I think we can all agree, there are some really bad apricots. Dense and woody, apricots generally remind me of a peaches’ juiceless cousins, requiring roasting with a good pour of honey or simmering in a bottle of wine to render them palatable. If this description rings a bell and you’re lucky enough to live in Northern California or Europe, then you need to meet the Blenheim Apricot. Deep orange, with a green hue and speckles, Blenheims are much smaller than conventional apricots. They’re also infinitely more flavorful – sweet-tart and floral – and juicy, no not quite like a peach, but oozing honey sweetness nonetheless.
I recently bought a case of Blenheims from Guru Ram Das Orchard in Esparto, CA (near Sacramento) via the Berkeley farmer’s market. They sat unattended, save for the six I ate sliced into yogurt daily, for a good week on top of my refrigerator, a perch from which they spread the most intoxicating (elderberry? honey? almond?) smell through my tiny apartment kitchen. Blenheims, I’m told, are sadly being wiped out in California. It’s a crop that once proliferated in the Santa Clara Valley (now called Silicon Valley), but has been overwhelmingly replaced by heartier varieties that ripen earlier and ship more easily, with only a few small family farms still harvesting Blenheims. As if that weren’t enough, the season is short: early summer (now!), and they’re done.
This past weekend, faced with a case of fleeting Blenheims in need of preservation, I dragged up some jam jars and boiled a very very very large pot of water. Jam making should be easy – you’re stewing fruit, sanitizing jars, and then boiling both together. But somehow this weekend I managed to make it impossible by a) covering every counter space in my already tiny kitchen with clutter and b) making jam while also trying to make lunch, do laundry, clean the fridge, and have a conversation. All this to say, I had a bit of a jam making disaster and scorched the bottom of the pot round one, giving my jam a lovely smokey flavor, which my neighbor Greg insisted we could market much like burnt caramel. Round two, I was more attentive, and the jam much better.
Blenheim Apricot Jam
I kept things simple here to let the apricots shine through, but I do find a cinnamon stick and a few smashed cardamon pods are a nice addition to apricots generally if you want something with more warmth. This is a rustic jam, the kind I prefer, with chunks of fruit throughout, instead of a uniform consistency. If you like, you can puree the jam before you jar it, just be sure to bring the puree back to a boil before transferring it to the sanitized jars.
I’ll also say here that I’m by no means a jam expert – it’s honestly been years since I actually jared a batch of jam, though I grew up in a house where jam and jelly making was fixture of summer life. The apricot recipe here is made without pectin because apricots are high enough in natural pectin to “gel” without it, especially the slightly under-ripe fruits. If you can, it’s a good idea to include a mix of nicely ripe apricots for sweetness with a few greener fruits for pectin. The amount of water in your fruit may be different than the amount of water in mine, so be sure to use the cooking times here as a rough guide, and taste and “plate test” (described below) before jarring it!
- 7 pounds (3 kg + 175g) ripe apricots, pitted (about 8 pounds [3kg + 630g] with the pits)*
- 2 cups (500ml) water
- 1 to 2 pounds (454-908g) granulated sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (optional)
- Equipment needed: 10 one cup jam jars with lids (washed thoroughly), a pot large enough to hold the jars submerged in water, clean dish towels, a small pot to hold the lids, and jar tongs to fish jars out of hot water.
*If you like, reserve a few of the pits to add to the finished jam. Almonds and apricots are actually both part of the stone fruit family, and the pit of the apricot is called “noyau” in french. It adds a subtle bitter almond flavor to the finished jam. You’ll need to release the almond-like center of the pit from the hard outer shell – a nutcracker or a hammer works well. Wash the almond pits well and add two to each jam jar before processing.
Combine the pitted apricots and and the water in a large sauce pan. Cook over medium-low heat until the apricots begin to collapse and soften, about 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and rub the seeds into 1 pound of the sugar to distribute. Once the apricots are softened, add the vanilla sugar mixture and the vanilla pod and cook over medium-low heat an additional 20 minutes. At this point, taste for sweetness, keeping in mind that the warm jam will taste sweeter than cold jam will. Add more sugar (up to 1 pound) until the jam tastes sweet to your liking – this will really depend on the sweetness of your fruit and your preference. I like a more tart jam, and used 1 1/2 pounds of sugar total. Return to low heat and cook an additional 10-20 minutes until reduced slightly. Keep a close eye on the pot once you add the sugar, to avoid burning the bottom of the jam. Test the jam for thickness using the “plate test:” spoon a small amount of jam onto a plate and putting the plate in the freezer until it’s cold. Once cold, the jam should be thick enough to spread on bread. If it’s not thick enough, continue cooking over low heat to reduce further. Once thickened, stir in the lemon juice if you like.
When you’re ready to process the jam, have your jam hot and make sure your kitchen counter space is very clean. Place the jars in a large pot and cover with water completely. Bring to a boil and boil 5 minutes, then remove the jars from the water (empty any water in them) and set upright on a clean dishtowel. Don’t discard the hot water as you’ll need it again.
Meanwhile, place the lids and fasteners in a small pot and cover with water – bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Using a spoon or ladle, fill the sanitized jars with the hot jam to about 1 inch below the rim of the jar. At this point, you can add the noyau if you like, two to each jar – see headnote. Using a clean dish towel, wipe the threads of each jar and then, using clean tongs (I boil these too), place a lid and fastener on each jar. Tighten well – keep in mind the jars are hot, so you may need a dish towel here.
Return the jars to the hot water and bring to a boil – boil for 10 minutes and then, using jar tongs, remove the jars from the hot water and set on a towel to cool. As the jars cool, you may here the lids “pop.” Once cool, all lids should be snug – check each by pressing on the lids – any that pop should be refrigerated and used within 2 weeks. Otherwise, store in a cool dark place up to 1 year. If you make a lot of jam, don’t forget to label and date it! Also, if you did add the noyau, you won’t be able to notice the flavor for a few months, and it will intensify some over the course of the year. Enjoy on bread, pancakes, waffles, stirred into plain yogurt, or as a topping for fruit tarts.