The Making of Apricot Jam

My parents have a number of fruit trees. Right now one of the apricot trees is in season, so I ended up getting about 50 pounds of apricots last week. A few years ago I tried making apricot pie. It didn’t turn out very well, and I didn’t really feel like making another attempt right now. (I actually haven’t made a pie in almost 2 months—I think that might be a record.)

So yesterday my roommate Nelson and I made jam out of all the apricots. It took us about 6 hours including pitting all the fruit and cleaning up afterwards. I think we made 10 batches, giving us a total of 33 pint jars plus an extra quart of jam in a container and another 2 quarts of freezer jam. Here’re the finished jars:

I’ve never made jam before; it was a fun experience. Everything certainly does get sticky. And I really mean everything: you, the counters, all the utensils, the floor, the hot pads and gloves, the cabinets (even inside of them), and every other exposed surface. I think the top of our microwave was even sticky, and we didn’t even use the microwave. Nelson definitely came out the most scarred and damaged, primarily from stirring each batch as it boiled violently at scorching temperatures, spitting hot jam in all directions.

Almost every batch was different. We had 4 recipes that differed from each other significantly and we used different types of pectin and different procedures with each of the recipes. We also made a couple of unusual batches: apricot raspberry jam and strawberry rhubarb jam (which also came from my parents’ garden). When we got all done we sampled each of the major kinds to determine which was best.

Every one of the types of jam we sampled was really good. The difference in flavor and texture between them was really quite subtle. Every recipe emphasized the extreme importance of being perfectly precise with the ingredients and procedures, threatening that the jam wouldn’t set or the jars wouldn’t seal if you deviated. In contrast, the recipes together spanned quite an array of ratios, quantities, and methods. And the resulting jams were all very close to the same and every one of them set. It makes me wonder how important all the precision in jam really is.

We tried both liquid and powdered pectins. There was a difference in the procedure for the two, but the final products were not very different based only on the pectin. The liquid pectin recipes certainly yielded less per package, but they were slightly cheaper, so it might work out to be about the same costwise per jar of jam.

Between the subtly different jams, it was pretty unanimous among my roommates that the best apricot jam was the one with the (by far) least amount of lemon juice, and proportionately somewhat less sugar. It came from a SureJell Pectin package:

Combine the following in a large saucepan:
5 cups diced apricots
¼ cup lemon juice
1 package SureJell Pectin
Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Quickly stir in:
7 cups sugar
Boil for 1 minute. Pour into jars and process.

This gives the following ratio of ingredients (expressed in three ways; unitless because it is simply a ratio):

1 apricots : 0.2 lemon juice : 1.4 sugar
20 apricots : 1 lemon juice : 28 sugar
0.71 apricots : 0.14 lemon juice : 1 sugar

The apricot raspberry jam was by far the best one. We mixed half a recipe of apricot jam and half a recipe of raspberry jam. Haven’t tried the strawberry rhubarb jam yet so I can’t report on how well that turned out.

We used the “turn the jars up-side-down to seal them” method instead of processing the jars in a canner, which worked really well and was really easy: all we did was fill the hot jars with the boiling jam, put the boiled lids on, and immediately turned the jars up-side-down for 5 minutes. Then we stood them upright and they sealed after a little while of cooling. Every one of our jars sealed—even the ones that were only half full.

Overall, it was quite fun and very worth it. I’m glad Nelson had the idea to do it.