“I am overwhelmed.” It’s a sentence that’s been floating in and out of my consciousness a lot lately. I hear it, clearly, in my own voice, echoing in the windy rush of everything going on in my head. Scrambling at work to hold on to every last balloon string; churning at home to keep up with chores and groceries; bouncing through weekends from parties to game nights to family gatherings to dinners out. “I am overwhelmed.”
I’m not a high-energy person. I’m a deliberate thinker, a night owl, a long sleeper. So I don’t feed off of this kind of stuff. It grinds me down. I’m not really sure what to do about it, since I can’t give in to the urge to lock the door, turn off my phone, and hibernate for a week. So I’m trying to find and open my release valves, and manufacture projects for myself that will let out some of the steam. More and more, I’m realizing that jam-making is one of those valves for me.
A few weeks ago, my neighbor Jess and I got together after work for a Monday night canning session. I had a big haul of apricots from a friend’s tree, so ripe and ready that they were disintegrating in the bag. We threw them in a pot with a whole lotta sugar and some lemon juice, and cooked them down into a chunky, spreadable goo. Then we threw some jars in the oven, boiled some lids and rings, and processed everything a jar or two at a time in my little mini-canning pot. No flash, no fuss, no extra herbs or spices or tea leaves or booze; apricot jam doesn’t need any of that. It’s absolutely incredible when it’s simple like this, treacle-sweet and fragrant, cheerful and familiar. It’s an old-fashioned food, apricot jam, and that stodginess seems to suit me right now.
At one point while transferring jars in and out of the hot water, I snapped my tongs closed on my finger. The next day I had an irregular reddish bruise that engulfed most of my fingertip. It was tender but not painful, and I could look at it for several days as a reminder that “I am overwhelmed” doesn’t need to be my default state. There are still a lot of balloon strings to hold onto, a lot of chores, a lot of social obligations, but sometimes it’s necessary to shut all that out and just make something good to eat.
Apricot Jam (makes 4 half pints)
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Note: As mentioned in the blog post, we used extremely ripe apricots for this, and the jam was perfectly sweet. If your apricots aren’t as ripe, the jam will be more tart, which I think is how the recipe was intended. If you prefer a sweeter jam, and are using less ripe apricots, increase the sugar by up to 1/2 cup.
2 1/4 lb ripe apricots, halved and pitted
3 cups sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
In a large bowl, combine apricots and sugar. Stir to combine, then let stand for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture is juicy.
Transfer the apricot and sugar mixture to a large nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 20-30 minutes, or until the jam is thick and sticky (if you have an instant-read thermometer, the jam reaches its set point at 220º F). To test the jam visually for doneness, drag a flexible heatproof spatula or wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot; the line made through the jam should stay clear for several seconds. You can also chill a small plate in the freezer, then place a dollop of the hot jam on the cold plate and put it back in the freezer; if it gels after a few minutes, it’s ready.
Canning instructions: While the jam cooks, sterilize jars, lids, and rings. Transfer the hot jam to the hot jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe rims, and apply lids and rings. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Sealed, cooled jars will keep for up to a year in a cool, dark place; once a jar is opened, keep it in the fridge and use within 3-4 weeks. (If you’re new to canning, there are detailed instructions here.)
Refrigerator/freezer instructions: Let the jam cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to clean jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe the rims, close the jars tightly, and let cool completely on the counter. Store the jam in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Thaw freezer jam overnight in the refrigerator before using; once a jar is opened, refrigerate it and use it within 3-4 weeks.