“You know what you can do with one box of apricots?”
I looked up from my desk to see my co-worker Adam Lynn. Seeing how he writes about crime I figured he was referring to bludgeoning, smothering or poisoning people with them.
He squinted his eyes. “16 pints of jam, 6 pints of apricot butter and one quart of apricot liqueur.”
Then he stared me down. This was clearly a challenge.
I’ve never canned a thing in my life. Say “preserves” and all I picture are bubbling pots, sticky surfaces and botulism. I’m the last person on Earth who should can anything.
The next day I was at Tacoma Boys eyeing the apricots being stocked by a young worker.
The sign called them “Tomcots.” I said the name out loud wondering if I had found some new form of tomato.
“They aren’t a cross between an apricot and tomato,” the worker said, overhearing me. “You’d be surprised how many people think they are.”
“Silly people,” I said as we shared a good laugh. Then I bought 10 pounds.
Lynn let me borrow his preserves recipe book and gigantic speckled iron canning pot which, until then, I had only seen mannequins using in history museum dioramas.
The apricot jam recipe called for 4 cups of the fruit pitted, peeled and crushed. Peeled? I barely have time to peel bananas. Cook book writers clearly think the rest of us have all day to prep fruit. Do they not realize people are busy? I am so far behind in my reality TV show watching I don’t even know who Snooki’s baby daddy is.
Following the recipe, I added 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice to the crushed and unpeeled fruit. I stirred in half of the sugar (3 cups) and – this is my favorite part of any recipe – let it stand for one hour.
Refreshed and caught up with Snooki’s shenanigans I went to add the remaining sugar only to discover I was one cup short. After having a vision of busybody Gladys Kravitz from “Bewitched” asking, “Can I borrow a cup of sugar?” I decided I could live without it.
After dissolving the sugar I brought the mixture to a boil. I skimmed off foam and added a 12 teaspoon of butter for reasons I still can’t figure out and a 3-ounce pouch of pectin. Apricot foam is delicious by the way. The recipe went on and on, but my eyes glazed over like jelly and I figured that was the sign to quit.
I spooned the mixture into hot pint jars and lowered them into the 200 degree water in the old-timey pot. Ten minutes later, my first canning project was done.
As I cleaned up the kitchen I heard a loud pop from one of the jars. Expecting an imminent explosion, I quickly backed away. I pictured myself in the emergency room trying to explain to the doctor why I had shards of jam-covered glass in my face. “You should have peeled the apricots,” he would say.
It turned out the sounds were coming from the vacuum lids depressing. Botulism averted.
I held a jar in the sunlight. It was beautiful. Skins floated like confetti. But with one taste my tongue shriveled like a salted slug. Even with the missing sugar it was a treacly confection. Next time – if there is a next time – I’ll use half the sugar.
The next day, and with a fresh sack of sugar, I tackled apricot butter. I had been looking forward to this because I thought it involved dairy products. Lynn had duped me. This is “butter,” not butter.
The recipe called for three pounds of apricots pitted and peeled. Again with the peeling. Again I skipped it.
To the fruit, I added one 12 cup orange juice. The recipe also called for antioxidant crystals, which I discovered keeps fruit from browning. Since I like dark bread, beer and chocolate, I decided I could live with dark apricot butter.
I was instructed to run the mixture through a food mill. I don’t even know what a food mill is. I used a potato masher instead.
This time I purposely added only two-thirds of the sugar (two cups.) I also went off-recipe and added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of allspice.
By the time I ladled the brownish-orange concoction into the jars it had thickened into a goopy consistency.
I dipped my finger into the leftovers. Pay dirt! I could have reduced the sugar even more, but the rustic spread was spicy and delicious. I won’t be giving this away for Christmas.
Canned apricots are easy peasy. Cut the ’cots in half, pit them and throw them in bottles with some sugar. But there were those vexing antioxidant crystals again. This time the idea of brown apricots wasn’t so appealing.
Still I didn’t want to add chemicals to my fruit. My inner hippie wouldn’t have allowed it.
As an experiment, I whipped up my own anti-browning formula. I juiced one large lemon, added an equal amount of apple cider vinegar and then doubled the liquid with water. I then soaked half of the fruit in the mixture for 15 minutes. I didn’t treat the other half.
It worked. The treated apricots looked as vibrant as when they were picked. But the untreated ’cots, though darker, were not unappealing. Antioxidant crystals, you are dead to me.
Putting the ’cots in the jars was more difficult than I anticipated. They flipped and got stuck. I used chopsticks and spoons to right them. I now have a new respect for people who build ships in bottles.
Getting air bubbles out of the jar reminded me of those games where you carefully maneuver ball bearings through mazes. But finally I had quart jars that were works of art.
At this point, my kitchen was as hot and steamy as a romance novel. I took the vodka I had purchased for the apricot liqueur, crumpled up the recipe and made myself a martini.
In a jam. I don’t know where that phrase comes from. There’s nothing to this preserve business. As long as you don’t follow the firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8541