Bottling fruit is one of the simplest, most rewarding acts in the kitchen, but one oft fraught with doubt and fear. For me it's a nostalgic act; taking me back to cool winter evenings spent watching my Nanna open the highest cupboards in her kitchen, climb up a little ladder and stand on her tip-toes to reach for one of the precious jars of fruit she had preserved over summer. My favourites were always the apricots, from the old tree by the back fence - they were *almost* as good as the ripe fruit Grandpa would pass us, still warm from the sun, juice dripping down our chubby chins. The apricots I buy rarely taste like as good as those apricots, bred for appearance and longevity rather than flavour; harvested too soon; travelled too far. But bottled apricots are different: time spent in a jar drinking up the flavour of a light sugar syrup, some of their own kernels, or perhaps a vanilla bean: upon opening they are so much better than their fresh counterparts.
I relish setting aside a few hours at least three or four times each summer, to make jam and bottle as much stone fruit as our pantry can hold. No matter how many bottles there are, there are never enough to see us through winter; eaten greedily with porridge, or plain yoghurt at breakfast; warm custard or ice cream after dinner; or baked under a nutty crumble blanket for a special Sunday lunch. They also make welcome gifts, if you can bare to part with them...
Makes 4 -5 600 ml bottles
4 - 5 600 ml bottles capacity bottles (see notes below)
1 - 1.5 cups caster sugar
2 kilos just-ripe apricots, washed and halved (with 10 or so of their stones reserved)
First, prepare your bottles: give them a good wash in hot, soapy water, rinse and place them on a tray in the oven at 110C while you prepare the water bath (at least 15 minutes). Boil lids and rubber seals (if using) in a small saucepan for about five minutes, drain and lay on a clean tea towel face up.
Lay a clean tea towel in the bottom of a large stock pot. Fill to 2/3 with water and bring to 50C.
Meanwhile, dissolve sugar in a small saucepan with 4 cups water and stir over low heat. Simmer for a minute or two and stir to dissolve the sugar (the sugar syrup should be hot, but not quite boiling).
Crack open the reserved stones and remove the almond-like kernel from inside.
Carefully pack the apricot halves into the hot jars tightly (skin-side up), noting they will shrink during the heating process). Pop in a couple of the apricot kernels and pour the hot syrup (about 60C) over to cover completely, filling to about 1 cm from the rim of the bottle. Give the bottles a few taps on the bench and use a clean knife to ease out any air bubbles.
To heat process: Seal and place bottles carefully in the water bath, ensuring they are completely submerged. Bring water to a simmer and hold at 90C for 40-50 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely upright and undisturbed.
The following day check the seal by removing the clips (if using) and lifting the bottle by the lid - if it remains closed, the seal is airtight. If not, follow the instructions for heat processing again or eat right away.
Store in a cool, dark place for at least one month and up to 12.
C(h)ook's notes -
The recipe above can easily be scaled up - it is considerably cheaper to buy them as a 6 kilo box than loose.
The bottles used for bottling fruit should be stronger than normal jam jars because they need to withstand heat processing. Use either screw-band (or Kilner) jars; clip jars (such as Le Parfait or Weck); or Fowlers if you are lucky enough to have one of their Preserving Outfits (in this case follow the instructions in the booklet that comes with the unit).
The sugar syrup above is of 'light' sweetness; adjust the sugar up or down to suit your taste.
Also try bottling rhubarb, cherries, plums, pears, apples, figs, peaches and nectarines using the same method and adjusting the heat processing time, syrup and spices to suit.
Cloves, star anise, all-spice and cinnamon are all wonderful with bottled fruit too.
Skip the apricot kernels if you are pregnant or plan to share the bottled fruit with small children.