Summer arrives, and with it, boredom and fresh fruit.
This is an annual occurrence: Many of The Child’s friends are traveling, with family, to relaxing vacation destinations, or on their own, to costly, enriching experiences. I don’t have the funds for the latter, or the time for the former. Summer is busy season at my office, when time off is forbidden, outside of a few short weeks.
It doesn’t matter much, though, as The Child’s time is committed to math tutors and group therapy and appointments with doctors. The little free time that remains is similarly limited; she cannot be unsupervised, so she cannot go places I cannot take her, or be somewhere I am not.
I squeeze in a week off during one of the allowed windows, at the beginning of July, and we do what we have not done since The Child was eight: We visit family in Wisconsin. While The Child’s friends are instagramming Ivy League schools and palm trees, she sits in the back of a battered twenty-year-old Saturn that doesn’t start on the first try.
Somehow, though, it always does start, one of the many wonders of middle America she will witness on this trip. Most of them, she ignores, opting to read a book as my cousin drives us on a series of country roads on a quest for factory fresh cheese curds. She puts her book down long enough to taste some samples, and marvel at the way they squeak when she bites into them.
She delights in the July 4 fireworks over Lake Winnebago, proclaiming them much better than the ones at home, where the crowd is far too restrained and sober to burst into spontaneous patriotic singing and far too big for us to get a front row seat at the water’s edge.
Some things are less interesting, of course, but she makes the most of these, too. In the midst of a dinner of Mexican food with an old school friend of mine, she smiles slyly and abruptly leaves the table, returning a few minutes later to send a stream of texts that doesn’t stop until her phone battery runs out.
The next evening, she informs me, she has a date with the busboy from the restaurant.
The following morning, she tells me about her date, a lengthy evening spent within a small radius of our slightly seedy hotel – dinner at Texas Roadhouse, followed by frozen custard and several hours spent swatting mosquitos and chatting next to the pool. She had a good time, though ordering dinner was hard, since there weren’t lot of vegetarian options on the menu, a comment I find perplexing, because she wasn’t a vegetarian when we ordered breakfast the day before.
But she is now, and announces she plans to stay that way, which I don’t mind while we’re traveling but mind very much when we return home to a freezer full of chicken, shrimp, and ground beef.
I check vegetarian cookbooks out of the library as I drop her off for her weekly tutoring sessions, and we make lists of vegetables, divided into categories: Ones she likes (very short), ones she doesn’t like (also fairly short), and ones she should probably try again. I fall back on pasta dishes and other old favorites while we grapple with this new reality, and stock up on more fruit than we can possibly eat.
She eats the strawberries, but informs me that apricots are just not her thing.
Truth be known, I don’t really like fresh apricots either, but I like them cooked up into jams and glazes. So I make jam one evening, rather hurriedly. It doesn’t go well.
I tried to follow the recipe from Christine Ferber’s Mes Confitures, but unfortunately, it involves a multi-day process – letting partially cooked apricots sit overnight in sugar syrup – so I simply skip that step, then realize I have to make other modifications to make the recipe work, and finally, take a shortcut that will prove fatal to any pretense that I have made jam. I put it into jars at a moment I hope, rather than know, it is set.
It isn’t, so I end up with four jars of slightly sloshy apricot sauce.
It turns out that this is not a bad thing: It’s very tasty apricot sauce, slightly tart, perfectly sweet, scented of vanilla, and lovely when swirled into a bowl of plain yogurt.
I like it enough that the next time I spy apricots at Costco, I buy them, and follow my somewhat amended version of the recipe, except that I test the jam oh-so-carefully and make really, truly, sure it is set before putting it into jars and then a water bath. It works perfectly, and I find myself with four small jars of very tasty, perfectly set jam.
I think I will still play with the recipe. The one thing it is missing is some larger bits of fruit, since running it through a food mill renders it a perfectly smooth jam, but little chunks of apricot would add some nice texture. Staying closer to Ferber’s original recipe, in which the syrup is cooked separately from the fruit, might resolve this.
Next year, when apricots are back in season, I’ll try again. In the meantime, I have seven jars of lovely jam – some for days I feel like toast, and some for days I don’t.
- 2½ lbs fresh apricots
- 3¾ cups sugar
- 7 ounces water
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 vanilla beans
- Wash apricots thoroughly, then cut pit them and cut each apricot into eight pieces (or so).
- Split the vanilla beans lengthwise.
- In a large glass bowl, mix the apricots with the sugar, water, lemon juice, and split vanilla beans. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight.
- The next day, set a small plate in the freezer. Pour the mixture into a preserving pan or large pot, and simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Skim off any foam that appears. Apricots will gradually break down as they cook.
- Test for set by using scooping a bit of jam onto the chilled plate. If the jam appears to gel (holds a trail when a finger is run through it), then take the jam off the heat.
- Remove the vanilla beans, and put the jam through a food mill.
- Ladle the hot jam into prepared canning jars, and process for ten minutes in boiling water.