Channeling Christine Ferber.

When I was growing up, my mom would have dried apricots around the house. Sometimes she put them in “blondies”, the butterscotch brownies we made quite frequently (we did not want for dessert even then!). My take on dried apricots, at that point, was that they were kind of yucky. I would beg her not to put them in the blondies. I just wanted chocolate.

Fast forward to my sophomore year of college, when I was living in Morocco for a term. You would walk down the street on your way home from school and pass so many vendors: the guy selling camel meat, the fresh cheese attracting flies on its little shelf, the hot roasted seeds and nuts, the pastries, the dates, the olives, the fruit. And among those piles of fruit – really, piles – was, nestled in there, fresh apricots.

I was dumbstruck. What? Apricots were actually a fruit? I guess I had known that, if nothing else than from learning how to say them in foreign languages. But as a New England native, it had really never occurred to me that such a thing as a fresh apricot existed. I bought them up and ate them one after another, nom nom nom.

Then I returned to the U.S. and apricots were but a distant, tasty, memory. I kept eating dried ones, of course, but they aren’t the same.

When I moved to Oregon, I was elated that apricots might be part of my future again. We’ve had an awesome summer of fruit so far – strawberries, raspberries, cherries, you name it. I was recently making dinner with a friend who mentioned that he was going to pick blueberries over the weekend. I love picking, but I don’t actually like blueberries – I know, I know, I’m a freak. I told him as much.

“Well, what is your favorite summer fruit?” he asked.

After thinking for a little while – raspberries are so good – I said, with some trepidation, “apricots”.

I’m a lucky girl because Matt called me up from the blueberry farm while he was picking and said that they had flats of fresh Oregon apricots for sale, and did I want one? So he brought 17 pounds of apricots over to our house and my housemate and I split them. She dried some and canned some whole, while I was determined to make jam. Apricot jam is my favorite and I was envisioning needing a hint of sunshine once it gets cold and wet and horrendously depressing here this winter.

So I started looking up jam recipes and came across a foursome of recipes from Christine Ferber, who may or may not be the most famous jam-maker in the world. The recipes looked good so I dove in.

I wanted to make one batch that was just a simple apricot jam. It seems stupid to waste such good jam on sandwiches, but I do eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch pretty much every day and I’ve been stockpiling different flavors to keep my winter interesting. So far I have homemade strawberry, mixed berry-cherry, and this apricot.

The method for Ferber’s apricot jams is interesting – first of all, you don’t have to use pectin, which was nice. But secondly, she says to boil the apricots and sugar and lemon juice very briefly and then put them in the refrigerator overnight.

I was a little nervous about this step, because after all there isn’t much liquid involved: just apricots and sugar. How am I supposed to boil this? But I tried, and as the sugar melted it brought some of the apricot juice with it, and I was indeed able to bring the mixture to a boil. I stuck it in a bowl and forgot about it for the next 24 hours.

When I came back, there was tons of juice – I understood that “macerate” actually is a process which accomplishes something. The next step was to strain out the apricots and boil the juice until it reached 220 degrees. Then, I dumped the apricots back into the mixture and boiled them for five minutes before canning them and going through the whole water-bath process.

I tasted a little bit of the jam while I was canning and it was delicious – not too sweet, and very apricot-y. One thing I’d recommend is perhaps cutting the apricots smaller than half-pieces, depending on what you want to use the jam for! I’m really excited to have this ready for the winter.

Then: a second batch. The thing about Ferber’s jams is that while some are basic and delicious, others are incredibly fancy and gourmet. I was going to try one of the fancy ones, darnit.

I had a hard time picking – I really wanted to try nougabricot, which confusingly enough is a Quebecois jam using apricots, pistachios, and almonds. Where did they get this stuff? It must have really been a delicacy.

But in the end I went for a jam using apricots, orange zest, vanilla bean, and Gewurztraminer, a white wine. I couldn’t quite imagine how to eat nougabricot with its chunks of nuts. This other jam sounded more refined. So I went to the grocery story to pick up ingredients and quickly realized that I was going to spend more on a few jars of jam than I do on most dinners. I hesitated, but I had picked my jam and I was going for it. I sucked it up and spent nine dollars on a vanilla bean, grimacing a bit as I did (I stopped grimacing when I smelled it… holy cow, those things are amazing).

So: the basic jam recipe was the same, but with some added steps. It actually used a cup or so of dried apricots, which I cut up very finely and left to soak overnight in the Gewurztraminer. I ate one the next morning. Yum. The orange zest and vanilla bean went in with the fresh apricots, and the dried apricots were added in along with the fruit after the syrup had been heated to that 220 degree mark.

The jam smelled divine the whole time it was cooking. Our kitchen became a whole new place.

And as I was canning, I decided to leave out a little bit of jam for my housemate Laura and I to eat. I was dying to try this fancy invention. We scooped ourselves tiny bowls of vanilla ice cream and drizzled the jam, still hot, on top.

WOW.

I am not going to be able to put this on toast; it’s too good. It’s rich and it’s… BAM! It’s both strong and delicate, and kind of indescribable. I have never had jam like this before…. and okay, I am going to put it on toast, but it’s so good that it feels like a travesty. Ice cream was a perfect vehicle for the jam, which was completely worth the silly amount of money I spent making it.

The verdict here is that I am so excited to have two kinds of delicious apricot jam in my cupboard – and I still had enough apricots left over to munch on this week. I put them in oatmeal for breakfast and eat them for snacks… and for lunch… and for dessert. I’m a lucky girl, and I owe Matt big time for picking me up some of my favorite fruit.

I’m not going to post recipes since I didn’t adapt them at all – but you can find four amazing apricot jam recipes over at Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s blog, which is amazing, as a side note.

 

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