We are fortunate enough to know someone with an organically cultivated apricot orchard, and at this time of year we take delivery of a 10kg crate of golden, red-tinged apricots. Unlike the under-ripe, tasteless apricots you get in shops, these are actually a pleasure to eat raw. Still, we can’t eat 10kg of apricots in a weekend, so time to get the preserving pan out.
Last year I made the best apricot jam I’ve ever made with these apricots, but I made so much we still have some jars left, so this time I “only” used 2kg of apricots for that. Another excellent and very easy way of keeping apricots is to preserve them raw in a mixture of syrup and alcohol. The resulting apricots are delicious in any cooked apricot dessert, or just as they are with cream or ice cream. And of course the preserving liquid makes a very nice digestif.
1 kg ripe apricots
1 vanilla pod
750 g sugar
juice of 1 lemon
Start this the day before you want to cook it. Halve and stone the apricots and drop them into the preserving pan., layering them with the sugar, add the lemon juice and the vanilla pod, and if you want crack a few of the kernels, blanch the nuts in boiling water, slip the skins off and add the nuts too (you don’t have to eat them but they give a nice almond flavour to the jam). Cover and leave in a cool place for several hours or overnight.
The next day, put the pan on a moderate heat and cook until all the sugar has completely melted, about 15 minutes, skimming a few times at first. The boil fast for another 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it sticking. Check the setting point in the normal way, by putting a little on a cold saucer, and remove from the heat as soon as it is ready.
Meanwhile, sterilise the clean jars in the oven on a low heat. Extract the nuts if you can find them, pour the jam into the warm jars, and seal as normal.
Make a sugar syrup using twice the volume of sugar to water, i.e. if you use 2 mugs of sugar, add 1 mug of water. Put over a low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved, then simmer for 5 minutes.
Halve and stone the apricots and pack them into preserving jars, adding a vanilla pod to each jar. Again if you want you can add some blanched kernels or a couple of strips of orange peel. Pour in syrup to come a third of the way up the fruit, then top up with vodka or clear marc.
If you have difficulty getting the fruit to stay below the surface of the liquid (it goes unattractively brown if exposed, but is still edible), cover with a circle of waxed paper. Seal the jars and keep for at least a month before opening. Once open, either top up with more alcohol to keep the fruit covered, or store in the fridge and use the fruit quickly, straining off the liqueur into a bottle to enjoy more slowly.
This method can be used for all kinds of fruit. With soft, juicy fruit like raspberries you don’t need to make a syrup: just pour sugar into the jar, top up with spirit, and turn the jar occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Cherries, sloes etc. should be pricked with a darning needle before putting in the jar.