Apricot Cherry Aperol Jam

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Have I told you that there are no apricots this year? Back when the sweet cherries started ripening, I went picking and there were buckets of apricots also to buy. I made sure to get some. I actually cleaned out my wallet for them. But still, it was only a few pounds. The girls who worked there forgot to tell me that this was all they had this year. I neglected to ask how the crop was. Silly me, thinking the cherries were okay that everything was okay. Au contraire! I am so sad. I learned when it was too late that no one, it seems, has apricots. For the record, early plums are also a no show. Only the Italian prune plums, but no santa rosas or elephant hearts or yellow shiros. That’s pretty sad news. Not last year. Not this year. What can you do?

I must be truthful: I didn’t even take any pictures of them. I let them sit and get soft while I fawned over the cherries. I was that positive there would be more. I was really looking forward to making plain apricot jam. It’s one of my favorites. I did, however, make one batch of jam with the lot I happened upon. I mixed them with the sweet cherries I picked when I bought them. Apricot and cherry jam is quite nice—with sweet cherries or sour cherries. I’ve been making it for years. But this year I was looking to do something different, because I had all the apricots in the world, didn’t I? Well, I went to the liquor cabinet for inspiration and gave the Aperol a gimlet eye. Land ho! Aperol, an Italian aperitif made from bitter orange, rhubarb and other things, is similar to Campari, made by Campari, and did you know has a lower alcohol content? I do enjoy some in my seltzer at times. It’s perfect in this jam: a fruity bitterness with that crazy orange-pink color. Exactly the color apricot and cherries make when mixed together in a jam. So, if you happen upon some apricots, lucky soul, and also some cherries, go ahead and give this a whirl. And if you happen to see some apricots being sold in the Hudson Valley, let me know would you?

Apricot Sweet Cherry Aperol Jam

Yield: 8 – 9 half pint jars

2 pounds apricots

2 pounds pitted sweet cherries

2 pounds sugar

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

¼ cup Aperol http://www.aperol.com/int/en/

Chop the apricots coarsely. Pit the cherries. Add the sugar to them and let them macerate overnight, covered and refrigerated. The next day, add this mixture to a pot and add the lemon juice. Boil vigorously until the mixture has thickened and begins to get glossy, about twenty minutes. Apricots and cherries are both relatively low in pectin so this will be a soft set jam, more liquid as you can see in the picture above. When you feel like it’s at a thickness you are happy with—the drips from the spoon should be thick and viscous but don’t expect it sheet—add the aperol and stir it in gently. Cook for about another minute or two, then turn off the heat. Let it sit, then can according to your favorite book or site’s directions. Process this for ten minutes.

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Middle July

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Living takes constant vigilance. I am thinking of the pond on our property and the vegetation that grows relentlessly during this time of year. It fills me with dread, really, because I know that I need to attend to it. The poison ivy vines choke the trees, the black swallow-wort is sending it’s shoots right up in the air needing nothing to climb on, the brambles with their peace offering of fruit, the red twig dogwood growing it’s branches out and right back into the ground—the procreation exhausts me just looking at it. I see myself hacking and pulling up all of it, sweating and covered in bugs. One might say why not just let it all go wild? I’m sure, to some, I have let it go wild. On the other hand, an amount of pruning and oversight is, I think, important otherwise you will be swallowed whole. I don’t like to think of it as a battle necessarily, but in these parts it is very important to keep growth somewhat in check, mostly due to ticks.

I sometimes liken this kind of vigilance to myself. We humans need constant upkeep it seems, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes it feels hard to keep up. The weeds in my heart are overgrown and are in desperate need of pruning. Yesterday, I hiked up in the Shawangunks, a range of low-rolling mountains that I feel particularly close to. They are old and their edges are softened by time, and in them I find a particularly soothing quality when I walk through their stone outcroppings, amid blueberry and huckleberry bushes, and the acres of sweetfern with their evocative scent. I sat by a pool of water, a place I’ve been visiting for thirty years now, and scanned the scenery. I could recall spending time there at twenty years of age, the voices of my memories echoing in my mind, yet the land seemed impervious to my need to remember. It just was: surrounded by high clusters of wild rhododendrons, their faint pink blossoms filled with large bumble bees, the rushing water flowing over the rocks like it has done for so many years that it’s beyond my ken.

