There was always a bit of tension in the kitchen when mamma was making her apricot jam; I can almost hear my papa’ repeating “Try not to make it too runny”. Mamma kept a book of jam recipes with her other cook books which had hand-written notes about the proportion of sugar to fruit for different types of fruit. Her aims were to get the balance of sugar right (not too sweet) and the right “runniness” for different types of fruit. All her jams were not too sweet and perfectly set, except for the apricot jam, which was often able to be poured out of the jar. My father, who ate jam most days for breakfast, often with fresh ricotta, would mutter “It’s the pectin, we need more pectin” (which he would pronounce pec-teen). So they (as my father usually helped her make the jam) would add loads more lemon juice and pips (which contain pectin), but for some reason it remained runny. They even tried pectin in a sachet, which gave the jam a slightly odd taste and was hence banned from the kitchen. When it was particularly runny I used to pour it on thick creamy unsweetened Greek yoghurt. It made a lovely sweet fruit compote, but probably not the best jam.
Mamma hasn’t made apricot jam for years and focusses her efforts on plum jam (which always turned out perfectly). Our apricot tree has been affected by a virus for a couple of years. Papa’ stopped spraying the fruit trees a few years before he passed away and now the nectarine, peach and apricot only make a handful of fruit each year. The apricots are tiny and have a rusty mottled skin. The three plum trees however (one Mariposa and two Santa Rosa) are thriving and this year’s crop promises to be huge with a couple of the branches cracking under the weight of fruit. By the end of January we should have kilos and kilos of fruit, which means a whole lot of jam. Apricots though continue to be my favourite fruit for jam so when a friend sent me a message that her tree was full of unsprayed almost ripe Moorpark apricots, I raced over to pick some off the huge tree in her backyard.
So with about 5 kilos of apricots I had loads for fruit tarts and to stew (I make portions to freeze and eat over summer) as well as to tackle the apricot jam challenge I had set myself. I searched online and liked the look of this recipe. I loved the sound of the addition of the vanilla bean. However it only had one lemon for the whole 1.5 kilos of fruit in the recipe…..the proportions seemed quite different to what I was used to, I am sure more lemons were needed (and I could almost hear my father in the background muttering the words “what about the pectin” …). I followed the recipe but changed the proportions. I had two somewhat unripe lemons that I had picked off the tree at my mother’s and I had prepped 1.1 kg of fruit. That seemed just about right to me.
The recipe is simple but needs a good 3-4 hours. After 25 minutes of rapid boiling the jam thickened beautifully in the pot. I stirred continuously with a wooden spoon as it cooked (not essential but I worry about the fruit catching on the bottom of the pot). The recipe requires you to leave the cooked jam in the pot for a good 30 minutes before pouring into sterilised jars. Now I am not into the science of food, but maybe this extra stage wove some magic as it turned out thick and jammy. The taste is delightful; the vanilla pod in the jam is a stroke of genius. I think it may have even passed my father’s apricot jam runniness test…
marmellata di albicocche con vaniglia
1.1 kg apricots, washed, halved and pitted
800g white sugar
2 lemons, juiced, pips removed and set aside
1 vanilla pod, cut into three and split open
3 medium sized clean jars with lids
Place the apricots, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla in a large heavy bottomed pot. Place the lemon pips (and any pulp remaining in the top of the juicer) in a muslin pocket, tie it up tightly with a piece of long string (I used kitchen string) and pop it in the pot, with the string draping over the edge.
In the meantime, sterilise your jar by popping them in a 100C oven for about twenty minutes.
After a few hours, put the pot on the stove and turn the heat on low, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat on high and boil for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently so the fruit does not catch on the base or burn. Once the mixture thickens (and darkens a bit – but not too much) and becomes jam-like (lift up your wooden spoon and watch how it drips, it should drip quite slowly). Turn off the heat, put on a lid on the pot and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Pour the jam into your prepared jars, placing a piece of vanilla bean in each jar and seal immediately. Once you have opened the jar of jam, store in the fridge.