I read somewhere that apricots are one of the only fruits that improve in flavor through cooking. I never want to believe such a thing could be true. All winter I indulge on dried apricots and apricot preserves, savoring each bite. When apricot season finally rolls around, after almost months of strawberries and a brief flirtation with cherries, I gladly shell out the $4 a pound for the petite fruit, rushing home like a child to enjoy my treasure.
The thing about apricots is they’re so small. Where as one peach may keep me satisfied, I need 3-4 apricots to do the same. I break open the first fruit, discard the pit and bite. Hmm, a little squishy–I must have picked an over ripe one. The next, firm but flavorless, another dud. After 3 or 4 apricots, I start to realize that cooking fact might have some weight to it. I’ve never enjoyed apricots fresh from the tree, but even the best looking specimens brought home from the greenmarkets never seem to achieve the flavor I expect compared to the jams, pies and crisps.
So this year my approach was to can instead of bite. I’ve never put up apricots before and after three years of canning I’m starting to wonder why. Easiest stone fruit to can EVER. No peeling, cut the fruit in half and the pits practically spring out at you–what’s not to love. Much better than peaches. Oh, we’ll get to my peach war story far enough. I’m still healing. But apricots are so easy: pit, chop and cook.
I could have just made plain apricot preserves–apricots, sugar and pectin. But what fun would that be. I go through enough sugar during the summer as it is, making simple syrups and recipes that prefer sugar to natural sweeteners, so when I can break away, I do, often with a vengeance. My favorite cooking book, that’s actually not a cookbook at all is The Flavor Bible, gifted to me a few Christmases ago by my sister-in-law (you know her as Serif and Spice). It lists practically every food item you can think of, whether it be produce, protein, grain, herb, etc. Then provides you with a handy dandy list of flavor matches. Bolded entries mean excellent pairing and BOLDED CAPS means you’ve hit the Holy Grail of flavor (think strawberry rhubarb). Tonight the Flavor Bible’s wisdom resulted in the pastas of all pastas for dinner–gnocchi in vodka sauce topped with buttery sage wild mushrooms. Another recipe for another day. Tonight we talk dessert.
Honey is my first choice when I can avoid sugar. For canning I stick to mild flavored honey,so as not to overpower the fruit. The Flavor Bible shouted, “Add some vanilla!”. Who am I to argue? I added a little more lemon juice than necessary to draw out the tartness of the apricots so they shone against the mild honey. Whole vanilla beans mellowed the flavors out perfectly. The recipe made just shy of 4 cups, which was perfectly fine with me–3 jars to put up and an almost full jar in the refrigerator to enjoy right now.
Vanilla Honey Apricot Preserves (Makes about 4 cups)
- 1000mg vitamin C (I use 4 250mg tablets)
- 1 qt cold water
- 6 c chopped, pitted apricots (about 2lbs)
- 1 c mild honey
- 6 tsp pectin powder
- 3 vanilla beans, split and scraped
- 1/2 c lemon juice
Crush vitamin C tablets with a mortar and pestle. In a large bowl mix cold water and powdered tablets. Soak fruit in mixture for a few minutes. This anti-browning solution will help keep the fruit vibrant orange through the cook and canning process.
In a large saucepan simmer chopped apricots, lemon juice, vanilla seeds and pods over medium heat, breaking down with a potato masher or back of a wooden spoon, for about 20 minutes. In small bowl, whisk together honey and pectin powder until pectin is dissolved. Stir into apricot mixture along with lemon juice. Continue cooking fruit until it reduces slightly and reaches the jellying stage, about 30 minutes. Remove fruit heat, discard vanilla beans and skim any foam.
Ladle preserves into hot sterile half-pint or 4-oz jelly jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
- Apricot and cardamom jam (thefrugalcook.blogspot.com)
- Apricot Pistachio Thumbprints (kinseycooks.wordpress.com)
- Honey Apricot Cake – Can be Gluten and Dairy Free (sukardessertblog.wordpress.com)
- Apricot & Peach Pecan Crumble (thepinkrosebakery.com)
- Recipe for a Brooklyn Locavore (bklynlocavore.com)
- Balsamic Cherry Preserves (bklynlocavore.com)
- Bourbon Sour Cherries (bklynlocavore.com)