For years I have missed fresh ripe apricots in season, whether they were too expensive, or they were out of stock at the market. For some reason I wasn't aware of at the time, I rarely found apricots, even if they were in season. I've always had the memory of the apricot jam my grandma used to make, with the kernels inside it. My grandparents had an apricot tree in their yard, which I remember so well because I enoyed climbing in it and picking the apricots, even when they were still green. As I was an avid reader at that age, I loved eating something while reading old novels for hours on end, and my snacks were usually crackers, candies or even jam. Oh, how I enjoyed my grandma's jam, with those sweet crunchy kernels! No other apricot jam I bought from the store was even close to as good as hers. Years have passed and apricots were still not available to me, like they were some sort of contraband.
One year I began to understand why apricots might be so rare and expensive. There was an apricot tree in my neighborhood - only one - which I spotted on my way to the market. I admired its blooms every spring and its foliage later in the summer, yet I don't remember seeing any fruit in it. Maybe because the children in the neighborhood liked the green apricots too much! Year after year, the apricot had fewer and fewer flowers, until one spring when it disappeared for good. Apparently, they had to cut it down because it got sick and died off. That was the last apricot tree I last saw until I planted one in my garden. What a joy, but, at the same time, what a worry! I constantly watched it and even a twisted or a dry leaf was a tragedy. I watered and showered it every summer night to prevent bugs from nesting on its leaves and branches. But it never occured to me that it needed annual pruning. I still had so much to learn!
Like any other fruit trees, apricot trees need a good trimming for a better harvest and for the health of the tree, thus assuring it has a longer life. After planting my apricot in 2009, I let it grow too much because I didn't know how to prune it and I was afraid I would damage it. The first spring it made a few apricots, the next about half a bucket, but the third year I began to worry because it had flowers only on the tips of its very high branches. The harvest wasn't good at all and it reminded me of the apricot I knew in my neighborhood. I didn't want my apricot to die! So I started learning more about apricots and how to prune my tree. In its fourth spring the branches were so long that the tree appeared to be almost as big as my house. I needed a ladder to reach the highest branches for pruning them and also for harvesting the fruits. I also learned that apricots needs spraying with insecticides, fungicides and acaricides, immediately after pruning (in the same day), so the bugs won't take over the wounded tree and hurt it. I know that some people are opposed to insecticides and promote organic food, however, it seems it's getting harder and harder to get a good harvest from many fruit trees or vegetables without spraying them for bugs.
Last year I followed all the good advice of how to take proper care of an apricot and I managed to bring my tree up to a good shape and get a bigger crop. Did I say bigger? I meant to say, the biggest apricot crop one could ask for! I harvested apricots for over a month from my tree, trying to pick them only when they were ripe. Of course, I had to fight with the birds for my apricots, but we managed to get along just fine. Since I had so many, I could afford to be generous!
Just when it was time for harvesting, my husband and I went on vacation and returned after ten days. Meanwhile, my son remained home and harvested the ripe apricots, saving them in the refrigerator. When we returned, a large bucket of apricots was waiting for me and more were still in the tree, ready to be harvested. The branches were leaning towards the ground under the weight of the fruit. What was I to do with so many apricots, besides eat them? Jam, of course, and many, many cakes! I hadn't made jam since my youth and that was a few decades back, so I had almost forgotten how to make it. First I sorted the fruits and chose the mushy ones for jam. Those are the best for jam because they are overripe, making them sweeter and more flavorful, although they don't look so nice. Jam is the perfect way of preserving the mushy fruits, but I had to be careful and check each one of them to avoid any that were starting to rot. But even if a part was rotten, I only had to eliminate that part because the rest of the fruit was perfect. I didn't want to waiste any of my apricots, though that meant some extra work.
The pile of apricots remaining after my inspection was so big, I decided to use a huge pot, which I thought would be perfect for making jam. That was so wrong! I checked for the old jam recipe I knew, then started to make it. After opening each apricot and pitting it, I alternated layers of apricots and granulated sugar, then turned on the low heat on my stove, put the pot on it and waited. I should have let it sit overnight so the sugar would melt, but there wasn't any room in the fridge for the huge pot. And I couldn't place it outside, as it was July and very hot, even during the night. Because of the large quantity of apricots and sugar, it took about an hour until until it started to boil and, then, many more hours until the jam was somehow jellyfied, so I had to stay up all night. When the sun came up, I decided to turn it off. The jam was thick enough, yet it should have been more firm. But I was already tired and the stove and counter were too hot from the stove being on for so many hours. Bad, bad, bad idea of making the jam in that huge pot! I decided I'll never do that again, no matter the circumstances!
The best jam is made in smaller pots and with a smaller amount of fruits. And that was the plan I followed for the next apricot jam batch I did later. The best recipe would be this one :
- 6 pounds ripe apricots (3 kg)
- 3 pounds sugar (1.5 kg)
- juice from 1 lemon
Wash the apricots, pit them and put them in the jam pot, alternating a row of apricots with one of sugar. Let refrigerate overnight so the sugar melts in apricots' juice. The next day put the jam pan on the stove at high heat, bring the jam to boil, then lower the fire so the jam will still boil slowly for about 1/2 hour. Stir gently occassionally to prevent jam from sticking to the bottom. When the jam thickens, check it by pouring a bit on a plate; if it doesn't spread and stays firm, the jam is ready. Sterilize the jars and lids in a hot water bath canner, fill them one at a time and put them back in there to sterilize and seal. 
After making the second batch of jam, I still had another bucket full of healthy, ripe apricots in my refrigerator. For over a month, we all followed a diet of fresh apricots, daily. I also baked everyday a different apricot cake, experiencing a recipe I didn't have the chance to experience before, the Apricot cobbler. It is an American recipe, yet I'm writing it for anyone who would want to make this one in particular:
- 5 cups apricots, sliced
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 eggs, beaten
- cinnamon sugar for topping
Heat the oven to 375 F (180C). Butter a 9-inch (22cm) square baking pan. Combine apricots with sugar, flour, water, salt, cinnamon and vanilla. Turn into the prepared baking pan. Dot apricots mixture with the pieces of butter. In a medium mixing bowl combine the ingredients for the topping: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt. Add the beaten eggs and beat until blended. Using a tablespoon drop batter evenly over the apricot mixture. Sprinkle the batter with cinnamon sugar mixture.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the apricots are tender and the crust is golden brown. Serve warm with cream or a scoop of icecream.
I can't wait for my this season's apricot crop! Writing this article has made me crave apricots again. The apricot jam I made last summer is long gone by now, but soon I'll be harvesting this year's crop. Now I know better and I won't make the same mistakes. That huge bucket of apricot jam is just a bad memory!