September 9th, 2009
Saugatuck Apricot Jam by Flavorista Contributor, Tracey Shafroth
As a young child growing up in Colorado my mother and I spent hours making different jams and jellies each summer. We had prolific plum bushes which most years yielded a bumper crop of small dark plums. We experimented with mint jelly for a few years in an attempt to tame the veritable hedge of mint that grew outside of my bedroom window. And, for a few years, we found some wonderful Seville oranges and made a rich bright orange marmalade in the middle of winter.
Our favorite jam of all though was apricot made from apricots grown in Paonia, Colorado. It was hard to count on always finding the small golden fruit as apricots are far more sensitive to early frosts than peaches or apples. But when we found them we made buckets of the jam and gave it to friends.
One of the reasons we loved it was because it is one of the very easiest jams to make. Apricots have enough natural pectin that we never needed to add commercial pectin. I am always surprised to discover that store-bought pectin requires at least double the amount of sugar. Years ago, I came across a wonderful article in Gourmet Magazine by the late food writer Laurie Colwin called Jam Anxiety. For anyone who fears jam making, track it down. It’s a great read and will get you over any jam angst.
When I moved to the Midwest and settled into Saugatuck, Michigan each summer I discovered that apricots grown here are not unlike their Colorado cousins. Michigan apricots are equally sensitive to the whims of a good spring frost.
My favorite apricots are the very earliest ones that appear in early July and produce a very tart jam. The growing season this year has been one of the craziest ever due to cold temperatures and a great deal of rain throughout the summer. The apricots are just at their peak this week, almost a month later than most years. While not as sour as I usually like them, they made a beautiful and delicious jam.
16 cups of apricots, pitted and halved
4 cups of sugar
Place all ingredients in a large heavy pot and cook on a medium-high heat until the jam is in bubbling constantly. Stir regularly. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the jam thickens. Depending on the apricots, it should take about 20- 30 minutes. To test, pour jam off of a big spoon and watch to see if drips come together to form one big thick drip. The best explanation for this process can be found in the Joy of Cooking. Pour jam into hot sterilized jars, screw heated tops on firmly and invert for 5 minutes. This helps to ensure a tight seal.
This method of canning is called hot packing. It is not endorsed by the USDA, but it has been practiced by home cooks for hundreds of years. If any of your jars fail to achieve a good seal, simply refrigerate the jam.
This is a special jam pot that my sister gave me years ago for a birthday present. It is the ideal for jam making because it has a heavy bottom, a great handle and slightly flared sides. The theory is that the flared sides create a larger surface and promote faster evaporation of the fruit juice. It is absolutely not necessary to have a pot like this, but it is my favorite.