I think I’ve processed about 30 kg of apricots this season – this from a property where last year I got one. One apricot that is. It has been an extraordinary year. Besides the usual jam (nine kilos), I simply had to find other things to do with them if I wanted to keep any at all for the dark days of winter.
So I came up with three methods. All three begin with washing the fruit, and halving it to remove the stone. This is a good moment to discard any badly marked or bruised halves, and to put the ones with a question mark hanging over them aside for jam-making. Have large bowls full of water with a lemon – the squeezed juice and the chopped-up skin – in them for the two categories: this will stop the fruit going brown while you’re working through your pile.
I did this with several kilos. It really is by far the simplest thing to do. Ladle your fruit out of its lemony water on to a clean dry tea towel – or a series of them, depending on how much fruit you’re handling. Pat the pieces dry, then put them into plastic freezer bags, weighing them as you go and writing the quantities on the bags. I made a variety of weights, for different uses. Now squeeze as much air as you can out of the bags, tie them tightly and get them into the freezer as quickly as possible. You’ll need to cook them when you use them. But prising the occasional frozen piece off and gnawing on it is good too.
This brainwave came from my friend Miranda, who is full of brilliant ideas. Dip the halved fruit in quite a strong lemon solution, take it out and pat it dry. Now all you need is a car and some hot days. Cover the back tray of the car with oven paper, and spread the fruit across it. It’s best if you can park your car in such a way that the sun’s beating down on the back. Now find alternative transport for about 48 hours. Or just stay at home, occasionally adjusting the position of the car to follow the sun, and shifting the apricots around every now and then to ensure that they all dry out evenly. I’m not joking – it really does work. The end result is brown and shrivelled and really quite unappetising in appearance. But the taste is great. As soon as they’re dry, get them into an airproof container or they’ll sprout mould quickly.
This is the cheat’s way of getting your bottling done swiftly – essential if your crop is enormous. Press your apricot pieces tightly into sterilised (click here for sterilising instructions) half-litre jam/preserving jars with screw or rubber-sealed spring tops – something, that is, that can be closed very tight and boiled. Now add sugar to each jar: two tablespoons if you don’t want the syrup to be too sweet, or anything up to six if you want something heavier. I also add a tiny piece of vanilla pod, for added flavour. Now, slowly, pour cold water into the jars, until it comes up above the fruit, to a centimetre of so from the top of the jar. Don’t put the lid on immediately; slide a flexible knife down the side of the jar at various points, and try to edge out as many air pockets as possible, after which you’ll probably need to add more water. Now screw the tops on tightly, wrap each jar in cloths or newspaper (messy!) to stop them rattling against each other and place them in a large saucepan with a cloth folded in the bottom beneath the jars. The pot needs to be deep enough to cover the jars completely, bringing the water up to at least two centimetres over the tops of the jars. Put the pot on the stove and bring it to a gentle bubbly boil. Keep it that way for half an hour, plus another minute for each 100m above sea level where you’re working. Leave the jars to cool in the water. When everything is cool, the metal lids of your jars should be pulled in, concave, by the vacuum which has formed: if they’re not, then… use them immediately because they’re not properly preserved. If they are, you can spread your apricots out all winter.
© Anne Hanley, 2012