If you haven't tasted this year's stone fruit crop -- peaches, apricots, any of them -- you must. It really is some of the best we've tasted in years. And an open invitation to make jam. A requirement, actually, when you finally resign yourself to the reality that you cannot possibly eat your way through a 25-pound box of Blenheim apricots before they spoil.
Jam isn't particularly difficult to make: Combine the fruit with some sugar, cook it, can it. You can add citrus juices for tang, herbs, whatever you want, really. And if you're more interested in the cooking than canning side, jam freezes quite well in small portions, a 6-month supply of tart filling, ice cream and fruit sauce inspiration. But even the simplest recipes are layered with subtleties. "How 'jammy' do you want your stone fruit?" asked Mike Cirone of See Canyon farm in San Luis Obispo when we picked up our discounted "jam box" of apricots at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. "A little jammy, more jammy?"
Well, we weren't sure. So we asked Amy Deaver of Lemon Bird Handmade Jams, who was up to her elbows in stone fruit jam making recently (and makes some pretty fantastic jams -- if you find yourself in a flavor inspiration rut, try her apricot-sage honey-pistachio jam). Get Deaver's tips after the jump.
Squid Ink: How ripe, or "jammy" should stone fruit be when you're making jam?
Amy Deaver: We buy perfectly "ripe" stone fruit for our jams, but we like the fruit to still be a little firm, not completely falling apart so the jam will have little chunks of fruit in it. Many farmers have a discount box this time of year with fruit for jam making.
[Squid Ink Note: At the farmer's market, ask for a box of stone fruit that is "a little less jammy" than others. It also means you'll likely have some firmer fruit to use in tart-making and nibbling. No matter how "jammy" it is, a jam box a great deal. We bought a 25 pound box of Blenheim apricots from See Canyon for $20.]
SI: What kind of sweetener do you prefer? Sugar, honey, other?
AD: We use pure white sugar for our jams, but we also like to add raw honey as an additional sweetener with some stone fruits. One of my favorite pairings is to buy a honey from the farmers market where I find the fruit I'm using for that batch. You can add a few tablespoons of honey to any jam for a great flavor.
SI: Cooking tips with stone fruit?
AD: You can prep your fruit simply by peeling it and cutting it into sections. Then add your sugar to the fruit and let it sit in a covered, non-reactive bowl or container to let the juices and sugar macerate for an hour or two. When you place the mixture on the stove, be sure to slowly cook the sugar so it dissolves but doesn't burn, then slowly increase the heat. We prefer to use a copper pot, but you can use another heavy-bottomed pot. You also need to really watch your temperature and cooking time, as stone fruit can burn easily. Your jam needs to boil and then reach a 221 degree set point. Always keep an eye on your jam so the fruit doesn't boil over the pot.
SI: Great tips. Thanks!
AD: One other thing with fruit like peaches, apricots and plums is that the fruit will foam a lot, so skim, skim, skim! You may need to skim the foam several times, like a stock.
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[Squid Ink Note: We used local cookbook author Amelia Saltsman's Blenheim apricot jam recipe. In The Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook, Saltsman suggests letting the fruit macerate overnight with the sugar (which doubles as a great way to get that fruit off the counter and into the fridge). Alice Water's Chez Panisse Fruit is also a great source for Blenheim apricot and other stone fruit jam recipes.]
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