Preserves

Apricot Amaretto Jam

Look at these funny little apricots. They’re Royal Blenheims, and I won’t make apricot jam without them. I really have no license to be such a snob. I made my first batch of apricot jam only last year. But you know what? That very batch won first place at this year’s Marin County Fair, and I give a king’s share of the credit to this sweet n’ homely fruit. The man who sells them to me agrees: They taste great, but they look terrible.

When I went to the farmers’ market to get my Blenheims this year, I stood at the table sorting through the half-ripe orbs while everyone else dove into the fat, sunny, and pretty much tasteless California Pattersons in the next bin. Psssst, I said to more than one person, You really should try these. They’d give me a funny look, nibble a sample, and their eyes would light up. Yeah!

This recipe for apricot amaretto jam is based on the prizewinning jam I made last year, with the simple addition of Disaronno liqueur.

I tested a few other apricot amaretto jam recipes first. I started with one from a popular preserving book — and I almost immediately burned the mixture to crisp, something I’ve never done with a jam. (About that, I’ll just say that I recommend including more fruit than sugar in your pan.) I tried two more recipes after that. Finally, I ended up right back where I started.

I wanted to show you my first attempt to photograph jam over ice cream.

It’s kinda lame, isn’t it? The jam went into a slump and then the whole thing started to melt –much more quickly than I thought it would. I ran around the house squawking, with the bowl in one hand and the camera in the other, trying to get a decent shot before it totally puddled. The puddle is what I delivered to Stewart about five minutes after this photo was taken. He didn’t mind, but I think I’ll stick to photographing jam on baked goods.

Anyway, these awkward apricots and this basic recipe? They work for me. I hope you’ll like ‘em, too.

Apricot Amaretto Jam

4 cups peeled, crushed apricots (about 3 pounds)
3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup amaretto liqueur

1. Sterilize your jars and put 5 teaspoons on a plate in the freezer, to test your jam for doneness later.

2. Blanch the apricots by submerging them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Quickly transfer them to a big bowl of ice water. (The amount of time in the boiling water depends on how ripe your cots are. More ripe = less time.)

3. Pop the apricots out of their skins (if they don’t pop, just do your best to peel away as much skin as you can) and remove the pits, putting the fruit into a big glass or ceramic bowl for mashing.

Blanching and peeling apricots is a pain in the butt. Do you really have to do it? No, you don’t. Many people, maybe most, make good apricot jam with the skins included. You can do it that way if you prefer. I remove the skins for two reasons. One is that Blenheim skins aren’t beautiful. The other is that I won that damn blue ribbon with a jam recipe that called for blanching. So what do you think I’m going to be doing when I’m eighty years old? Blanching apricots, I hope.

4. Crush your apricots. This might get messy, so you might as well have fun with it. There are so many ways to mash up your fruit. You can use your favorite non-electric mashing tool, or a food processor (hmmm . . . I first wrote “a word processor,” which I’d love to see you try), or a Vita-Mix set on low. (Thanks to Marisa at Food in Jars for the Vita-Mix tip!) Mash them any way you want, so long as you do not liquefy the fruit. You want some texture in your jam.

Eeewww, gross! You know what my favorite mashing tool is? My hands. I do wash them well, but by this time they’re already goopy from peeling and pitting the fruit, so I often just stick them into the bowl to finish the job. I like to do it this way not only because it makes me feel like a six year old, but because while I’m working, I can actually feel and remove from the mixture any hard bits from the apricot butts or pieces of tough greenish skin that might have ended up in there — anything I’d rather not have in my jars at the end.

5. Add the sugar and lemon juice to the fruit in your bowl — or combine all the ingredients right in your jam pan, whichever you prefer. Cover and let sit at room temperature for twenty minutes or so. I let the mixture sit so that the ingredients can get to know each other and so I can really taste the mixture before I start to cook it. Because I use Meyer lemons — less acidic than others — I might add a little more lemon juice after I taste. Just enough so the flavors “pop.” (I learned about this in jam-making class.) But you don’t want to overdo it with the lemon juice. Too much acid leaves a burn on the tongue, and it’s like adding too much salt — you can’t take it back.

Here’s what my mixture looks like just before I put it on the heat.

6. Heat the mixture using a medium-low setting, stirring gently until the sugar is fully dissolved.

7. Turn the heat to medium high and cook until your jam reaches the setting point. (See below for my favorite test). I don’t think apricots like super-high heat. Even on medium-high, they foam up like crazy and cook quite quickly. I stir apricot jam much more frequently than most other kinds. And I skim, skim, skim while I’m cooking. (Use a shallow, stainless spoon to take the stiff, pale foam from the top of the mixture; try to avoid the actual bubbling jam. That’s the good stuff.) The jam cooks in about 10-12 minutes in my 11-quart pan. (Lots of factors affect cooking time, so be sure to watch your jam and test it carefully.)

Using butter to reduce foaming. Some recipes suggest including a little bit of butter — perhaps 1/2 teaspoon of the high-quality, unsalted variety — to keep the foam down. I don’t do it because I don’t want to run the slightest risk that the flavor of the butter will later change in the jar and negatively affect the flavor of the jam.

To test your jam for doneness: Remove the pan from the heat. Use one of your frozen spoons to scoop up a little bit of jam — not a whole spoonful. Return the spoon to the freezer and wait 3 minutes. Retrieve the spoon and hold it vertically. If the mixture runs very slowly or not at all, it’s done. (“Not at all” may be overdone, in fact.) Alternately, give the mixture a little push with your finger. If you see creases or wrinkles, it’s done.

8. Gently (finally!) stir in the amaretto liqueur.

9. Ladle the hot jam into your sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space.

10. Process the correct amount of time for fruit preserves at your elevation. For me, that’s 5 minutes.

Yields about 4 half-pint jars.

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