting to pack his wares – and he had quite a few of the little plastic baskets of green figs sitting rather sadly on his table.  Something made me stop and look – and he asked if I wanted them.  Long story short, he sold all of them to me for pennies on the dollar – happy, too, because otherwise he’d have to throw them out.  So here I was, on the express bus from Manhattan to Staten Island with almost five pounds of figs and no idea what to do with all of this bounty – I mean, you can only eat so many grilled figs, right?  But after spending about an hour with my good friend Google I had a plan – and this jam was created. As usual I looked at several different recipes and blended them into what seemed the best approach.   It worked very well and now this jam is definitely on the list of things I make every year for seasonal fruits. Another big bonus is that it’s done with honey, not sugar. 

The proportion is very simple, 3-2-1 (for every three cups of figs you need two cups of honey and one cup of walnuts).  Lemon juice cuts through the sweetness and brightens up the fig flavor – you won’t really feel the lemon in the finished preserve but without it the jam would be very one-note.  Also I would recommend using mild-flavored honey, like clover or mix flower variety – anything more pungent like buckwheat or orange blossom may overpower the subtle flavor of figs.

Ingredients

  1. 3 cups of peeled figs, coarsely chopped
  2. 2 cups honey
  3. 1 cup of chopped walnuts
  4. 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

  1. Add figs, honey, and lemon juice to large thick-bottomed saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook until thick; approximately 1 hour, stirring frequently.
  3. Add walnuts and cook an additional 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Pour hot jam into sterilized 1/2 pint jars, put on cap, screw band firmly tight.
  5. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes or as recommended for your altitude.

Usually this quantity produces about 2 pints of jam, maybe a little more (so you can have a taste right away!).

Quince Preserves

One of the fondest childhood memories for me is the markets in August and September, brimming with apples, melons and the favorite fruit of the fall - quince.  My mom loved quince and we always made tons of various quince preserves, from compotes to pie fillings to jams.  So when a good friend of mine had shown up on my doorstep with two bucketfulls of beautiful quince I was absolutely thrilled. We thought about what to make from it and after longn deliberation we decided on the jam.  The recipe I adapted from a 65-year-old Russian cookbook and the final product was incredible! So here you go, read, try and enjoy!

Soak the quince for at least 10 minutes in hot water, than clean with a vegetable brush to remove all fuzz from the fruit. Cut in quarters and remove the seed box, stems, and anything marring the fruit - bruised skin, dark spots, etc. Cut each quarter lengthwise in small strips. You can dice them if you like, strips are my personal preference. I kept the peel on, but if you want you can remove it. If you go that route, tie the peel in a cheesecloth bundle and set aside.

Weigh the cleaned fruit. For each kilogram of quince you will need one kilogram of sugar and one cup of water -- or 3/4 cup if you want the preserve to be very thick.

Place the quince in the pot. I use vintage copper jam pan but nonstick or stainless will work just as well. Add sugar and water - and if you peeled the fruit, throw in the cloth bundle with it into the pot now - and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally. Once you bring it to a boil, cook for an additional 15 minutes, turn off and let cool completely, preferably overnight. Second time again, cook on very low heat, stirring occasionally, bring to a boil and cook for 15-20 minutes. Let cool completely and the third time repeat previous steps but let the preserve cook for an hour to an hour and a half, the syrup should reduce by third. Note that the fruit and the syrup will get progressively darker and redder - that's normal and the finished product will be beautiful deep red. Remove the peel if you used it, add lemon juice or vanilla extract if you like. To me personally, the flavor of quince is strong enough but a little extra oomph doesn't hurt.

Ladle the finished product into clean jars (wide-mouth pint jars work best), cover with lids and sterilize in water bath for 15 minutes. The last step is only for long-time storage. The preserve keeps very well for several weeks without sterilization at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

A friend brought me this amazing vintage copper pot from the old country and that's what I use for all my jams. I swear it makes everything taste that much better!