The water takes on a golden glow from the native rocks and the algae that blooms on them. I couldn’t resist the beckoning cold mountain pool and slid in, the water yielding to me effortlessly. It was both shocking and soothing. I got out dripping, my skin tingling flashes of electricity, both warm and cold. I almost hadn’t gone that morning for a simple hike in the mountains, but it’s so good for the soul. It’s upkeep, the time spent is a worthwhile fee to clear the heart of those vines that bind.

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All The Cherries

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We have been blessed with an abundance of cherries this year. I have so far picked 22 pounds of sweets, and that was being restrained. Then I caught the end of the red sours and got a demure 13 pounds. I am waiting for the black sour cherries to ripen and then my trifecta will be complete. I don’t know about you, but every time I walk into a cherry orchard brimming with bright red cherries lushly hanging from bowed branches I am in awe. How can this be so? That this abundance can exist? Not only beautiful but nourishing and delicious to boot. All for the picking, as they say. Forget all the technological advances we have made as humans, for me fruit is the true sign of an enlightened culture. And we need all the culture we can get these days.

What to do with all these cherries? Because of course you know how easy it is to pick cherries as opposed to pitting them! Lazy cook that I am, I tuck a good many of them away in the freezer just as they are, pits and all. Most of the stems are removed, and I do rinse them, but otherwise I zip them in a trusty plastic bag (one of my guilty pleasures in this plastic fantastic world—though I do reuse them) and lay them on the rest of the fruit squirreled away in that deep chest in the basement. One day in winter I will pull one of these four-pound bags out of the freezer and savor the memory of the hot summer sun blazing on my head while I picked from these generous trees.

With the fruit that escaped the cold grip of the freezer, I have made a few different things. Cherry pie came first. Then there was a sweet cherry jam with a touch of almond extract–very straightforward. We gorged on many sweets out of hand. On the other cherry hand, the sour cherries are beguiling, so different from their sweet counterparts! I ask you to stick your head in a large bowl or bucket of them and breathe deeply: do you smell the slight spicy note? I think it’s almost like cinnamon, very faint but there. I made a large batch of cherry pie filling which begat sour cherry hand pies and cherry pie cookie bars. The sour cherries make a pie filling bar none. It’s sort of the ur-cherry flavor; the flavor that all fake cherry flavorings are based on. It always takes me back to childhood, and biting into one of those awful but delicious processed cherry pies from the corner deli.

One of my favorite lazy preserving things I like to do is to preserve cherries in a quart jar with alcohol and a little sugar. This year, because I had a large jug of vodka in the house, that’s what I used, but I also like to use brandy. Use what you have! I would never think to use tequila—but a friend of mine swears by strawberry tequila. And gin seems too botanical, but there are some gins that are mellow and smooth without too many vying notes. As in all things, I think experimenting with the flavors you most enjoy is the best tactic to take. Whatever the case, my lazy preserve is this: fill a jar with sweet or sour cherries, leave the pits in because they add a bit of almond flavor, add a half cup of sugar, and top with vodka. Let it sit in a cool dark place for about a month, agitating the jar every so often to disperse the sugar. Make a cocktail with it when it’s ready, and don’t forget the best part: the drunken fruit! I do this with all kinds of whole fruit. Small apricots and Italian prune plums are also spectacular. The fruit stays whole and can be enjoyed as well as the sweetened, fruit-infused liquor.

Notes:

For more talk on preserving fruit with alcohol, check out this article from the NY Times by Melissa Clark that I am quoted in. From 2010! I stumbled upon it recently, and it’s still a thrill to see my name in the Times.