Monday, 12 November 2012

happy are the jam makers - apricot jam

I first learned to make jam when Sophie was one week old.  It must have been a hormone rush, to think I had the energy in those early days to undertake such a task.  And of course, I had mum at my side to guide me through the making and bottling process.

At the time, we were living on a stonefruit orchard.  Once a popular commercial venture, it was bought for the land rather than the trees.  We would wander through the rows of apricots, peaches, plums and cherries, feasting to our hearts' content.

The ambrosial smell of apricot jam bubbling on the stove takes me back to that time - a new baby in my arms and her older brother Tom beside me.  We gorged on jam and fruit and chutneys.  Homegrown, homemade loveliness.

3kg apricots (halved and stoned)
3kg white sugar

NB Before making jam, put two saucers in the freezer - you will test the jam for set-point on these later.

Add the apricots and sugar in to a large stockpot and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.  Turn the heat to high, then keep stirring the mixture - a metal spatula is best - so the sugar doesn't catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.

Once the fruit softens, use a potato masher to break down the pulp in to smaller pieces.  Skim off any impurities (the foamy substance that comes to the top of the jam) with a slotted spoon.  Decrease the temperature slightly if the jam feels like it's starting to stick to the bottom of the pan.

After about 20-30 minutes, the jam mixture will darken and clear slightly.  Use a ladle to spoon a small drop of jam on to one of the saucers from the freezer.  Return it to the freezer for a couple of minutes, then push the cooled jam with your finger.  If it wrinkles, you are at setting point.  If not, leave the jam for a few more minutes and repeat this process with the second saucer.

Once you've reached setting point, remove the pan from the stove and put on to a wooden board, ready for bottling.  Scoop jam into a jug and pour in to hot, sterlised jars.  Fill the jars right up to the top, then put their lids on and upend them for a couple of minute.  Turn jars back right-side up, then leave to cool.

If any jam spills on the outside of the jars, wipe it off while it's still warm.  It is a lot harder to remove once it's cooled down!

Store jam in a dark cupboard and leave in fridge once you've opened the jar.  If you see any mould on the jam, please throw it away.  It isn't worth messing with your health - even if the jam is too delicious for words!

This recipe can be varied to suit the quantity of fruit you have ie 2kg fruit to 2 kg sugar, or 1 kg fruit to 1kg sugar.  Don't cook with more than 3kg of fruit at a time.  Impatiently, I tried it once and had to pour off half the mixture, so the other half could cook properly.  It was all a disaster, really, so there's good reason for this advice!

This is my standard jam recipe and I've made it successfully with apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums.  If the fruit isn't drippingly ripe, you can add a small amount of water to the pan - no more than half a cup though, or it will interfere with your setting point.

Don't feel as though you're being wasteful by skimming off the impurities from the top of the pan.  Some batches will have quite a lot of this foamy substance and you're better off getting rid of it all.  You will have a much clearer, cleaner jam for your efforts.

When I'm bottling the jam, I cover my work surface with old newspapers.  This is another tip from mum, who's a jam-maker from way back.  It's one less sticky mess to clean up at the end of the cooking process!

Please note that jam making is a hot, sticky business.  It's best not to try making jam when there are toddlers and young children in the kitchen, as the jam is a bubbling mass of heat that can cause nasty burn.

Also, you may find it's easiest to stir if you wrap a tea towel around your arm to protect yourself when stirring.  Safely made, jam making is sure to become one of your favourite stonefruit season pursuits!


  1. Today I'll find out whether an ambiguously placed apricot tree is on our side or the neighbour's - fingers crossed it's ours!