Apricot Jam Recipe
Apricots are a truly awesome fruit with a wonderful flavor, but their growing season is very short, and they are quite perishable. In my opinion, the best answer to the problem of preserving apricots so you can enjoy them beyond the season is making jam. This is a “cooked” refrigerator / freezer jam recipe, but because you are cooking the jam in the pressure cooker, you are not only cooking the fruit for a much shorter period of time, but for most of that time are cooking it in a closed environment, helping to retain as much of the natural flavor as possible. You’re also making the jam in smaller, more manageable batches, you don’t have to use thermometers, stand for extended periods of time stirring hot jam, sterilize jars, and mess around with canning water baths. You can refrigerate some for immediate use, and store the rest of the jam in the freezer for later!
Apricot Selection and Storage. Fresh apricots are wonderful: light, refreshing, tasty, delicious. But as the Handbook of Fruits and Fruit Processing points out, they have a short shelf life, they lose flavor if stored at elevated temperatures, and they can also have problems if stored too cold. They can be tricky, in other words. My advice when shopping for apricots is to look for apricots that are light orange in color (its okay if they have a red blush like the photo above), that are slightly soft to the touch but not too soft (mushy is bad) and don’t have any brown patches. Avoid yellow or green fruit, if you can, they are underripe, and although they can be ripened in a brown paper bag, they won’t develop much in the way of additional flavor. If you choose to grow your own apricots as my parents have done since I was a child, I can highly recommend it, but you need to monitor your apricot tree carefully and often. The apricot season is very short, the whole tree full of fruit will ripen very quickly, and almost simultaneously, so you’ll have a lot of very perishable fruit all at once. This is actually great if you like to make jam, but you need to be prepared. Once you see those green apricots on the tree approaching their final size, get all your equipment assembled and ready. Get out the ladder, have bowls for picking, containers for the jam mixture to macerate in the refrigerator, jars for the jam once its been cooked, and be prepared to pick and process fruit at least once a day. As for storage, the sooner you can process your apricots the better, but if you do have to store them, avoid very hot rooms or storing below 32° F (0° C), and store them in a single layer (the weight of fruit on top of fruit will not do good things to the apricots on the bottom). If you knock some underripe fruit off the tree, place them in a single layer in a brown paper bag to hasten ripening. Please also read the next section before selecting and combining your fruit for each batch of jam.
Pectin, Underripe and Overripe Fruit. If you’ve done any research on the internet about making jam, you’ll know there are a lot of conflicting recommendations, a lot of poorly explained advice, and its hard to resolve these discrepancies. When I started making jam, I did a lot of technical research to try to determine which information was correct, and I want to share some of what I’ve learned, because when you’re using a recipe where no pectin is added, it really helps to understand how the naturally occurring pectin in the fruit works. Let me preface this by saying I have no objection to commercially prepared pectin per se, its my understanding that its largely derived from fruit (such as lemon rinds) – its just that in developing these recipes, I’ve found that I don’t need it, one of the best arguments for using additional pectin (that it cuts down on the amount of time you have to cook your jam) is irrelevant when you make your jam in the pressure cooker because the cooking time is already significantly reduced, and why pay for an extra ingredient if you don’t have to? But if you really want to add additional pectin, or you want a much stiffer jam, go for it.
That being said, even though this is a “no pectin” recipe, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any pectin involved – pectin occurs naturally within the fruit (both the apricots and the citrus). But the amount of pectin involved varies from one type of fruit to another, and the type and amount of pectin present also depends upon the ripeness of the fruit. Per Essentials of Food Science, when fruit is underripe, the pectin is actually protopectin, which won’t form a gel. You may have read that unripe fruit contains more pectin than ripe fruit: this is true, but the problem is, that protopectin won’t help your jam set. The good news is that when heated, some of that protopectin will convert to pectin. As fruit ripens, the protopectin converts into pectin, which will help jam, jelly and preserves to set. Once the fruit has ripened and is overripe (begins the process of decomposition, in other words), that beneficial pectin converts into pectic acid, which won’t aid in the setting of your jam. So ideally, you want to use fruit which has just ripened, but has not gone beyond that point. And if you do have some overripe fruit you still want to use, you’re going to have to balance it with some underripe fruit, which, when heated, will add more pectin to compensate for the pectin lost from the over-ripened fruit. But there is a trade off in compensating for over-ripe fruit with underripe fruit: under ripened fruit will have less flavor, and less complex of a flavor, than ripened fruit. Its not a question merely of sweetness, but of the essential apricot flavor of the fruit. So be judicious and balance overripe fruit with under-ripe fruit, but remember if you use too much, you will adversely affect the taste of your jam.
