17/05/2007

Apricot jam

(makes about four 340g jars)

1 kg apricots or loquats
225ml water
juice of 1 small lemon
1kg sugar


Method:
Wash the fruit, cut in half and remove the stones. Crack a few stones to remove the kernels and blanch them by dipping in boiling water so the skins come off. Put the apricots in a large pan with the water, lemon juice and blanched kernels, and simmer gently until the fruit is soft and reduced (about 20-30 minutes). Add the sugar, stir until dissolved, and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes or until setting point is reached, stirring occasionally. Pot in hot clean jars, and cover.

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Apricots are only in season for a short time, but can sometimes be found very inexpensively. They don't need to be top quality for making jam - they can be a bit under-ripe, or even a bit over-ripe, although it's not so easy to remove the stones if they are becoming squashy.

Do ensure the pan is big enough! When you've added the sugar, the mixture should not come more than half way up the sides of the pan, or it is likely to boil over. A jam-pan is ideal; you can then double or even triple the quantities.

To test for setting, let a few drops of the jam fall onto a cold saucer, and leave it for a minute until it's cold. Then gently blow on it, or press with your finger. If it begins to wrinkle, the jam is ready. If it still reacts like a liquid, it needs further cooking. Use a large wooden spoon and stir occasionally as it nears setting point - this may provoke extra-violent stirring (hence the need for a LONG spoon!) but this jam is liable to stick if you don't stir at all.

When it's ready, turn it off and wait until the jam has stopped boiling. Then using a small jug or scoop (rinsed in boiled water to sterilise), put the jam in hot jars. These can be heated in the oven at about 100C, or put in the microwave with a little water inside, and heated until the water boils. Do not let the jars get too hot or they will crack when the jam is poured in. But they will also crack if it's too cold!

You can use special jam covers, or jars with metal lids, but I prefer to use plastic screw-top lids. Rinse them in boiling water and shake to dry, then put on the jam as soon as it's in the jars, and tighten when the jam is cool. This makes an almost airtight seal, and I find the jam keeps for at least a year.