Making jam is so much easier and safer than most people think. After all, 100 years ago everyone used to can food, unless they were millionaire financiers or nomadic tribesmen. If our pioneering ancestors could do it, so can you! Jam is easier than canning vegetables because the acidity of the fruit inhibits microorganisms, so you don’t have to be paranoid about sterilizing everything.
Jamming basically boils down to mixing the fruit with lots of sugar and some lemon juice, cooking it, and pouring it into clean canning jars. The heat of the boiling jam helps to sterilize the jar. The seal, occurs as the air inside the top cools, it shrinks and forms a partial vacuum that holds the lid on tightly to maintain the seal.
It takes only about an hour of your time. It will make your house smell amazing, and you’ll end up with yummy jam. Do it!
PREPARING THE FRUIT
Pull the apricots in half and then quarter them, in a large non-aluminum cooking pot. Set aside the pits for later.
For each 1 cup of apricots, add 3/4 cup sugar and 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice, OR for every 1 pound of fruit, add 1 cup sugar and 1 1/2 cups lemon juice.
Let the mixture stand at least two hours, and watch as the magic force of osmosis sucks the water out of the apricots, dissolving them and the sugar into yummy goo. Mmmmm
Place the large pot on the stove and bring the goo to a boil over high heat. At first you’ll just need to stir occasionally to keep it from scorching, then as it comes to a boil you’ll need to stir continuously. Once it’s at a steady boil, set a timer for 20 minutes and keep stirring…turn the burner down to a temperature where it is still bubbling, but not boiling over.
The foaming will stop, I promise, even though you’ll feel like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice for a few minutes. Then just keep stirring, stirring, stirring…
When the timer goes off, take a look at the mixture. If it still seems liquidy, let it boil another five minutes but no more. The goal is to have reduced the volume by about half, and for what’s left to be fairly thick; sort of like boiling jam. When it’s ready, turn off the heat.
PREPARING THE JARS
You will have first prepared a bunch of canning jars. The jars will have just gone through the dishwasher even if they’re new, or boiled for 5 minutes in a bath. The lids will have been soaking in a bowl with boiling water poured over them. The rings will have been just sitting around.
(If you didn’t first prepare this stuff, while the apricots were dissolving in sugar, you’re in trouble now. Serves you right for not reading the recipe through! All you can do is let the jam cool a bit, pour it into any clean containers you have around, and put it in the fridge. You’ll have to eat it all in a few weeks. Get friends to help.)
As an optional but recommended bonus: Extract enough kernels from the pits so you have one intact kernel per jar. To do this, get a hammer and put the pit on a clean cloth on a very hard surface like the sidewalk. Whack the pit with the hammer, hard enough to crack it open but not hard enough to mush the kernel inside, which looks like a little almond. This takes a bit of practice, so it’s a good thing you have dozens of pits.
Now to fill each jar: Drop in an apricot kernel, and ladle jam into it up to about 1/4” below the rim. Try not to get jam on the rim. A canning funnel, which is a squat wide-mouthed funnel, is helpful here. Your better local hardware stores should carry them. The right amount of airspace is important for getting the jar to seal. Put a lid on top, then screw a ring over it just until snug. Go on to the next jar. Repeat till you run out of jam.
You’ll probably end up with a half-full jar at the end. This won’t seal properly, so keep it in the fridge. Or if you run out of jars first, you can put the remaining jam into any other closable containers you have around, and put them in the fridge. Either way, the refrigerated jam will keep for a few weeks.
Using a canning pot, put the jars in the pot with enough water to cover the jars completely, just over the lids. Put the lid on the canning pot and bring pot to a boil. Allow to boil for 8 to 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove the jars. Sit the jars on a clean towel or bread board and allow to cool. You should soon hear a little metallic “ping!” sound as each jar seals shut — the cooling air shrinks and forms a partial vacuum that pulls the lid tight and makes it flip from convex to concave.
If any jars haven’t popped shut by themselves in 15 minutes, they’re not properly sealed, so put them in the fridge and eat the jam soon.
Jam keeps for years, although unless you make a lot of it, you’ll run out long before then. We’ve eaten three-year-old jam that still tasted great. A very few jars go bad, and a bad jar is pretty obvious because it’s either lost its seal or has mold on top, so you just throw it away and get another one.
(Before you open a jar for the first time, press on the lid to make sure it’s still sealed. If you can pop the lid down, or if you can pull it off without a fair amount of force, it’s lost its seal and you should throw the jam away. But this happens really rarely.)