Saturday, 5 February 2011

Apricots ~ gold, gold gold!

For those of us fortunate enough to live in parts of the southern hemisphere within reach of apricot trees the time for harvesting and enjoying this delectable fruit is NOW!

I feel very smug in that I've 'done' mine for the year already - last weekend in fact - three boxes which totalled over 20 kilos in all, from which I made enough jam and preserves to last us through the coming year.

It really is worth taking notes about this sort of thing: from notes made in the previous two years I knew exactly how much fruit I needed to buy so that we will have what we want in the year ahead.  It took all the worry out of wondering how much to buy, and when I had finished the work of getting it packed into jars I knew I didn't have to do any more.  Hooray!

This is the only fruit I pay for that I put into storage and at $25 a case I have to be clear about the quantity I want and take care that none of it is wasted through delay or indecision.  

When I bought the fruit it was perfectly ripe, containing within itself the nectarous flavour that we remember from our childhoods - what fruit used to taste like.  These are not false memories but true ones as is proved by biting into this tree-ripened, straight-from-the-orchard fruit.  

Apricots at their peak of ripeness don't last long so I needed to get them cooked and into jars pronto.  I did!  The result: thirty jars of preserves and twenty jars of jam.  It took me two day of solid work but it was worth it as this fruit is not to be missed!

Here is what my pot of fruit looked like just before being ladled into piping hot jars: 

It is no exaggeration to say that the smell was divine!

Although there wasn't much difference between the price I paid at the farmers market and what I would pay at the supermarket I have a strong commitment to buying direct from orchardists.  Big food retailers drive the hardest bargain they can with the result  that many orchardists in New Zealand have found their profits cut to the bone and as a result have chopped out their trees and put in grape vines or other crops.  I do pray that we may always have good fruit available from local growers.  Buyers need to play their part in ensuring this survival by being prepared to pay realistic prices.

My one quibble with buying produce at the Dunedin Farmers Market is that it tends to be very crowded and parking is awkward.  It's not that I can't walk, but if I buy the quantities I want getting them back to the car is a strategic manoeuvre of no small order, making any browsing of other stalls quite beyond my capability.  

For those interested in making jam and preserves I have brought forward information from previous articles and updated it here:

Which variety? Most people prefer Moorpark for both jam and preserves.  These are excellent.  I can  also highly recommend Ettrick Gold, a variety which no doubt has its origins in an Ettrick orchard, which is where I got them on one occasion. 
     All of it has had that superb sun-ripened flavour which is so rare in shop bought fruit.  May yours be as good!

Wastage: In the normal scheme of things wastage from the removal of stones and blemishes  amounts to about a sixth of the original weight if the apricots are in top condition and are dealt with promptly, but will be considerably more if fruit has been left over-ripe or has been badly handled.  All measurements for fruit given here are for the weight of fruit once it has been prepared for cooking.  

For those starting out on jam-making my earlier article Making jam ~ general instructions can be read in conjunction with this one.

Working out fruit, sugar and water ratios - and pot size and yeild:
Sugar: For apricot jam I use a ratio of six parts of fruit to five of sugar.  To give you an example of how ratios can be worked out: take the weight of your (prepared) fruit, divide it by six to get one sixth, and then multiply by five, to get five sixths.  The five-sixths is the amount of sugar you'll need - easy!
15th February 2015 - Additional notes regarding the sugar ratio: this year I used quite a lot less.  The fruit was very sweet, so I experimented with the amount of sugar: I started by working out the sugar in sixths, ie: 4 kilos divided by six equals .666 of a kilo; then multiplied it by three to get three sixths, which is 2 kilos; then working out additional steps in sixths, ie: four sixths equals 2.7 kilos; five sixths equals 3.33 kilos.  I had that written down before I started adding the sugar so that I knew what I was doing!  By the time I got to four sixths I had the flavour I wanted - perfect, so stopped right there!  (Four sixths is of course two thirds, but for the sake of adding sugar by degrees to get the flavour just right working it out in sixths is sensible as it gives smaller steps for adjustment.
Water: my rule for jam is half a cup of water per kilo of fruit - just enough to give the raw fruit something to start cooking in and prevent it from catching.
Pot size: my 8 litre pot can take 4 kilos worth of fruit plus the sugar that goes into it.  My six litre pot can take three kilos worth.  This allows room for the jam to froth and so on. 
Yield: six kilos of prepared fruit cooked in two batches produced twenty jars of jam of mixed sizes, both small and medium.

