Having already waxed poetic about peaches, I feel I must give these luscious apricots their due. Seldom have I seen such perfect specimens, firm yet yielding, their golden hue tinged with a pink blush. I find that so often apricots can be mealy and tasteless, but these are a revelation: sweet-tart, juicy, with a delicate perfume all their own. I came away from the farmstand with 7 quarts and every intention of replicating the vanilla-scented jam my mother-in-law so enjoyed 2 years ago. If you've never made jam, let me just warn you that most recipes call for what seems like an obscene amount of sugar, but there is another way. This time I decided to make a batch using some powdered pectin and relatively small amounts of sugar and honey. Sadly, I wasn't totally thrilled with the results. I found the jam to be less crystalline; it seemed to have a slightly cloudy and over-gelled quality. I probably need to experiment a bit more, with quantities and timing, but I just haven't had the extra time lately. So for now, I'm going to put these up the old-fashioned, and use organic sugar. It's not like jam is something that gets eaten by the cupful anyway...
Even if you're put off by large-batch canning, you can make small quantities to keep in the fridge for immediate consumption. Just know that the best jams, jellies, chutneys and preserves are made with fruit that's at its peak—not overripe or bruised. And feel free to get creative, improvising with spices, sweeteners and combinations of fruit. If you are going to try water-bath canning, please be sure to read through these instructions.
APRICOT JAMmakes 5 pints8 cups pitted and diced apricots1/4 cup lemon juice1 whole vanilla bean6 cups sugarPrepare your canning jars and lids according to the instructions referenced above.Place apricots, sugar and lemon juice in a large, heavy stockpot. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise and using the tip of the knife, scrape out all the seeds. Add seeds and pod to pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Once mixture reaches a rolling boil, continue to boil it for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking.Remove from heat, fish out vanilla pod, and fill jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Wipe rims with a clean dish towel and put the 2-piece metal canning lids in place.Process according to canning instructions, or cool and refrigerate.Of course we all know that apricot jam is delicious on toast or with all manner of cheeses (thyme-scented goat cheese, cottage cheese, manchego). It's also great spread on angel food cake, used in little tartlets, or heated up and basted on a grilled duck breast or roasting chicken. You can even whisk a little into salad dressing; try it with radicchio.