Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Square 53: Apricot conserve

Square 053

This week I made apricot conserve. Considering I've been trying to improve my diet lately, this stuff is sugary and unhealthy as hell. On the other hand, it's such a fire pot of nostalgia it must be good for the psyche.

Toronto Transit Commission's Poetry on the Way program places works from Canadian poets in place of ad posters on subway cars. It's a nice way to bring a little culture and reflection into people's hectic schedules. A while back I read Margaret Atwood's "Apple Jelly" on one of the trains. It suggests that making preserves is not worth the cost, time and effort, until you realize the inestimable value of picking a jar of summer off the pantry shelf six months from now.

Growing up, I used to help Mom make jams, jellies, pickles and preserves. During my teens I started looking up and experimenting with recipes of my own, like peach chutney and zucchini relish. At Christmas each year I gave my older brothers and their wives boxes of jars containing memories of summer.

Now when I make preserves it's like spending time with Mom again beside a steaming pot of goodness.

Essex County where I grew up is the southernmost county in Canada, and one of the few places in the country where apricots will grow. They were easy to come by. A fresh apricot, not too ripe, is one of my favourite fruits, second only to peaches.

Sometimes in winter I wistfully approach the apricots in the supermarket, imported from somewhere else. They look so delicious, and their colour is incomparable, like a sunset or a hillside of maples in October. But if I am seduced into taking a few home they are always a disappointment, their texture mealy and dry, their flavour insipid.

The only way to enjoy apricots is during the few weeks in August when the real Ontario fruit can be found at the farmers' market. Even if I go to the trouble to make preserves, come next January it will not be the same—nothing can bring fresh fruit back until next time around. But like those imaginary visits with Mom, it's worth the trouble of evoking the colour, flavour and aroma of a memory.

Apricot conserve

  • 1 quart apricots
  • 1 can crushed pineapple (540 ml/19 oz)
  • ½ cup maraschino cherries, quartered
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 cups sugar
  • ½ cup slivered almonds

Drop apricots in boiling water for 10 seconds to loosen the skins. Remove promptly. Peel and quarter. Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice. Slice oranges and lemon, remove seeds, and cut slices into eighths. Put all the fruit in a large kettle.

In a medium-sized pot, combine pineapple juice and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Pour the boiled syrup over the fruit, and bring all to a boil for 25 minutes. A tiny piece of butter may be added to reduce the foam.

Add the almonds and boil one minute.

Remove from heat. Stir and skim for five minutes to prevent fruit from floating. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Makes 4½ pints. This is good served with scones or vanilla ice cream.

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