Bee House Apricot Jam

Apricots for Apricot Jam With Almond Extract

It’s been a long time since I posted here. So long that I forgot one of the main reasons I started this blog, which was to keep track of jam recipes when something turns out well. I scratched out this recipe on a scrap of paper, then I was asking myself where I should put it so I don’t lose it. Well, duh.

These apricots were a wonderful gift from a friend who went out of town just when the fruit was coming in. It was a complete surprise, getting his email asking if I wanted to come over and pick them. No way could I turn that down. He has so many fruit trees that we’re not yet clear on the variety; they’re probably an apricot-plum cross — an aprium — but I think this recipe would work well with any kind of ripe, sweet apricot or aprium. Lacking a true name for the fruit, I’m calling this one “Bee House Apricot Jam,” because the trees sit right in front of his colorful apiary. The bees were so mellow, flying slowly and heavily around me while I picked, not at all disturbed by my presence.

If you’ve been here before, you may wonder what’s up with the sugar in this jam. It’s pure cane. I’m still off sugar, myself, but I wanted to give this recipe what it seemed to need — a moderate amount of the real thing. Apricot jam is a favorite of so many people that I know I won’t have trouble giving these jars as gifts. And I did let myself taste it, because otherwise how would I know what I was making? You have to live a little.

Apricots for Low Sugar Apricot Jam

Low Sugar Apricot Jam

Makes about 7 half-pint jars

5 pounds apricots (weighed after pitting and quartering)
1 pound 12 ounces pure cane sugar
2 ounces fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon almond extract
splash (about 1 tablespoon) Grand Marnier

Day One

Rinse, pit, and quarter the apricots. Place them in a large glass or ceramic bowl with the sugar and lemon juice. Gently stir these ingredients together. (You want to minimize bruising the fruit at this stage.) Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (to minimize browning) and allow the mixture to macerate in the fridge for 24 hours. It really does take about that long for the fruit and the sugar to marry well. Meanwhile, go watch Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black or something. Everyone seems to be binge watching it. I stayed up until after midnight last night to get to the finale and find out what happens to Vee; now maybe I can go to bed on time again.

Day Two

Anyway. These are the steps for the second day:

1. Sterilize your jars.

2. Place half of the apricot mixture in a Vitamix or food processor and blend/mix on low speed until you have a chunky puree. Then put the puree and the quartered apricots into your jam pan. (This step facilitates cooking and gives the jam a nice, varied texture at the end.)

3. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it cook until it gets very foamy, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and skim the foam.

4. Return the mixture to the heat and add the almond extract, then cook the jam to the setting point. At the very end of the cooking process, stir in the Grand Marnier.

Tips for cooking this jam. Stir just frequently enough to prevent any scorching or too much sticking. Lower the heat as needed. You can use the freezer test to determine whether the jam is done, but I don’t do that anymore. I just look for the signs that the jam is thick enough: There’s no more excess liquid, it subtly mounds up in front of my spoon as I stir, the bubbles have settled down, the jam is spitting at me, and I’m getting some clear tracking across the bottom of the pan after letting it bubble for perhaps 10 seconds. (I’m using an 11-quart copper pan for this.) If I let the mixture sit off the heat for a few minutes, it wrinkles kind of like a Shar Pei. When you reach the Shar Pei stage, you’re good to go. But remember to bring the jam back to a slow boil before canning it — hot jam goes in hot jars and all that.

5. Ladle or pour the jam into the jars, leaving 1/4″ head space. If necessary, wipe the jar rims with a clean, damp cloth. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

Enjoy!

Low Sugar Apricot Jam

Grapefruit Honey Jam . . . Or Is it Marmalade?

Grapefruit jam or marmalade sweetened with honey

At this time of year, citrus is rolling all over the Internet. Lately, I’ve seen lemons, blood oranges, and kumquatskumquatskumquats. I thought I’d better get my act together and write up this recipe before all the good grapefruits turn into strawberries, as they will before we know it. (You can see from the date in the picture that I’ve been meaning to get to this one for a while.) One of the main reasons I’m keeping this blog, these days, is to document my experiments replacing sugar with honey in preserves, and this one was worth scribbling down.