To Peel or Not to Peel Your Apricots. This is a matter of personal preference, you can make your apricot jam with or without the peel. If you like your jam chunky and don’t want pieces of apricot peel, the easiest way to remove the peels is to get a large pot of water boiling, use a fruit knife to make a shallow X in each piece of fruit, blanch the apricots in the boiling water for a minute or two, then use a Kitchen Spider to scoop the apricots out and dump them in a large bowl of ice water. Wait a couple of minutes until the fruit is cool enough to touch, and you should be able to easily remove the skin. Personally, I leave the skins on: aside from the fact that its less work, the apricots I use have thin skins, they’re home grown and organic so I don’t have to worry about pesticides on the fruit surface, and I puree the fruit anyway, apricot peels add both vitamins and pectin to the jam mixture. As a compromise, remove the peels from some of your apricots and puree those apricot skins along with most of the jam mixture, then dice the remaining fruit and add it to the jam – that way you take advantage of all the natural pectin in the fruit, but don’t have intact pieces of peel on the chunks of fruit.
JAM TIP: You may wonder why I have you add finely diced or pureed orange segments instead of orange juice to the jam, since the latter would be easier to prepare. Answer: pectin. Experimental Cookery says: “In fruits the pectin is usually found in the pulp and not in the juice…” and Handbook of Fruit Science and Technology confirms this: “The tissues of citrus fruits have high contents of pectic substances, and they are used as a source of commercial pectin.” If you’d like to experiment with substituting commercially produced orange juice instead, avoid “raw” juices, and I recommend purchasing juice with pulp.
2 pounds (907 grams) apricots
1 – 1 ½ pounds (450 – 680 grams) white sugar
2 large navel oranges
1 tablespoon butter or margarine (optional)
1 – 2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
¼ – ½ teaspoon almond extract
Electric Pressure Cooker
12″ Silicone Tipped Tongs
Spider / slotted spoon (only if you’ll remove peels)
Food processor or blender
Long handled spatula
Microplane Zester or Lemon Zester
Container for the jam mixture to macerate in
- Immediately before use, wash your apricots, removing any stems, leaves, foreign matter, and removing any bruised or damaged spots. Then if you haven’t already done so, or you have enough fruit for multiple batches, sort your fruit according to ripeness. Apricots which are green or yellow in hue are underripe, fruit which gives slightly when touched is ripe, and any apricot that feels soft to the touch is overripe. You can still use underripe and overripe fruit for your jam, but you’ll want to compensate for overripe fruit (which is lower in pectin) with underripe fruit (which has more pectin, but will have less flavor). Click the following to see a more detailed explanation of how pectin levels are affected by the ripeness of fruit.
Optional: If you want to remove the apricot skins, the easiest way to do so is to start a large pot of water boiling on the stove, then use a small paring knife to cut a small shallow cross mark in each piece of fruit. When the water reaches a good rolling boil, add a few apricots at a time to the pot, and boil them for a minute or two. Then remove them from the pot with a spider and plunge them into a large bowl of cold water. Once the apricots have cooled down enough for you to safely handle them, you should be able to remove the apricot skins quite easily. If you want more information on the pros and cons of removing the apricot skins, click here.
- Cut the apricots in half with a knife and discard the pits. Place the two halves in the bowl of your blender or food processor. Depending on the size of your machine, you may need to do this in several batches. Optional: If you want jam with pieces of fruit in it (more like preserves), peel and reserve a portion of the fruit in the refrigerator – it can be added after the rest are pureed.
- Put the lid on your machine and pulse the apricots in the food processor or blender several times.
- Remove the lid. Scrape down the side of the bowl with your spatula, pushing any stray bits of fruit or peel down back into the processed fruit.
- Continue this process (pulsing the fruit, removing the lid, scraping down the sides with the spatula, and repeating as necessary) until the fruit has been pureed smooth. After you have finished pureeing the fruit, you can add back any chunks of fruit you reserved.
- Using a Microplane Zester or a Lemon Zester, zest one or both oranges until you have a tablespoon of zest. I will generally do the navel and stem ends first and then work my way around the orange to get the maximum amount of zest possible from each orange. Don’t press too deeply, you just want the very thin colorful layer of the peel, that’s where all the essential oils with all the flavor and fragrance are. Hold your head back, the zest also contains acid, which can squirt up into your eyes. Place the zest in a ziploc bag and refrigerate.
- Since the peels on oranges can vary quite a bit in thickness, cut a thin slice of the peel off one end of the orange. Cut a little deeper if necessary. Using a curving motion following the peel of the orange, use the knife to peel the rind away from the orange. Since the pith is bitter, its better to leave a little of the orange stuck to the peel, than to leave some of the pith attached to the segments. Continue until the segments have been completely peeled, and remove any white peel from the outside of the segments and any white connective materials in the center (between the segments).
- Pull apart the orange segments and finely chop them into small pieces. (You can puree them in the blender or food processor if you prefer.) If there are any pieces of rind with orange attached, you can hold them over the bowl of jam mixture, press lightly, and allow the juice to drop into the bowl, then discard the pieces of peel.