Preparation: I do mine in one kilo batches so that I can split the jam making process overnight.  This means that I have to have a number of containers which then have to fit in the fridge but I then have maximum flexibility in terms of how much I cook at a time.
     I have an aversion to finding large pieces of fruit in jam or indeed any preserves, so I cut the fruit into the sized pieces that please me, removing the stones and any blemished skin, then place the pieces into a container of water so that they don't brown.  Once I've done each kilo, I drain the water off and weigh the fruit, put it on to cook, starting with a half a cup of water per kilo of fruit.  Next I check how much sugar I'll need and make sure I have enough in the house!  
Cooking: I start by placing the total water required in the pot and then gradually add the fruit to it so that the fruit mush can build up slowly contributing its own liquid as it cooks.
     Once the mush is cooked you can break the jam making process overnight if you want to but do be sure to keep track of the quantity of fruit you started with so that you know how much sugar you'll need when you set to work on it once again!  
     Add the sugar only when the fruit is hot, then adjust your element to a medium heat as you do so.  When the sugar is being added take care not to let it sit on the bottom of the pot as it can rapidly caramelise which will spoil your jam.  If it catches, empty your fruit into a clean pot and continue on from there.  If left it will spoil not only the colour but also the flavour of your delicious jam.
     Once the sugar has dissolved the heat can be turned up as the jam needs to boil briskly before it will be ready to set.

Finishing the process: If you are unfamiliar with the process or need more detailed instructions these can be found in the article referred to above.

Making preserves is almost as simple as stewing fruit and not much more work.  It's a lot less time-consuming than making jam and requires a fraction of the sugar.  Having said that, it is more demanding in terms of timing, and the appearance and texture of preserved fruit is important, a key difference to jam-making in which it matters little if at all.  Do be careful not to overcook the fruit, which makes it mushy. 

Many people freeze produce rather than preserving it, but I find preserving simpler: the great advantage is that when you want to use the fruit it's ready immediately, and if the power goes off you have nothing to worry about.

Ratios, batch sizes and yields: I did mine in batches of two and a half kilos each, which is what easily fits into my 6 litre stock pot.  It's worth keeping batch sizes for preserves relatively small as the fruit still in the pot continues to cook while you're ladling fruit into jars and you won't want it to cook too much more while you're working your way down the pot.
    I used two cups of sugar (450 grams) and ten cups of water, just enough water to enable me to easily move the fruit around with a wooden spoon.  This makes an excess of syrup but it's far better to have too much than too little, and besides, it's delicious to add to cereal or simply to drink, so it is never wasted.
     The syrup worked out at about five parts of water to one part of sugar going by the number of cups.
     Going by the weight of the fruit and sugar the ratio of fruit to sugar is also five to one, which gives it an excellent flavour.  (The Edmonds Cookbook suggests much more.)
     I know this sounds confusing, but it does work - it's what I've used repeatedly.  Needless to say, it makes it easier if successive batches are of the same size!
Yield: I used my six litre stock pot to cook up four successive batches of two and a half kilos worth of fruit.  From these I got about 8 largish jars per batch. 

If you need more information about the general preserving method you can find these in my earlier article Preserves ~ notes both general and particular .

More of my articles about jam and preserves as well as other food articles can be found listed together via the link below:

A close-up view through the bottom of a jar of freshly preserved apricots

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