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apricots

CAA Photo of the Week: Wall of Apricots – With Flag, by Mama Urchin

Wall of Apricots - With Flag
This week’s photo of the week is another creative one by Mama Urchin. If you click through to her Flickr details, you can check out all the ways she used a bushel of apricots! Mama Urchin also keeps recipes on a blog called Putting By, dedicated to canning recipes. Be sure to check it out.

Thanks again for your contribution to the CAA Flickr Pool!

Don’t forget, if you’d like to participate, please join our community’s Flickr pool and submit your photos!

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CAA Flickr Photo of the Week: Apricot Jam by LeLo

Yum Apricot Jam
This week’s photo of the week is by LeLo of LeLo in NoPo, where she writes all about preserving the harvest. Her images led me to more valuable information, like her post on infusing vinegars and her coverage of Oregon berry season. Fun!

Thanks so much for sharing in our Flickr pool, LeLo!

Don’t forget, if you’d like to participate, please join our community’s Flickr pool and submit your photos!

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What Should I Make With Cherries or Apricots?

Canning CherriesCanning Apricots
My fellow canners, I recently came into a bounty of several pounds of cherries and apricots. For one of my first ideas, I’m hoping to try my hand at homemade maraschino cherries. I’m also tempted by the Apricot Red Current Jam in my Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Even then, I’ll have several pounds of each fruit left. Suggestions? Ideas?

CAA Contributor Rachel Strawn Thibodeaux loves all things culinary. She’s new to canning, but has an extensive history of searching for the next delicious meal. She writes at Rachel: Photo Diary and regularly posts on Flickr.

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How Much Is Too Much?

Photo by katart

Recently, I was reading a 50+ year-old British cookbook by Elizabeth David on food preservation. I had great fun imagining the accent of Ms. David, who wrote in such florid language.  No doubt, with her upper class pedigree and as a food preservationist, she spoke in pear-shaped tones.

Turning to her recipe for apricot jam, my long-since-deceased guide assured me that the secret to really flavorful apricot jam is in the kernel held within the pit.   Break open the pit, she instructed, and one will find a soft kernel full of flavor. Add a few of these to the pot of bubbling jam and, voilà!   A depth of flavor, reminiscent of almond blossoms will be imparted to the jam.   Who else but foodies, of this or any other century, can wax so poetic about the wonders of a fruit pit? But I digress.

Taking to heart the advice of my guide, I picked out what appeared to be the most beautiful apricot pits of the seven pounds I had already pitted for my jam.   Heading to the garage I went in search of a hammer or other blunt object.   I felt like Michelangelo releasing the sculpture from the marble.   I was transported by the fact my apricot kernels were just as anxious to be free, to feel the sunshine and breeze on their little faces.   Now, you must understand that my husband has a place for everything when it comes to his tools but I rarely know where those places are.   After a search of about 10 minutes, I found a yellow-handled heavyweight with the name Stanley emblazoned across its handle.   I would not have cared if it had been called Livingstone- -I needed to get on with it! Carrying the hammer to the back sidewalk, I crouched down to break open the apricot pits.  That is about the time my right knee locked up and started singing its own version of Swanee River: “Way down upon the back stoop sidewalk, that’s where I hurt!”   The pain was so sharp and so instant and I was sure I could not stand up and was just as was sure I could not lower my kneecap on the cement.   I was frozen somewhere between.

Bearing a strong resemblance to a stork, I decided to quickly whack the pits, grab the kernels, and hoist myself up.  This worked fine for the first two pits.  They each opened nicely to reveal a buttery yellow kernel just ready for a suicide mission in a pot of superheated boiling fruit.  However, when I hit the 3rd pit, it ricocheted off the sidewalk. The pit seemed to say, as it hit my aching knee and proceeded to gouge a hole in my skin, “I’m not going back to the BIG HOUSE!”  Needless to say, the cut hurt worse than the knee joint pain, so I sprang up immediately and hopped around cursing my English cooking guide in tones that were more thorn-shaped than pear.

I returned to the house and spent a few minutes wiping the blood that had gone south on my leg and plugging the hole from the pit with a wad of cotton and an adhesive strip.  Settling myself once more, I washed my hands and returned to jam making.  I placed two kernels in a little bag of culinary cheesecloth and boiled them with the jam. When it was done, I removed the kernels and tasted the jam.  True to her word, the jam had a lovely woodsy undertone.  Into the jars it went.  I was thrilled. . . for about a nanosecond.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered reading that some folks thought apricot pits or kernels were medicinal, especially in the treatment of cancer.   I headed to the computer and began to search the Web.   The more I read, the more alarmed I became.   My Internet search had informed me that stone fruits like apricots, cherries and peaches contain amygdalin, a cyanide derivative.   It is used very often as a favorite poison of murder mysteries.  Cyanide is colorless and tasteless, there is no antidote, and death takes place within minutes when ingested inmlarge doses.   Think of the capsule that spies chomp on when they are caught behind enemy lines.   Fortunately, my Internet search also assured me that there are a large number of apricot varieties the kernels of which are considered to be completely harmless.

I returned to sanity, if a foodie like me can ever be called sane when it comes to food.   I glanced up from my laptop and saw that a sunbeam had shone in the kitchen window and landed on the jam jars.   The color of the apricots was the color of the morning sun.   My yield of seven jars equaled about 48 ounces of jam and only two kernels in all of that.

