The most delicious apricot jam

We get a lot of questions in apricot season about which apricots are best for jam. We grow about ten different varieties of apricot (at last count), so it’s a fair question!

Old Australian favourites include Trevatt and Moorpark apricots (see a Moorpark below), which both have fantastic flavour and consistency for jam, and make a beautiful bright coloured jam that’s not too dark.

These two also share the characteristic of ripening from the inside, which means that if include some fruit that still looks a little green on the outside it will probably already be sweet and soft enough on the inside to make good jam, but will also have a little bit more pectin in it than overripe fruit, which means the jam will set more easily.

It doesn’t really matter which variety of apricot you use for jam, but here a few tips to help you achieve success and good flavour every time. The basic jam recipe is equal quantities of fruit and sugar, and you should add as little water as possible – if you add water, you have to cook the jam for longer to get it to set, and you risk it developing a dark colour which can look quite unattractive.

Cook the fruit first to the consistency you want, then add the sugar. If you add the sugar at the beginning, the fruit tends to stay in whole pieces rather than break down (if you like chunkier jam, then use this method).

apricot jam, just coming to the boil

Stick to small batches, especially while you’re learning. 1 kg of fruit will make about 6-8 medium jars of jam, and is a great quantity to start with.  If the batch is bigger than 2kg, it can be hard to get the jam to set, and you may end up with a dark coloured jam from having to boil it for too long.

Danny making apricot jam

As long as you’ve properly sterilised your jars and lids before pouring in the jam, it should keep well in the pantry for a couple of years at least (except you’ll probably eat it waaaaay before then).

If you’re not familiar with making jam, don’t be daunted, just give it a try. As long as you manage not to burn it (pay attention, and stir often), nothing really bad can happen – the worst you’re risking is that you end up with rather runny fruit sauce (delicious on ice-cream) rather than jam.

There are lots of variations on this basic recipe of course, so feel free to improvise and experiment.  To save you on time and mistakes, we’ve included a few tried and true recipes (including a sugar-free one), in Fabulous Fruit Preserving.

Happy preserving!

Apricot bottling and berry tarts!

Have you done any fruit bottling this year? Never tried it before? It’s really easy, and a great way to preserve the summer bounty to enjoy through winter.

Our farm is a demonstration of how you can grow and preserve an entire year’s supply of fruit for your family, so each year we practise what we preach and bottle a heap of fruit to see us through winter.

We aim to preserve enough each year so we don’t need to buy fruit at all, so we’re busily filling the pantry at the moment.

It’s still early in the season, so there’s not much fruit around, but apricots and cherries are some of our favourites, so we’ve filled lots of jars with them already.

We’re also harvesting lots of berries at the moment as well. We don’t bottle these, as they tend to go mushy. But they freeze really well, and we also eat as many as we can while they’re fresh and in season.

 

This is one of our favourite ways to eat them – berry tarts! They are quick, delicious and really easy to make, the whole thing only takes about half an hour from start to finish.

Here’s the recipe to make about 24 tarts:

Gluten free pastry

  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • 1/4 cup cornflour
  • 1/4 cup besan flour
  • knob butter
  • milk

Make pastry your usual way. Roll out, and use a glass or pastry cutter to cut tart-sized rounds. Cook in greased tart tins (like shallow muffin trays) for about 8 mins or until done.

Berry filling

Put about 400g berries in a saucepan, add about 1/2 cup sugar (or enough to sweeten to taste). Cook, stirring all the while until the sugar is completely melted and a syrup is forming. It’s great if some of the berries retain their shape.

In a cup mix 2 heaped tsp cornflour with just enough water to make it liquid. Add to berry mixture, and stir until the cornflour is completely cooked and the mixture starts to thicken. The mixture will go cloudy when you add the cornflour, so keep cooking until it has gone clear again.

Fill pastry cases with berry mixture and set aside to cool and set.

If you’re interested in finding out more about fruit preserving for home use, try Fabulous Fruit Preserving. It includes instructions for how to bottle fruit using equipment found in most home kitchens, as well as details about freezing, jam and dehydrating (and even includes instructions for making your own fruit dehydrator!)

How To Grow Almonds

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The new almond crop

How do you grow almonds?  Well, we don’t really know! As commercial growers of all sorts of deciduous fruit, we can tell you pretty much anything you want to know about cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, apples or pears. But almonds? No, we’ve never made a dollar from an almond.

However we do have them in the garden, so we’re gradually learning about them. Having studied permaculture and designed a permaculture plan for the farm, of course we were keen to include nuts in the garden, because they’re one of the great sources of protein and oil that we can easily grow and process in our climate, and on our scale. (Avocados is another, and we hope to plant them in the near future as well).

With the growing interest in healthy diets like vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free and dairy free, almonds are the perfect addition to a small garden, as they fit well and provide lots of benefits in all these diets.

So far we have eight almond trees (which are five years old), and one established and productive macadamia, with plans to add walnuts and hazelnuts.  These are the things we’ve learned about almonds so far:

  • They are in the same family as peaches and nectarines, and grow in a very similar way (they’re both in the subgenus Amygdalus of the Prunus genus). It’s easy to see the similarity when you compare the following photo of a peach tree with the one at the top of the page:

peaches at shuckfall

  • The grow well in the ‘vase’ shape we favour for other deciduous fruit trees
  • Similarly to peaches and nectarines, they produce almonds only on the wood that grew last year
  • Some varieties are more productive if they are heavily pruned, others seem more productive if they are lightly pruned
  • Birds LOVE them, so they must be netted if you want to pick any nuts. This means you need to prune them in such a way that you can trim the tops to keep the height low enough each year to get your nets over. It’s also a good idea to choose a spot in the garden where they will be easy to net without obstructions around them.
  • They like plenty of water (but their need for water is minimised if you improve the soil, and keep a good ground-cover of grasses and weeds under the tree)
  • They respond well to a once a year feed of compost and well rotted chook manure
  • They don’t seem to be vulnerable to blossom blight, brown rot, or any other fungal diseases (hooray!)
  • They are the very earliest deciduous trees to flower in spring, which makes them very vulnerable to frost . Choose the most frost free spot in your garden for your almonds, apricots and cherry trees, and from the beginning of August keep an eye on them so you notice when they start to flower, because this is your trigger to watch out for frost warnings from the weather bureau, and get the trees covered on frosty nights with some frost cloth. They’re also a good candidate for planting near a water tank, or against a north facing wall.

Like deciduous fruit trees, almonds need the right polliniser nearby to set a good crop of fruit, but there’s four easy ways to solve this problem:

  1. Plant two trees known to be pollinisers (they can go in the same hole if you’re really short of space)
  2. Stick to self-pollinising varieties
  3. Plant a multigraft tree (with more than one variety on the same tree)
  4. Plant a single variety, then graft a pollinising variety onto the same tree

We’ve been experimenting with the best time to prune our almonds. Last year we pruned one tree of each variety – and learned that it made some varieties more productive, and others less so!

This year we pruned two varieties in early spring, and will prune the other two in early autumn, after they’ve finished cropping for the year. Even though they don’t seem to get any fungal diseases, there’s no need to tempt fate by pruning them in winter!

Our conclusion? Almonds are an easy care tree to add to your garden, and a great way to get your garden producing more of the healthy protein and oil we need to be including in our diets. They can also be ground and used as almond meal (a great flour substitute for those on a gluten free diet), or made into almond milk for those on a dairy free diet. All in all, they’re a winner!