- Add the chopped orange pieces and sugar to the bowl, stirring to thoroughly incorporate. Allow to macerate at least an hour, if you can allow the jam mixture to macerate overnight or for 24 hours in the fridge, that’s even better. (If you have only an hour, let the mixture macerate at room temperature, anything more than that, and you should refrigerate it.)
- Once the jam mixture has macerated, remove it from the refrigerator. Do not worry if the jam has darkened, this is normal. Place the jam mixture in the electric pressure cooker bowl, and with the lid OFF, set your machine on BROWNING, stirring periodically until the mixture comes up to a vigorous boil. Boil the jam mixture for 6 minutes. (Ignore any foam / scum that forms on the surface. It will disappear after pressure cooking.)
- Once you’ve boiled the jam mixture for the required number of minutes, add the butter, stir to incorporate, turn the machine off, and pressure cook the jam mixture for 8 minutes at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) using NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE. (DO NOT force pressure release, the hot jam could clog your pressure release valve.)
- After your machine has depressurized, turn the pressure cooker off and remove the lid, holding it at an angle over the pot so any hot liquid can fall back inside. Check the inside of the lid for any sign that jam has gotten inside the pressure release valve, and clean it immediately if it has – it will be much more difficult to clean once the jam hardens. Stir in orange zest and almond extract to taste. Then remove the jam to a container or glass jar, leaving the lid off until the jam has cooled. Refrigerate.
JAM TIP: I recommend you DO NOT increase or double this recipe, even if you have an electric pressure cooker than exceeds the standard 6 quart (5 ½ liter) size. I find that 2 pounds of fruit, plus whatever volume of sugar, is the maximum you should make in the pressure cooker at any one time. Any more than that, and you not only increase the chances of boiling hot jam getting near or clogging the pressure release valve, but the volume of food inside the pressure cooker affects how long it takes for the unit to come up to pressure, and to depressurize. Just as in conventional jam making, if you make too much jam at once, it will take longer to heat the jam to the set temperature, and it will also take longer to depressurize. You might overcook the jam in the process. If you want more jam than a single recipe, make multiple batches: that way you won’t throw off the timing, and because of the time it takes for the unit to depressurize naturally, it may actually be quicker to make 2 separate batches.
- 2 pounds (907 grams) apricots
- 1 – 1 ½ pounds (450 – 680 grams) white sugar
- 2 large navel oranges
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine (optional)
- 1 – 2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Sort your fruit. Ideally, you'll want to use apricots which have just ripened, but if you have overripe fruit, you'll want to compensate with an equal amount of underripe apricots. Clean the fruit, removing stems, leaves and any bad spots. Optional: If you want to remove the apricot peels, see Step 1 above for instructions.
- Cut each apricot in half, discard the pit, and add the fruit halves to the bowl of a blender or food processor. (You may need to do the following steps in batches, depending on your food processor's capacity.) Optional: If you want pieces of fruit in your jam to make it more like preserves, peel some of the fruit and add it back in after the rest has been pureed.
- Replace the lid and pulse the apricots a few times.
- Remove the lid, scrape down the sides of the blender or food processor with your spatula.
- Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until the apricots are a smooth puree. If you reserved any apricot chunks in Step 2, you can add them back to the jam mixture after you have finished pureeing.
- Use a Microplane or a Citrus Zester to remove the colorful surface layer of zest from the orange. You want only the thin outer layer, the white part underneath is bitter. Place the zest in a bag or container and refrigerate.
- Cut a thin slice off the top of the zested oranges. Cut an additional slice if needed to see how thick the orange peel is. Using your knife, cut down the sides of the oranges, in curves along the lines of the oranges, to remove the peel. Cut any remaining pith away from the outside of the orange segments. Separate the segments and remove the connective tissue inside.
- If any orange remains on the peel, hold it over the jam mixture and use your finger to press the juice out. Discard the peel. Either chop the orange segments up very finely with your knife or your food processor.
- Add your sugar and the finely chopped orange segments to the jam mixture. Let your jam macerate at least an hour, but preferably overnight or 24 hours. If you only have an hour, let it sit on the counter, for longer than that, it should be refrigerated.
- After maceration, place the apricot jam in the pressure cooker bowl. With the lid off and set on BROWNING, bring the jam mixture to a hard rolling boil, and cook for 6 minutes. Ignore any foaming at the surface, this will disappear after pressure cooking.
- As soon as the 6 minutes are up, turn the machine off, lock the pressure cooker lid, and set the machine on HIGH PRESSURE and the timer for 8 minutes. Use NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE -- forcing early pressure release can cause sticky jam mixture to be sucked up into your pressure release valve.
- After your pressure cooker has released pressure, carefully remove the lid, and allow any hot liquid to fall back into the pot. Check to make sure the inside of the pressure release valve is clear of jam, and clean it immediately if it isn't. Stir in the orange zest and almond extract to taste. Once the jam has cooled, refrigerate.