“What, you’ve never canned anything in your life? This is one great American tradition you oughta try!” my friend told me as I looked at the empty glass jars he handed me. A great American tradition I know nothing about? I’m in!
Secretly, I did not want to tell him that canning and preserving food is a process invented by the French. Jokingly he would have answered “Oh the French! They claim to have invented everything!” – to which I would have replied with a Horsey Blow conveying the oh-so familiar French attitude of I’m-brushing-it-off-and-I-don’t-really-know-how-to-answer-this-but-you-might-be-correct-so-I’ll-just-pretend-I-don’t-care.
So I looked into canning, I took notes and dived into the tradition that generations of American families have enjoyed for centuries. Fruits and vegetables without chemicals and preservatives? Why didn’t I start earlier? This is a process grandmas learned from their grandmas and you can’t get any more rustic than that.
But what to can first? Beans, carrots, strawberries, tomatoes? Very simply, I decided to can jams. The need for cooking, sugar and cutting fruits perhaps. Or the lovely sunny weather outside which basked the apricots in a golden light that can only remind you of summer fast approaching. In any case, to celebrate spring and the warmer temperatures, I made a thick raspberry jelly and an apricot almond and vanilla jam.
Ripe apricots and fresh raspberries, loads of sugar and a vanilla bean, I set up my French jam factory outside in a friend’s backyard. While the wind was blowing slightly under the table cloth, the sugar was reflecting its white glow onto the spoons. Birds and insects were making themselves heard and the wide deep pot was enjoying some fresh air outside while waiting to be heated up for a long jamming session that would take an entire afternoon. The empty glass jars with their flat lids and screw rings were singing a clinking song in the wicker basket being moved from the kitchen to the backyard. The song reminded me somehow of the Cookie Monster song except it went something like “J is Jam that’s good enough for me“.
Double the recipe if you want to fill up more jars. These recipes gave me approximately 3.5 cups (800 ml) of each kind.
Apricot almond vanilla jam
1 lb (450 g) of apricots
1 2/3 cup (330 g) of sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 lemon (juice)
8-10 blanched almonds
Thick raspberry jelly
1 lb (450 g) of raspberries
2.5 cups (500 g) of sugar
1 lemon (juice)
The apricot jam will take the longest. Prepare the apricots by cutting them in quarters and removing the pits. Place in a medium bowl with the sugar, the lemon juice and the vanilla seeds (open the beans, scrape it and let the seeds fall into the sugar). Mix well. Throw the bean in the mix as well for extra flavors. Cover with plastic and leave in the fridge for 24 hours. Mix the apricots once in while to blend their juice, the sugar and the vanilla together.
After 24 hours, remove the apricots and the vanilla bean and throw the juice in a wide deep pot. Boil the juice and mix well for 10 minutes. Add the apricots and the almonds in the pot and mix constantly at high heat for 7-10 min.
Depending how you like your jam, test it to see if it is too liquid or too thick. If it’s too liquid, continue boiling. If it is getting too thick, stop, add very hot water to the jam (1 spoonful at a time) until the desired consistency.
If you cannot find blanched almonds, boil for 30 seconds dry roasted almonds and remove their skin.
For the thick raspberry jelly, cook the raspberries in a wide deep pot for 5 min at high heat with 5 Tbsps (6 cl) of water. Pour the mixture in a blender and prepare a purée. If you do not like seeds, filter the raspberry purée through a fine sieve.
Pour the purée in the same pot, add the sugar, the lemon juice and get to a boiling point. Once boiling, reduce to medium heat and cook for 10-14 minutes depending on the consistency you like. A good test is to drop a spoonful of the jelly onto a cold plate. You can decide if the consistency is where you want it to be.
When done, add a tiny bit of salted butter to the pot and mix well. It will give your jelly a buttery taste to it that is so delightful.