A couple years ago, I decided to call these mashups of citrus and sweetness “jam,” though some people will definitely say “marmalade” because the whole fruit is used, even the rind. But I still believe marmalade is more intense and takes more time: the carefully sliced rind, the long soaking, the slow chase of the perfect, translucent set. (There’s a very interesting post about how marmalade sets at different temps here, BTW. Great visuals!)

To me, this is jam because it’s just fruit solids, honey, and lemon juice, mixed up and cooked fast. The grapefruit tastes surprisingly fresh. You can also find lovely citrus jams made in a more classic way, without the rind. Food in Jars’ grapefruit jam is a good example. The way I’m doing it here is decidedly rough cut — God, I’m tired of the word “rustic.” Are you?

Grapefruit jam or marmalade sweetened with honey

This recipe is based on one of my all time favorites, Texas Ruby Red Marmalade, by the Cosmic Cowgirl — aka the award-winning Stephanie McClenny of Confituras, from Austin, Texas. I’ve been making her recipe several times a year for four years now, sometimes adding half a cup of champagne and calling it grapefruit mimosa jam. I never wanted to post my own version because who needs to mess with perfection?

But trying it without sugar — using only honey? I had no idea how this would work out. (I’ve successfully made jams with Meyer lemons and honey and Rangpur limes and honey, but this was a first for graperfruit.) Even as it was cooking, I didn’t know. Was it going to thicken enough? (Clearly, it did.) Would the honey taste overcooked? (Thank goodness, it doesn’t, because with three and a half cups of wildflower honey, that would be an expensive mistake.) I’m happy to have another preserve that works without refined sugar.

Do know that you must really and truly love grapefruit to love this preserve — either Stephanie’s version or this one. It’s got a bitter kick cuz it’s good that way.

Grapefruit Honey Jam

makes about 3 pints

3 pounds organic pink or red grapefruit
3 1/2  cups wildflower honey
juice of one lemon

Wash the grapefruits, slice them in half, and place them in a large stock pot. Add enough water to cover the fruit by a couple of inches and then simmer, uncovered, until the grapefruit halves are very soft. This usually takes about an hour and a half. (I test them with a wooden skewer. They’re done when it’s easy to pierce them all the way through.) Add more hot water if needed during the simmering process.

Drain the grapefruit halves and set them aside until you can handle them without burning your hands. Then place a cutting board inside a roasting pan. Cut the grapefruit into chunks, removing the big seeds as you work. (This part is all from Stephanie. I’m so glad she figured out the cutting board in the roasting pan thing. It keeps you from making a huge mess.) Don’t worry about any tiny seeds. After what comes next, you’ll never notice them.

Put the grapefruit chunks into a food processor and process until finely chopped. (You can see a picture of this by following the link to the Cosmic Cowgirl recipe, above.) For this recipe, I think it’s best to chop them quite fine, though you don’t want to turn them into an indistinct mush.

Transfer the chopped grapefruit to your jam pot and add the honey and lemon juice. (Don’t scrimp on the quality of your honey. You will taste it, so it needs to be great.) I found it helpful to warm the honey first. Slowly bring the mixture to a gently boil, then simmer and stir frequently until the jam thickens. There’s really no need to do a fancy test for the set with this one. You’ll see distinct clear tracking (slow to fill) across the bottom of the pan when it’s done and it will already be mounding up on a spoon. (I forgot to write down how long this took. My best guess is 20-25 minutes.)

Ladle or pour the jam into clean, hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Bubble your jars with a wooden chopstick or other tool of choice. Wipe rims, apply lids, and process 15 minutes in a hot-water bath, adjusting time for your altitude if necessary.

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Also, I wanted to quickly follow up on my post about saving citrus trees from freezes and frosts with Christmas lights. It worked fabulously. The Rangpur limes are here to prove it . . .

Rangpur lime tree in a half wine barrel

A Family Tradition: Blanched, Butter-Roasted Almonds With Salt

Blanched, Butter-Roasted Almonds with Salt

Yesterday, I made three pounds of buttery, salty roasted almonds. It’s a family thing — if a slightly complicated one. My biological dad’s mom taught my mom how to make them. My mom and dad split up when I was small, but my mom carried on the holiday tradition of making the almonds because, in that short time, members of both sides of the family had become addicted to them.

