Food & Wine
I am a simple bottler, a user of basic techniques and sporadic in my duties. In honesty, I had intended to stop; I had my eye on canned fruit this winter as it's so clearly labelled by its country of origin, even regionally labelled. But, as the cannery for apricots closed in the early 2000s, if you want to eat locally grown apricots during winter there's no solution but to bottle them yourself.
Don't wait around to bottle apricots; they do not continue to ripen once picked, and the season is definitely drawing to a close. Avoid damaged, old or over-ripe fruit. Food that has spoiled is spoiled. In restaurant kitchens we have a saying: "If in doubt, chuck it out." Today, I tend to pop it in the compost but the mantra holds true - cooking with bad food makes bad food. Also it wouldn't be cool to make someone sick.
For success, everything needs to be sterile. When it comes to jars and lids, get them clean and then get them hot. Jars that hold bacteria will spoil your food. I put my handwashed jars on a tea towel in a cold oven, and turn it on to bake (no fan) so it comes up to 100º Celsius. Keep the lids in a saucepan of boiling water. Add hot fruits and liquids to hot jars. Stand these on a folded tea towel or a wooden chopping board, as temperature changes can shatter jars. It is best to use preserving jars (these become prized possessions) as they are thicker and built to stand up to boiling hot sugar syrups. Also, use brand new discs and only screw bands in tip-top condition.
When preparing fruit, be careful not to squish or damage. I like to leave the skin on as it prevents me from bruising the fruit. Some of the skins will slip off during cooking, just add them into the jar, too. I even leave the stones if they look difficult. Fruit is best minimally handled.
This recipe uses the overflow method - where the apricots are first cooked in sugar syrup and then added hot to hot jars. It is a simple method and you have good control over how cooked the fruit will be. Be fastidious about cleanliness and work quickly, and it is unlikely you will have a problem.
*Clutha, Trevatt, Vulcan, Alex and Southern Cross are commercially grown apricot varieties for February, info from Summerfruit NZ. For more information on heritage or hybrid apricot trees, start with koanga.org.nz or wairere.co.nz.
- Sunday Star Times
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