I suppose it’s a given that one takes for granted the situation he or she is born into. For instance, when I was very young, I thought that most people had lots of fruit trees growing in their yard, and I just accepted the fact that I had four quite-a-bit older siblings who were kind, albeit a bit rascally with me at times. Amongst those fruit trees were two apricot trees that did reasonably well in our cool weather and whose fruit was turned into delicious pies that everyone loved except me. Amongst those siblings was Debbie, who at six years older was my closest sister, both in age and compatibility. She enjoyed “entertaining” me. One late spring morning when I was about 4 or 5, she and her friend excitedly told me to come and look at the apricot tree, which was just any old tree for me at the time. There, all over the branches, were hundreds of macaroni pieces “growing” on the tree! They told me it was a macaroni tree and for about 15 minutes, I believed them.
What does all of this have to do with cooking, you ask? Well, I happen to love apricots–cooked, not raw– with chocolate, as a preserve, yes, in pies and everything else you could think of and this was a handy excuse to tell this little story. We were recently gifted some past-their-prime apricots by friend Linnea who works at the Farmer’s Market and my daughter made Vanilla Apricot Preserves with them. Not only is this stuff good on toast and over ice cream, its remarkable blended up with your favorite BBQ sauce and salt for an amazing glaze on grilled spare ribs. The recipe is courtesy of Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krisoff, which, by the way, is an excellent canning book. Of course, you can also make this and freeze it instead of canning.
Vanilla and Apricot Preserves
3 pounds ripe apricots, halved and pitted
½ cup rose’ wine (I really like Barnard Griffin)
1½ cups sugar (or more to taste)
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
Prepare the water-bath canning: Sterilize the jars and keep them hot in the canning pot, put a small plate in the freezer, and put the flat lids in a heat proof bowl.
Cut the apricots into ¼-inch slices. Put the apricots, wine, sugar, and vanilla beans in a wide, 6-8 quart preserving pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, and continue to cook until the juices are just deep enough to cover the apricots, about 5 minutes. Pour into a colander set over a large bowl and stir the apricots gently to drain off the juice. Return the juice to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is reduced by about half, 5 to 10 minutes.
Return the apricots and vanilla beans and any accumulated juice to the pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently, until a small dab of the jam spooned onto the chilled plate becomes somewhat firm (it will not gel), 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir gently for a few seconds to distribute the fruit in the liquid.
Ladle the boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the sterilized jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.
Remove the vanilla bean pods and ladle the hot jam in to the jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace at the top. Slide a piece of vanilla bean pod into each jar so that it’s visible from the outside. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so that it’s just finger tight. Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water cover the jars by at least an inch. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minute to process. Remove the jars to a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed and the jar should be refrigerate immediately. Label the sealed jars and store. Makes about 5 half-pint jars