A Night-Time Canning Session
10:35 p.m. 74 degrees:
All is done. The jar lids are clicking to announce they’re sealed. The last to come out is the plum jam, a little tart, but treasured because I picked those fruits myself.
More found fruits, these in another canyon in more abandoned fruit trees.
It was sunset last Saturday and I parked by the stand of gnarly old trees trailing up the craggy hillside–each one filled with plums, some red, some gold, some purple and all no bigger than a cherry.
Alone, I heard only the sounds of the river rushing below the banks where I picked and sampled, sampled and picked. I stepped gingerly around the rocks where I hoped no rattlesnakes were dozing.
Yes, there was an element of danger. Shall I tell you how my sandaled feet began to slip down the steep, gravelled bank reaching for the biggest sweetest plums on a particular tree?
My heart fluttered as I clawed my way back up to the roadside. Then, I settled for the ones well within my reach.
As I picked those tiny, tart plums I thought about nothing and everything. And perhaps that is why–along with the delicious warmth of the sun, the river’s breeze and the solitude–that I felt as happy and connected and as alive as I ever have.
Old-fashioned Apricot Jam
This is the most basic fruit preserves to make. It contains two ingredients: ripe apricots and granulated sugar. And far less sugar than jams and preserves made with pectin. This results in a looser set, which I prefer. Also, I reserve the pits to place in the jars with the finished jam where they impart a lovely bitter flavor over time. You can choose to discard them instead. This is a small-batch recipe that you store in jars in the refrigerator or seal into jars using the hot water canning method [see video].
- 3 pounds apricots
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- pinch salt
Pit the apricots and reserve the pits, if desired. Place the apricots in a large, heavy-bottomed and deep pot. Add the sugar, combine and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 24 hours.
After the sugar causes the apricots to release their juices, place the pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and use a potato masher to make a puree--as chunky as you like.
Monitor the pot so that it maintains a gentle simmer. Stir frequently as it thickens. Skim any foam from the top.
The amount of time the jam takes to thicken will vary. Start checking after 40 minutes of steady simmering. To test the jam, place a small glass dish in the freezer for 10 minutes, then drop a spoonful of the jam onto the cold plate. Let it set for moment and then check to see if it forms a glossy sheet that wrinkles when you push a finger into it. If it doesn't cook for 5 minutes more and test again.
Ladle into sterilized jars and let cool completely to store in the refrigerator. Or process in a hot water bath for 10-minutes following these detailed instructions from the Center for Food Preservation.
This is a low-sugar jam recipe that you can adapt to other quantities and other fruits. Cooking times will vary, but the ratio of whole fruit to sugar by weight is 40 percent.
For this recipe, I multiplied 3 pounds apricots (40%), or 48 ounces x .4, to get a total of sugar of 19.2 ounces.
1 cup of sugar is 7 ounces, so 3 cups of sugar is 21 ounces, or just slightly over 40% sugar.