Growing up in Southeast Alaska, I truly don't mind oodles of foggy mornings and endless cloudy afternoons - I'm the freak who is asking for some actual rain once or twice a week. However, I feel like I deserve the fruits (literally) of living in the land of supposed perpetual sun.
Shortly after writing my previous post, I bought some truly fabulous apricots at the farmer's market. The farmer warned me that he only expects to have them through this coming weekend, so after a taste - the best I've had all year - I snatched four pounds of them. I poached one pound right away, with the unlucky specimens that had gotten a little battered on the way home. With the rest of them, I decided to bottle up a little bit of summer.
I've been hearing about Christine Ferber for months, and I think I understand the appeal. I particularly like her method, which I've seen in one or two recipes, of macerating the fruit with sugar overnight, then cooking the syrup alone. The fruit is added for a few minutes at the end, and this keeps the fruit from being limp and overcooked like so many no-pectin jams.
I used that method for these preserves, which are infused with some whole spices and spiked with a bit of almond extract - I was going to use the noyaux, but I am so in the habit of tossing pits that they were in the trash bin before I could think. The result is complex without being identifiable - the almond flavor mingles with the fruit, and there is a slight spiciness from the cinnamon and a lingering touch of nutmeg that I wouldn't be able to name if I hadn't put it in the pot myself.
If I were to change anything, it would be to cook the fruit just one or two minutes more; the preserves are softly set and spreadable, but the apricot skin is just a bit fibrous at times. Also, the temperature is approximate; everyone likes their preserves set differently - also, my digital thermometer broke, and my analog is unreliable at best.
Finally, it's up to you whether or not to process the cans in a boiling water bath. I used to use it more often, but don't always, in part because my mom and grandma never did and in part because the rack in my canning pot is too large for small jars. When I made this batch, all but one of the jars sealed on their own after filling.
Spiced Apricot-Almond Preserves
inspired by Christine Ferber
3 lbs ripe, fragrant apricots (net)
600 g granulated sugar
2 T lemon juice (I used bottled)
1 large cinnamon stick
1 nutmeg seed, crushed into three or four pieces with a mallet, pestle, or knife handle
1/2 t pure almond extract (optional)
Halve and pit the apricots, then quarter the halves. Mix with the sugar, cinnamon stick, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Cover and let macerate overnight.
Drain the syrup through a mesh sieve into a large, heavy-bottomed pot; add the nutmeg pieces and cinnamon, and set aside the fruit. Heat the syrup over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally - lower the heat if it starts to scorch. Heat to about 210ºF, or until it is bubbling almost like caramel and it just sheets from a spoon.
Place a small bowl or saucer in the freezer to chill. Add the fruit to the syrup, mix well, and return to a boil. Taste now - if the spices are strong enough, you may want to remove them. Boil the fruit for 5-10 minutes, until cooked through and set to your taste. Remove pot from the heat and stir in the almond extract, if using. Skim and ladle into hot, freshly cleaned jars.
Seal jars in a boiling water bath, if desired.
Yield: approximately 5 half-pint jars.