When I was sitting at the kitchen table the day after last Christmas, writing out an outline of what I wanted to do this year for the Cook it! 2012 projects, I knew that by the summer months I didn’t want to plan anything too ambitious. Last year, I completely missed apricot season because I was so swept up with the busy-ness of summer. I knew it could easily happen again. Summer’s supposed to be for vacation, right? I have these images in my head of what summer’s supposed to be, like sitting under green leafy trees and sipping cocktails, spending lazy afternoons at the swimming hole, having friends over for big cookouts. Reality can end up being much different, though, with a stressful rush to fit in vacations, work commitments, family commitments, and then still trying to spend time on gardening and cooking projects. It can be so hard to find the happy medium, to realize that there will be weeds in the garden and it’s not the end of the world, to know that your real friends don’t care if you have martha style garden parties all the time- they just like coming over for a beer in the afternoon.
So, this month, instead of tackling something crazy, the resolution is:
Find some fruit, fresh from the farm, so sweet and juicy that you can smell it.
Put it in jars.
COOK IT 2012 JULY RESOLUTION: MAKE CANNED FRUIT IN SYRUP
Jam is great, but canned whole fruit is more versatile and can be easier to use up. Eat it plain out of the jar or use it for pies, cakes, muffins, and more. Canned fruit is also a bit lower in sugar than many jams, which is nice.
If you’ve done this a million times before, try fancying up the syrup a little bit. Some ideas:
- Try adding more savory herbs like a bay leaf, a sprig of rosemary, or some peppercorns for a subtle infused syrup that will pair well with meats and cheeses later on. (Imagine: bay laurel spiced plums in a pan sauce for pork chops, once the weather cools down again. Something like that). Just put the herbs into the simple syrup when you’re bring it up to a boil. Let the syrup simmer for a few minutes to infuse a stronger flavor. If you put whole sprigs of herbs into the jars with the fruit, the flavor will keep infusing while it sits in the pantry, eventually becoming quite pungent… so be careful not to overdo it.
- Substitute some wine for the water in the syrup, like these canned seckel pears in red wine syrup that I made last year.
- Add a splash of hard liquor like bourbon or scotch for a grownup tasting, boozy treat (canned peaches in bourbon syrup, for example).
- Add cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, lemon slices, cardamom pods, and other typical dessert spices for an extra-special treat that will be amazing right out of the jar, next to a scoop of ice cream, or baked into cakes, pies, muffins and quick breads.
(Whatdya mean I can’t sell my home canned apricots at the farmers market? Sanitation issues, psssh….. it’s perfectly clean! Oh, and to any beginning canners that might be reading this: don’t ever let chickens in the kitchen while you’re canning. They’re dirty. They do love apricots, though.)
If you’ve never tried canning fruit before, you must. The jars always end up being a staple in a well-stocked pantry, right next to the dilly beans and strawberry jam.
Pick only the best fruit, ripe but not overripe, making sure not to including any bruised pieces. Different fruits have slightly different preparations, but for apricots, you rinse them, slice them in half, and stack them nicely, cut side down, in hot, sterilized jars.
It can be a little tricky to learn how tightly to pack the fruit; you want to fit as many halves as possible in the jar, but if you’re using nice ripe fruit, it’s going to be a little delicate and you don’t want to crush it by trying to fit too many slices in. I tend to err on the side of slightly less fruit, meaning – when you’re looking at the jar, thinking about trying to wedge in one last slice, I just leave it out.
Once the jars are all packed with fruit, you ladle hot syrup over the apricots, leaving 1/2″ headspace. You may notice that many cookbooks give you a range of sweetness options for your syrup, from extra-light to heavy. I’ve had horrible luck with extra-light and light syrups; the fruit tends to really float a lot in the jar and then the final product doesn’t really taste sweet enough. If you’re trying to use really low sugar for health reasons, I’d advise instead to dehydrate the slices in the oven or a dehydrator instead of canning them.
Once the fruit is covered with syrup, poke around the edge of the jar a couple times with a wooden chopstick to dislodge the air bubbles that are hiding under the fruit. Make sure not to skip this step or rush through it, or you’ll end up processing the jars and then realizing that you ended up with a ridiculous amount of headspace (like… two inches) and you’ll have apricots at the top of the jar that aren’t covered with syrup. Which, of course, leads to spoilage.
After you get rid of the air bubbles, adjust the headspace to make sure it’s still 1/2.” Wipe the rims clean, screw on lids, and process the jars for twenty minutes (adjusting for altitude as necessary). Make sure not to overprocess the jars, or the fruit will be overcook and float really badly.
These are my finished jars- you’ll notice that the fruit still floats a little bit, even though I didn’t over process the jars and I packed the fruit fairly tightly. This is normal for home-canned fruit and doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with the batch.
Canned Apricots in Syrup
Cook Time: a couple hours, including processing time. The active cooking time is much less.
Makes: 24 pint jars
- 20 lbs. apricots
- 13 c. filtered water
- 6 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. lemon juice
- 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 1/2 c. amaretto
Bring boiling water canner to a boil. Sterilize jars. Put lids and rings in a small pot, cover with water, and bring to a very low simmer.
Combine the sugar, water, vanilla bean, and lemon juice and amaretto in a pot and bring to a boil. (Run a sharp knife down the vanilla bean, lengthwise, then use the tip of the knife to scrape the seeds from the center of the bean. Put the seeds and the whole vanilla bean into the syrup). Once it’s boiled, turn the heat down to low.
Wash apricots. Slice each apricot in half. Stack, cut side down, to fill up the hot jars leaving a generous 1/2″ of headspace. Cover the apricots with syrup, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Remove air bubbles, and adjust headspace by adding more hot syrup if necessary. Wipe the rims of the jars clean and screw on lids. Process pint jars for 25 minutes (or quart jars for 25 minutes, if you’d rather do bigger jars). Adjust processing time for altitude if necessary.
For more information about canning whole fruit, I highly recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
So now that I have this stash of apricots in the pantry, I’m really looking forward to cooking with them. I have some goat cheese in the fridge, and a couple jars of snow-white lard that I rendered recently that will be great for pie crust. As soon as I get some more free time, I want to make some kind of apricot-chevre tart…
To be included in the canned fruit round-up, send me an e-mail with the link to your blog post by August 15, 2012. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear about your ideas for how you’re going to use up the canned fruit.