As a kid, I liked to hang around the kitchen while my mom prepared to roast the nuts. There was one main reason for this. The almonds must be soaked and blanched, and one way to liberate a nut from its skin is to squeeze it so that the slick almond shoots across the room at your mother, with missile-like velocity. What kid wouldn’t hang around for that? Every year, I have to launch a few almonds in this way, for old times’ sake.

Removing Almond Skins Before Roasting

Last year was the first year I made these almonds myself. This is the part of the story that’s harder to tell. My dad loved these nuts so much that for years I would send him a batch that my mom had made, but I always let him think I had done it myself. (He thought “I” made them better than anyone else in the family.) Why I perpetuated this white lie is part of the familial complication — basically, I wanted everyone to be happy. But last Christmas, I decided to come clean. I asked my mom for instructions and I made the nuts. I like to think that I also told my dad the truth, that it was really my mom who had been making the almonds for me to give to him all those years. The sad thing is that I don’t remember if I told my dad the truth or not. And now I can’t ask him, because he passed away in October.

I’m so glad I made the almonds for my dad last year. I expect I’ll continue to make them as the years go on. I want to record the method here, not just because you might want to do this yourself, but so our family doesn’t lose the directions –  imprecise as they may be. Last December, my mom gave me detailed instructions over the phone, but when I went back to my notes, this is what I found I’d written down:

  • boil water
  • steep nuts
  • drain in colander/skin
  • pat dry
  • cookie sheet 1/2 stick melt down
  • add lawyer nuts (my handwriting can be pretty bad)
  • nicely coat with butter/not too close
  • space layer paper towels
  • dump onto towels
  • fine grain salt
  • cool before container

That’s totally clear, right?

Roasted, Salted Almond Recipe

If it’s not, I can elaborate. What you need for each batch of almonds is:

  • 1 pound almonds
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • plenty of fine grain salt (we’ve found that ordinary Morton’s works best, better quality Kosher or sea salts don’t seem to stick as well)

1. I get a 3 pound bag of almonds from Costco (otherwise this is a very pricey undertaking) and plan for three batches, blanching all the nuts at once. All you need to do is bring a big pot of water to a boil, remove the pot from the heat, then dump in the almonds and let them soak in the hot water until they’ll easily slip their skins. I think this could be as quick as 15 minutes, but today I left them soaking for about an hour. Drain the almonds and remove the skins. I do this sitting on the floor in front of the TV. It takes me exactly the time of a full-length feature film to get the skins off 3 pounds of almonds.

2. If you want to be precise about it, you can weigh out 1 pound of almonds. I measure by eyeballing the 3-pound pile and taking what seems like a third. Pat the almonds dry between paper towels. Turn on your oven’s broiler and place a rack 5-6 inches underneath it. Put the 1/2 stick of butter on a cookie sheet with a lip and melt the butter under the broiler, checking it frequently and sliding it around to be sure the butter doesn’t scorch. Then add a single layer of nuts (they can be “lawyer nuts” if you want, but almonds are probably better) to the pan, coating them well with the butter and making sure they’re not piled on top of each other. Also, at this point you should also lay down a long double layer of paper towels on the counter, so the towels are ready when you bring the almonds out of the oven.

3. Roast the nuts under the broiler, checking and stirring them frequently. Frequently is key. After the first few minutes, you’ll be checking every couple of minutes (every minute toward the end) and “mooshing them around” (says my mom) so they don’t burn. This is where I still have some trouble. I usually don’t moosh often enough and always end up with some burned nuts. Luckily, blackened almonds also have some fans, so you can pull those out and set them aside for the lovers of burned food. The roasting and mooshing process takes about 15 minutes in all.

4. Remove the nuts from the oven and spread them onto the waiting paper towels. While they are still hot, salt them liberally. Use more salt than you think you need, because a lot of it won’t stick.

5. Let the nuts cool completely before you put them into any kind of container. This will keep them crunchy.

Roasted Almonds Under the Christmas Tree

I’d like to end with a link to a short post I wrote about my dad back in 2008. I’d forgotten about it until just now. Merry Christmas, Dad. I’ll leave your almonds under the tree.

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