Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fruits of Summer

For the last few years, the apricot tree in my in-laws yard hasn't really had much fruit. I've gotten out of the habit of making jam. This year, however, there was a fair amount of fruit; my brother-in-law, who often picks the fruit for them, was unavailable; and my mother-in-law, who makes the most amazing fruit preserves imaginable, isn't as energetic as she used to be and isn't really up for making jam. Slow on the uptake as ever, I didn't really mobilize myself to get the fruit picked and preserves made until it was almost too late. To make matters worse, I seem to have completely lost my jam-making touch. I hope it comes back to me next year.

Anyway, in addition to making jam, this year I decided to try to glace some apricots. I started out with this technique, which is flat-out insane. I was OK for the first couple days, but taking the fruit in and out of the syrup got old after a while, and when I tried to add the extra sugar and it just sat there on top of the old syrup, it seemed as though there was just too much sugar in the mix. My plan for next year is to modify the technique as follows:

Make a simple syrup of one cup sugar, one cup water
Simmer the fruit in the syrup briefly, remove from heat.
Next day remove fruit, add 1/2 cup sugar, boil the syrup, return the fruit, remove from heat. Do this two or three times.
Leave the fruit in the syrup for a few weeks, bringing it to a mild simmer every two or three days.
Remove the fruit and dry it.

The apricots are drying now, and they are more sugary than any fruit has a right to be. Until today I had several cups of very fruity syrup which I was thinking of using in champagne cocktails, but instead I am using most of it in a plum sorbet.

Here is my plum sorbet technique:

Wash the fruit, put it whole in a pot and heat until the skins pop open. Simmer briefly. Put the whole thing in a strainer and press out as much of the flesh as possible, discarding the pits and skins. Add syrup. Cool, then add one or two egg whites, depending on how much puree you have, and freeze in an ice-cream maker.

I am also making plum brandy. This is a very simple technique as well. You take two pints of plums, add 4 cups sugar and 1 quart vodka. Put them all in a container in the refrigerator, stir once a week for four months, and strain. Voila! I thought I had a foolproof plan in deciding to make park day my plum-stirring day, but I have forgotten to stir every Tuesday since I put the plums in the refrigerator. As far as I can tell this is an arbitrary exercise, though, because when I open it up to stir it there is just a clear purple liquid with a bunch of fruit in it, and I can't see what purpose stirring it serves. It's probably a good idea to keep checking on it, though.

I have been picking fruit with Village Harvest (thanks, Vivian) for the past few weeks and also have a nice pile of greenish apples and large plums. I will probably make applesauce with the apples, but I think I will try my modified glace technique on the plums. As I've been working on the apricots, it made me think a lot about preserving fruits, and candying them, and the fruitcake my family always makes, which uses candied fruits made from dried fruits. I wonder if making candied fruits from fresh fruits and putting them in fruitcake would make the fruitcake even more wonderful, or if it would just ruin the texture. Come Thanksgiving, I am to find out. Stay tuned.



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