That being said, the near loss of a knee cap notwithstanding, the improved flavor and brilliant color of my latest batch seemed to assure me that there really is such a thing as just enough cyanide.  I put my jam pot to soak in the sink and made myself a cup of English tea.  I spread a little cream cheese on toast and slathered it with apricot jam.   Ms. David lived to be 83, even using her secret ingredient.  I guess that makes me good for at least few more decades.

Editor’s note: using kernels from sweet apricots is considered safe in jam-making because they have negligible amounts of cyanide.  On the other hand, kernels from bitter apricots contain significant amounts of cyanide and should be approached with extreme caution.

CAA contributor Cynthia Dare O’Connor writes from Northeastern, Ohio.   She blogs at The Womens Boomer Humor Blog .   She learned to can from her mother’s southwestern Virginia relatives who “put up” everything from chicken soup to chow chow.   She also learned from her paternal aunts who, as Eastern European women, wanted not only fruits and vegetables in the jar but also wonderful jams and jellies for their exquisite Christmas and Easter pastries.   This summer, she is joining friends in starting a community Farmers Market where she will sell her wares.   Her husband is a graduate of the Ohio State Extension Master Gardener program, so she has lots of produce this summer for canning!

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Aunt Dana’s Austrian Apricot Jam

IMG_1998Come summer in the Wachau Valley, Austria’s Napa, the apricot trees are so draped with fruit that growers have to prop up their tree limbs with wooden crutches.  Orchard after orchard in this eighteen-mile stretch of land along the Danube drips with clusters of apricots—making kitchens all around the region the headquarters for edible delights of all sorts.

The Wachau Valley goes apricot crazy in summer, and for good reason: its apricots are prized as fruit jewels.  The same climate conditions responsible for great wine—hot days and cool nights—also produce great apricots.  In addition to dumplings, the apricots go into fiery local schnapps and, best of all (to my mind), homemade jam.

One summer, back in Europe for a month from our two years in Israel, my husband, Jakub, and I would drive from Prague to Mautern, in the Wachau Valley, to visit his Aunt Dana (who is Czech) and Uncle Viktor (who was Austrian).  Our visits, from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening, were basically excuses for everyone to gather, eat, and drink.  Late on Saturday, after wandering around Krems, the thousand year old town across the river, the four of us wouldHeuriger usually end up with Dana and Viktor’s friends at a local heuriger—family-run restaurants open in the summer.  There we would eat homemade schnitzel, cheese-topped rolls, and marillenknödel (apricot dumplings dusted liberally with powdered sugar).  Then we would go back to the house and sit at the garden table while the wasps zoomed overhead in the neighbor’s tall apricot tree.  This extraordinary tree extended into Dana and Viktor’s garden by a good eight feet and obligingly dropped buckets of fruit on their side of the fence each season.

At nightfall, Viktor would pull out bottles of Grüner Veltliner (the white wine the region is known for) from one of the local wineries he adored, Gritsch Mauritiushof or Nikolaihof.  Dana would roam the garden, smoking, humming, and collecting new-fallen apricots for jam.  My husband would sit and think mathematical thoughts. Viktor and I would catch each other up on book news in the U.S. and Europe—or, more accurately, Viktor (a photographer, a literature teacher, and owner of a library full of books in five languages) would talk about books and I would pretend to follow, mostly nodding happily while sipping my wine.  On nights like this, it was impossible to imagine the summer ever ending or anything changing.

We’d usually haul three or four jars of the previous season’s apricot jam back home to Prague, and line them up on shelf.  There was nothing the jam didn’t improve.  We used it in vinaigrettes, spooned it into sauces of all kinds, glazed pork and chicken with it, topped yogurt with it, and (of course) added it to cakes and toasted bread with butter.  Months later, on winter mornings before work, I would stand in pajamas at the kitchen counter for breakfast, look out of the window at the dark, and eat a giant spoonful of jam on a muffin.   I felt like I was eating summer.

Had any of us known then that Viktor would die suddenly of liver cancer, two summers later, I think we would have sat at the garden table on those nights and gone on talking and laughing until the next evening, when it was time to leave.  Indeed, it was only fitting that everyone crowded into a heurigeur after Vitkor’s funeral, and ate and drank for four hours in honor of his memory. 

Food and memory are intertwined for me.  And Aunt Dana’s apricot jam brings back to me our times in the garden with her and Viktor.  I learned that while Wachau apricots have something extraordinary about them, it is the help of friends and family members while you’re making the jam and canning it–and later, eating it–that is the real secret to any recipe.

DanaErin-1When I emailed Aunt Dana for her apricot jam recipe, she responded with an explanation that contains only the essential parts of the recipe, boiled down to a pure core.  I am happy to share the recipe, and a bit of my Austrian summers, with you.

 

 

AUNT DANA’S AUSTRIAN APRICOT JAM

(Editor’s note: This is a fun example of a family recipe passed down from generation to generation. While experienced canners should be able to fill in the blanks, we do not recommend that new or inexperienced canners try this recipe)

There’s a special sugar here called gelierzucker, which contains a thickener. But you can use normal (granulated) sugar and just use a 1:2 or 1:3 sugar-to-fruit ratio. I recommend 1:3, so that the jam isn’t too sweet.

You’ll need to add pectin (or agar) and citric acid.

Dice the apricots or whiz them in a food processor, mix with sugar, and cook.

 

CAA Contributor Erin Ferretti Slattery is a freelance writer and jam lover.  Her travel writing on Prague can be found at Jauntsetter.com.   Currently, she is working on a book-length project of Czech and American family recipes, called The Ghost in the Pantry, to be featured this fall on DailyLit.com. She and her husband live in New York City.

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