Gutter apricots & a mid-summer Jam
There is a little red raspberry patch on the upper left side cheek of the apricot I hold in my hand. A few freckle-like blemishes here and there on the outer, and on the inner, that soft perfectly ripe flesh sings the song of summer flavour.
I can almost always judge when we will be gifted a box of these exquisite gems from our neighbours, for the sight of them rolling down the gutter on our street is a dead giveaway that they are indeed ready for plucking from the branches.
Baked, stewed, fresh, you really cannot go wrong with these humble beauties. In fact, their flavour only becomes more intense, in that gorgeous buttery, honeyed way when roasted. And oh my, when paired with a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt, or dare I say, a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, great things happen - simply.
Diana Henry writes in her wonderful book, How to eat a peach, 'even the most unpromising apricots - unripe and dull - seem to become vanilla-sweet and develop a balancing acidity when heat is applied. That's why they are so good with pastry, pastry needs fruit with a little tartness.' And yes, pastry - crostatas, galettes, tarts full of frangipane, cobblers, crumbles and the simple pleasure of spreading glistening, sticky-sweet jam onto hot buttered toast - even in the depths of winter one can be transported back to the time of summer days - salty sea air swimming upon the breeze of balmy evenings, and freckle-nosed children furiously licking at the ice cream cascading down their arms. Such is the reward for standing over a hot pot of bubbling jam in the sweltering heat of mid-summer.
In a world where we are surrounded by so much uncertainty these days, it's comforting to know that hidden at the back of the preserving shelf (which is merely a couple of pigeon holes in the study) sits half a dozen jars containing pure, certain joy - all thanks to those first sightings of gutter apricots.
Apricot and Rosemary Jam
You will need approx. 6 jars, Mine differ in sizes. I always like to sterilise more than what I think I will need, just in case.
1.5kg apricots, stones removed and quartered. Reserve about 10 of the stones
1kg white sugar
4 large sprigs of rosemary
Place the apricots into a large stockpot, along with the reserved stones, I like to use my high sided one for this as it does have the means to spit and bubble once it gets a boil up. Pour in the water and bring to a boil, continue to cook for at least 20 minutes or until the fruit has softened.
Add in the sugar, and without boiling, stir until the sugar has dissolved. Once it's all dissolved, bring it up to a boil and continue to cook for at least another 20-30 minutes, making sure to stir often as you do not want to end up with burnt jam on the bottom of your pot...
I use a large wooden spoon for this, and take great care when stirring as it can spit hot sticky lava on your hands and arms. I also adjust the heat if I find it is bubbling too much. At this point, you will also want to place a small dish into the freezer so that you can test the setting point of the jam.
Once the jam has reached a thickish consistency - it should fall from the spoon in thick teardrops. Place a spoonful of jam onto the plate in the freezer and pop it back into the freezer for 30 seconds. Run your index finger through the middle of the jam on the plate and if it leaves a trail down the middle then your jam is ready. If not, simply cook for a little longer and then test again.
Pour into the sterilised jars, wipe the rims clean, secure the lids and place upside down for a couple of minutes before turning right side up. This helps to seal the jars. Store the jars in a cool, dark spot. Once opened store in the fridge.
Sterilising jars - I simply pop my chosen jars into the sink and fill up with hot water. I then place the jars onto a baking tray and pop them into the oven, set at 150 degrees C until they are dry and remove them once the jam is ready.