from one generation to the next
When I was a child there was a high yielding apricot tree in our backyard. My Dad was the foodie parent, he was the one who experimented with preserves. I remember his sun dried apricots well. They were black from the sun, but absolutely delicious, no sulphur, no oil, no sweetener. Mum’s part in the process was to put the racks in the full sun first thing in the morning, then watch the sky for rain. Grey clouds sent Mum into a flurry.
Mum played her part reluctantly. She preferred to make simple jams, her formula, equal weights of fruit and sugar plus 2 tablespoons water. My maternal Grandma Bower usually added a handful of apricot kernels to her jam, imparting a subtle bitter almond flavour which I loved.
Tastes have changed over the past 50 years. We prefer our jam less sweet now, and we have also learned that the beauty of some fruits can be enhanced by gentle use of spice or liquor. Using the last of this summer’s apricots, I made jam today. I scraped the seeds from a vanilla bean into the pot and in memory of my Grandma, I also added some apricot kernels.
This jam is seriously good spread with butter on my Irish Soda bread.
1 kilo ripe apricots
600g white sugar
1 vanilla bean
Juice of 1 lemon
Wash the apricots, remove the pips and set aside. Cut each apricot half into eight, put them in a large bowl, then add the sugar and lemon. Stir to coat the fruit.
Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then using the tip of a sharp knife, scrape the seeds into the bowl with the fruit. The vanilla pod can be added to your bottle of homemade vanilla essence.
Using a nutcracker, remove the kernels from 8-10 apricot pips. Blanch the kernels in boiling water, run under cold water and slip the skins off. Separate the kernels segments, then add to the fruit.
Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and allow the fruit to macerate for 2 hours.
Wash 4 X 250g jars with metal lids. Put them in the oven at 120C for 30 minutes to sterilize.
Tip the fruit with the sugar, vanilla and kernels into a large pan, bring to the boil stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to rest for 30 minutes. The jam will continue to cook in its residual heat.
Pour into sterilized bottles and seal immediately. A vacuum will form as the jam cools.