Going Ape for Apricot Preserves
I’m absolutely crazy for stone fruit. From the moment the first cherries come in, I quiver in anticipation of what’s to follow: sweet-tart plums and pluots, gushingly juicy peaches. I most look forward to the apricots, seductive and demure.
I could eat a bushel of them right out of hand, but apricot jam is my favorite, bar none, so every year I hunker down and make a bunch. Apricots don’t need much; their flavor blooms as you cook them down, but they also take nicely to a little spice. A few peppercorns, some cardamom, perhaps half a stick of cinnamon all bundled into a cheesecloth sachet will leave a subtle undertone to your jam. But if you want to create something special, crack open a few of the apricot pits and toss the kernels into the sachet.
The noyaux (nwa-yo), as they are called, look like little almonds, and in fact leave a faint, haunting almond-like flavor in the jam. The reason for this is mildly alarming:
All stone fruit of the genus prunus, including apricots, peaches and cherries, produce some cyanide in their seeds and stems. Eaten in excess, apricot pits can absolutely be harmful, but Europeans have been using them as flavoring agents in everything from jams to baked goods for centuries. Just keep the pits in your sachet, which will be removed at the end.
Besides, it’s good to live dangerously once in a while.
Apricot Jam Recipe with Noyaux, Spices and Bourbon
In a large, heavy, nonreactive pot, mix the fruit and sugar, and let stand to macerate at least 20 minutes, up to 24 hours.
With a nutcracker or a hammer, crack open several of the reserved pits and remove the kernel from within. On a square of cheesecloth (approximately 6" square), place the noyaux and spices, and tie up the corners tightly to form a sachet.
Place the macerated fruit over medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemons and the sachet. Raise the heat to high, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
When the jam reads 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer, cook one minute longer, turn off the flame, add the bourbon, stir well to combine and let the jam stand for a few minutes. Remove the sachet and lemon slices.
Pour into sterilized jars and process via the standard water-bath canning method.
Sean Timberlake is a professional writer, amateur foodie, avid traveler and all-around bon vivant. He is the founder of Punk Domestics , a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts, and has penned the blog Hedonia since 2006. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, DPaul Brown, and their hyperactive terrier, Reese.