I thought I was finished with apricots but the season just won’t quit. In the midwest they call it a “bumper crop.” I didn’t even know there WAS an apricot tree right outside my bedroom window, and I’ve lived in this house for 10 years. It’s never had so much fruit on it before, but this year it beams bright orange from the moment I open my eyes in the morning. It makes me nervous to see so much free fruit I can’t reach. So I found a way into the garden…
After two disappointing attempts at apricot jam, one of which burned and the other which rendered a deep orange apricot sauce, that I’m sure will be lovely on vanilla ice cream, I started talking to the natives and I finally learned the secret to preserving this fruit.
Not as easy and straight forward as other fruits, the apricot when cooked and stirred will dissolve into a texture-less puree that burns extremely easily. As I mentioned in a previous blog, after burning several pounds of apricots, I began to talk to the women in my village and ask how they made their “marmelata di albicocche” (jellies and jams are all lumped under the term “marmelata”, which we translate as marmalade.)
The secret is never to stir the apricots. Never. You put them in a heavy pot on a low to medium fire, put the sugar and pectin on top and you let them cook. You must never put spoon to mixture. Eventually the sugar melts into the syrup. As the syrup boils and bubbles, you test it every now and then by putting a small amount on a plate and when it cools to a jelly-like consistency, you put it in jars.
What I find so hysterical is that everyone in this village knows you don’t stir apricots! From the cashier at the grocery store to the bank teller to the guy who pumps gas, it’s common knowledge! I would casually mention how I had a humongous sack of apricots and didn’t want to attempt jam again because I’d burned it and they all said “E’ perche l’hai girato!” It’s because you stirred it!
Apparently when they raise kids here they teach them: Don’t talk to strangers, Look both ways before crossing the street, and Don’t stir the apricot jam.
So I got the big pot out again and nervously tried it, resisting the urge to stir or push the apricots down, and they were right: not stirring the apricots renders them whole and plump, swimming in a lovely clear apricot flavored gel. I scooped the jam into jars, eagerly anticipating the bottom of the pan and to my surprise, it was perfectly clean! I’m going to try the same thing with plums next month.
I wonder what else these Tuscans know that they’re not telling me….