There were a few food trade-offs I was prepared to make when I moved to Portland. Peaches. Apricots. Okra. Sweet Potatoes. Basically, foods that thrive in extended heat, the kind of heat I assumed Portland only experienced every 40 years. While there's a firm link in my mind between summer and that first juicy bite of a ripe peach, I anticipated making new summer food memories when I moved. And, in a way, I have. Now, summer means berry picking, berry freezing, berry jamming, berry baking, and berry snacking. What I didn't expect was that summer in Portland can still mean peaches and apricots.
Last summer, we ate peaches nearly every weekend, alternating between Baird Family Orchards ("dedicated to growing the very sweetest and juiciest peaches the beautiful Pacific Northwest has to offer") and Maryhill Orchards. This year, thanks to an earlier-than-normal extended heat wave, Maryhill's stand at the PSU Market was heaped with peaches, apricots, and cherries before I even flipped my calendar to July.
I bought several apricots a few weekends ago as a picnic snack, drawn in by their perfect oval shape, unbruised skin, and the fact that there were large clumps of tourists with cameras blocking the peach bins. I've always pushed apricots aside when peaches are for sale: I've had enough bad apricots that I frequently think "dry and bland" when I see an apricot and reach for something else. That connotation is now defunct. Maryhill's apricots are neither dry nor bland; instead, they're perfumey and structured: the juice may not drizzle all over my clothes or counter when I take a bite, but it's there. I was barely done eating my snacking apricots before I had visions of turning more of these apricots into a jam I could enjoy this winter.
Two weekends ago, after staying up late making blueberry jam, I woke up the next morning to two bowls of halved and pitted apricots that I had macerated in sugar over night. The sugar had drawn out so much of the fruits' juices that each bowl was nearly overflowing. Per Rachel Saunders' instructions, I transferred one bowl directly into the preserving pan before slowly ladling the other bowl into a food mill to break up the apricots. After nearly 45 minutes of foaming and simmering, the apricots and their skins finally yielded to the heat, breaking down into a thick jam that captures the essence of an apricot in one spoonful. And just like that, I created another summer food association – one that I can remember even when I exchange 90 degrees and sun for 50 degrees and overcast.
Recipe Source: Blue Chair Jam Cookbook
(slightly adapted from the Royal Blenheim Apricot Jam recipe)
Makes 8-9 8 ounce jars
- 6 lbs pitted and halved apricots
- 2 1/2 lbs white cane sugar
- 2 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
Day 1: Get out 2 large storage containers (bowls or extra large Pyrex with lids). In each container, combine 3 lbs of the apricots with 1 1/4 lbs of the sugar and 1 1/4 ounces of the lemon juice. Stir well. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the mixture. Let macerate in the refrigerator overnight.
- Day 2: Place a saucer with several teaspoons in your freezer. You'll use the spoons to test your jam later.
- Remove the containers of apricots from the refrigerator. Transfer one of them to your preserving pan. Put the contents of the other through a food mill, adding this finer paste to the preserving pan, as well. Scrape any solids that don't go through the food mill into the jam mixture, breaking up any chunks.
- Bring the jam mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Boil, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and use a stainless steel spoon to skim the foam off the top of the mixture.
- Return the jam to a boil, decreasing the heat slightly. Cook until the jam thickens, 30-40 minutes. Stir and decrease the heat gradually as more moisture cooks off.
- When the jam has thickened, test it. Put a small amount of jam onto one of your frozen teaspoons and return it to the freezer for 3 minutes. When you take out the spoon, it should feel neither warm nor hot on the bottom. Tilt the spoon: if the jam is reluctant to run and is thick, it is done. If it runs quickly, cook it for a few more minutes and then repeat the testing process again.
- Turn off the heat and use your stainless steel spoon to skim off the remaining foam on the surface of the jam.
- Ladle into oven sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. (To sterilize your jars in the oven, heat your oven to 250 degrees before placing your jars and lids onto cookie sheets. Keep in the oven for at least 30 minutes, but longer is fine, too.)
- After filling your jars and securing the lids (use gloves if the jars are too hot to handle) carefully put the jars back on the cookie sheet(s) for 15 minutes.
- Remove the jars from the oven keeping them on their sheet(s). Put the sheet on a wire rack and cool them over night. They will seal as they cool.