I’m starting here because actually I can’t think of a nicer thing to make and give someone than a big jar of apricot and vanilla jam.
Yes because it makes a delicious gift but also because making this jam is a kind of pre-Christmas ritual for me.
I block out a couple of hours, play carols, grab any child within reach who won’t mind chopping and chatting for a while and then halve a big box of apricots, toss in a pan, scrape in the vanilla seeds, squeeze in the lemon, in goes the sugar then we boil until set.
These repetitive actions, the smells, the sound of the jam blipping away, the chopping and storing and washing of jars, all of it is good, calming and makes me happy.
And the other result? A batch of jam that’s just about the most delicious thing you can put on your toast (or in your crostata, see previous post).
Apricots are the first of summer’s stone fruit to come into season (here) so this is the first summery, gift-y thing I make every late November/early December. A happy harbinger of Christmas.
If you like, label these jars up nicely and give as is. Or gild the lily and make up a nice little basket with jam, a loaf of bread or a pannetone from the shops, perhaps also a bag of good coffee and maybe a bunch of flowers. That sounds like a pretty fantastic Christmas present to me.
This recipe (next post) is from my book A Basket by the Door @murdochbooks
2 days of homemade Christmas presents
Day 1, Apricot and vanilla jam 🎄
Prep time 20 mins
Cook time 30-35 mins
Makes about 6 jars (depending on their size!)
3.5kg apricots, cut into eighths, stones removed
2.5kg white sugar
2 vanilla pods, split
Jucie and pips of lemon
Preheat oven to 160C. Wash and sterilise (I wash mine well then pop them in a moderate oven for about 15 minutes) 8 medium jam jars (the number you’ll fill depends of course on the various sizes of jars you use) and place a small dish in the freezer. Crack 15 of the apricot stones to reveal the almond-shape kernel inside. Place these in a shallow dish and cover with boiling water, let sit for five minutes then roughly chop (make sure there aren’t any hard pieces of shell in there).
Place apricots in a large, heavy-based saucepan or stockpot. Add 1/2 cup water, the apricot kernels, vanilla (scraping the seeds into the pot and adding the pods too) and lemon juice and pips*, (throw in the lemon halves too and just fish out before bottling).
Bring to the boil, stirring often so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot and burns. Boil for 10 minutes, at which point the apricots will be lovely and soft. Meanwhile, warm the sugar by weighing it out into a large stainless steel bowl or baking tray in the preheated oven. About six minutes will do the trick.
After cooking the fruit for 10 minutes, pour in the hot sugar. If you have a sugar thermometer, attach it to the side of the pot and cook on high heat, stirring often, for 15 minutes or until the temperature reaches jam setting point – 105C. If you don’t have a thermometer, do the ‘plate test’ ie after about 15 minutes, dollop a teaspoon of the jam on the plate you put in the freezer back at the beginning, wait for about 10 seconds then push your finger through the middle of the jam, if it wrinkles and resists a little then you have reached setting point. If jam is still runny, cook for another 5-10 minutes. Ladle into the prepared jars, filling each right to the top, screw on lids tightly and invert jars onto a tea towel lined chopping board or bench (this helps create a seal).
This jam isn’t hard and is delicious but we don’t always have time for these things so another option is to pare everything right back and give a basket of apricots and that would be pretty great too.