Sunday, July 31, 2011

Low Sugar Apricot Jam

Six Jars of Apricot Jam
Good Results of a Jam Session

Recipe adapted from Happy Girl Kitchen

As I promised in my refrigerator Apricot Jam post, here's another recipe for Apricot Jam from a class by Happy Girl Kitchen, our local food preservationists. This small family-owned business tried many combinations to get the perfect apricot flavor, color, and gel. They experimented with alternative sweeteners such as agave and honey, but did not get  good results. Even though this uses more sugar than my recipe, it looks better, keeps longer, and has a more complex flavor. The addition of lemon is key to both color and flavor. Lemon also adds acidity, the factor that makes preserved foods keep safely.

Apricots with Sugar and Lemon in Container
Store Overnight in 2 Gallon Container
I cut the recipe below in half, and it works fine. I also forgot to drain the apricots after I cut them up, before adding sugar and lemon. So instead of the expected 4½ half-pint jars of jam, I ended up with 6 half pints. Why throw out the juice if you can make more jam? Be prepared with extra jars and lids whenever you make jam. Quantities can vary depending on the exact nature of the fruit you use. There’s a lot of alchemy and a little magic in the way that fruits become jams!

Having these supplies on hand will make jam-making easier: oven mits, large wooden stirring spoon, spoon rest, 1-cup measure or other spouted cup, canning funnel, magnetic lid lifter, high heat spoonula or spatula, two-piece digital thermometer, jar lifter, and jar wrench. You’ll also need a deep 8-quart stainless steel or enamel pot to cook the jam and a  canning pot or equivalent to process the filled jars. An apron and/or old long sleeve shirt are advisable.

Pot of Apricots starting to bubble
First Jam Stage: Starting to Bubble
Contrary to popular belief, it is best to use a combination of ripe and unripe fruit in jams. Ripe fruits provide sweetness, but unripe provide pectin, the magic substance in fruit that makes jam gel. The combination of sweet and tart lends a complex flavor to the jam not unlike fine wine. Blenheim apricots (a heritage variety with short shelf life) can be found at Farmers Markets. These make a deliciously old-fashioned jam. I combined these with (unknown type) apricots from my tree with good results.

Jam goes through several stages as the fruit cooks. At first, a few bubbles appear. Then a lot more bubbles, until it is foamy. This is air escaping from the fruit, which is necessary to avoid “fruit float,” a jam with fruit at the top and clear liquid at the bottom. It is not necessary to skim apricot jam (apricots don’t hold much air compared with strawberries, for example), but you do need to constantly stir it till it calms down. During this next calmer stage, keep stirring as fruit breaks up and cooks to the gel point, where it magically becomes gelled (jam).

Pot of Bubbly Apricots Cooking
Second Jam Stage: More Bubbles
At the gel point, the jam looks glossy and consistently colored and textured. Test it like this: put a couple of saucers in the freezer before cooking the jam. When it’s gone through the stages above, put a little blob on a chilled plate and put it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes till it cools. Then tilt the plate and watch how the jam runs. If it runs quickly in many rivulets, it's not gelled yet. If it slowly slides down the plate it a uniform blob, it's jam. Check out the photo of Todd from Happy Girl giving a demo of this.

Happy Girl Kitchen officially says that the jam will keep up to one year, though in my experience it can keep much longer. Happy Jamming!

Hand Holding up Plate with Gel Test
The Gel Point: It's Jam!
Low Sugar Apricot Jam
Makes ~12 half-pint jars

8 lbs. apricots (Royal Blenheims if you can find them)
2 lbs. evaporated cane juice (unrefined sugar)
½ cup fresh lemon juice

Wash and remove the pits from the apricots. Combine with sugar and lemon juice in a 2-gallon plastic container. Cover and let sit in a dark, cool place overnight. You can let it sit like this for 2 days if you need to, but if it’s longer than overnight, put them in the refrigerator and don’t cover tightly.

The next day: Clean and dry 12 canning jars plus a couple of extras. Invert on kitchen towel in canning area. Place 14 clean lids and rings in a bowl and cover with hot (not boiling) water.

Fill canning pot with water for processing filled jars. Preheat the water bath by bringing water to boil, then turning off heat.

Place two saucers in the freezer. You will use these to test for the gel point, the point at which you stop cooking and start canning.

Macerate the fruit by mashing it with a potato masher. Add plum mixture to a heavy, deep 8-quart stainless steel or enamel pot, including out all sugar that has sunk to the bottom. Remember that fruit will foam up during the cooking process, so make sure the pot is large enough. Bring fruit to boil, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, assemble your canning supplies: oven mits, large wooden stirring spoon, spoon rest, 1-cup measure or other spouted cup, canning funnel, magnetic lid lifter, high heat spoonula or spatula, two-piece digital thermometer, jar lifter, and jar wrench.

Boil the mixture on a high heat, stirring constantly. At first, apricots will foam up. Stir constantly to avoid boil-overs. Continue stirring and heating until no foaming occurs and mixture starts to get thicker and glossy. This will take about 20 - 25 minutes (different types of apricots might make timing vary). Put on oven mits and long sleeve shirt when mixture thickens to avoid hot splashes.

Start testing for the gel point. Remove jam from heat. Take chilled saucer out of freezer and drop a blob of hot jam onto saucer edge. Return to freezer for a couple of minutes, until cool. Hold saucer vertically and observe jam as it runs down the plate. If it runs quickly in rivulets it’s not ready. If it moves slowly in a unified blob, it’s ready. Test about every 5 minutes until it gel point is reached.

Remove jam from heat and set on hot plate in canning area. Place canning funnel in jar and fill jar using a measuring cup or other spouted cup. Fill to ¼ inch from the top. Wipe it the jar rim and threads with damp kitchen or paper towel. Fish a lid out of the water with a magnetic lid lifter, shake off the water, and place on top of jar. Screw on ring gently, leaving it barely finger-tight. Air will need to escape the seal during processing.

Repeat with other jars until you run out of jam. Scrape the last bits from the pot with the high heat spoonula or spatula. Do not process the last jar if it’s only partially filled, refrigerate it to enjoy now.

Place jars in canning pot rack, taking care not to tilt them. Lower rack into water bath and bring to 210 degrees F, using a two-piece digital thermometer. Adjust heat to keep temperature consistent, and/or monitor pot to keep temperature low enough to avoid jam boiling out of the jars. Process for 5 minutes at 210 degrees F. Remove pot from heat and let cool 5 minutes.

Remove jars from water bath using a jar lifter and oven mit, being careful not to tilt. Tighten rings—a jar wrench helps with this. Set jars on kitchen towel—never directly on cold surface. Allow to cool and set up overnight, or for several hours.

Jam Pot with Just a few bubbles in Apricots
Third Jam Stage: Bubbles Subside
Glossy, thick jam in pot at gel point
Final Jam Stage: The Gel Point

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