After the sadness of the Rickman and Bowie posts, I thought it would be nice to talk about joyful things for a change, and what could be more joyful than food and gadgets?
Before I begin though, let me tell you a little story. Back in the mists of time when The Offspring was but a twig, we lived in a leafy suburb of Melbourne called Heathmont. There I planted an apricot tree which flowered, fruited [abundantly] and sprouted a baby apricot tree of its own. When we sold the house, I potted up the baby apricot tree and it travelled with us for over fifteen years before we finally settled again in Warrandyte.
How that small, stunted apricot tree survived for so long in a pot I’ll never know, but it did, and more amazing still, it’s managed to survive and thrive in the not-so-welcoming soil of Warrandyte. But the proof of how special it is lies, as they say, in the eating, and boy are these apricots amazing. Store bought apricots may look luscious but the flavour is generally tart and ‘bland’. By contrast, the sun-warmed, sun-sweetened apricots from my little tree are incredibly sweet, even when they’re not completely ripe, and I’ve been eating them until they’re coming out of my ears!
Sadly, even my stomach has limits so this morning I stared long and hard at the 20 or so apricots left from the harvest. I tried drying the surplus last year, without much success, so what should I do with them this year?
I dismissed the idea of apricot jam without any hesitation; even I am not stupid enough to make that much of a mess for just 20 apricots. But what about compote? That would be quick and easy with minimal clean-up.
True, I thought, but compote will only last a couple of days in the fridge and I’m really sick of apricots….
Ah! But what about preserves? a sly little voice whispered in my ear.
Are you crazy? I scoffed. What do I know about preserving?
Nevertheless, a few minutes later I found myself typing ‘preserving apricots’ in Papa Google’s search box. That, eventually led to this:
I’d like to say the process was simple and painless, but that would be a lie and I’m a nice girl. For starters, only one of the guides I read mentioned that it might be a good idea to have a specialist jar lifter on hand. For those not as au fait with this topic as moi -cough- a jar lifter looks like this:
As you can see, this nifty tool allows you to grip the lid of the boiling hot jar without burning yourself. The padded black bits on the feet [for want of a more technical term] stop the boiling hot glass from exploding when touched by a cold, metal implement.
Of course, I did not have a specialist jar lifter on hand, but I did know about hot glass and cold things, so I improvised with oven mitts like so:
[Don’t even think about doing this with multiple jars of preserves!]
I did manage to get the jar out of the boiling hot water without damaging it, or myself, but if I ever do this again, I will definitely invest in a jar lifter.
Another thing I might invest in is some proper, preserving equipment – like jars and lids. The jar I used originally contained Morello cherries, and I have no way of knowing if the seal still works. It looks as if it has worked as the lid has ‘sucked in’ a bit, but I still think we’ll be eating the apricots sooner rather than later. Just in case.
Once the jar was safely out of the pot, I wrapped it in a clean tea towel because another guide said to let the preserves cool down in a draft free place – again, to stop the temperature differences from damaging the jar…the kitchen…the cook….
And finally a word about the syrup. The first recipe I read called for a ratio of half-and-half for the syrup, i.e. half sugar, half water. Now to me, that would be unbearably sweet, and totally unnecessary as my home grown apricots are/were beautifully sweet already. That said, I wasn’t quite game to use plain water for the syrup, so I heated up 1/4 cup of organic demerara sugar with 2 cups of filtered water and let it boil for about a minute before taking it off the heat. As I was only preserving one jar of fruit, I ended up with about 1/3 of the syrup left over. I’ll update this post with the taste test once we’ve actually tried the preserves.:)
And now, as I’m still in a kitcheny mood, here’s an extra little bit about a wonderful gadget I was given as a gift by a foodie friend:
Sorry to make you wait so long for an explanation of the title but I’m in a playful mood.
So. A knife sharpener, a German knife sharpener. What’s the big deal?
Let me start by saying that I have been sharpening kitchen knives since the days of the Wiltshire Staysharp scabbard – you know, the one where you sharpen the knife every time you push it into the scabbard, at least in theory. I also own one of those sharpening tools that butchers use. It looks good, but I’ve never used it because I don’t know how. More recently, The Offspring bought me a handy sharpener that actually does work, but I’m a little scared of sharpening myself with it so it doesn’t get used as often as it should. Net result: my knives spend most of their working lives being blunt.
Enter the Wüsthof.
I swear, I am not getting a commission or any kickbacks for this, but I have never used anything that worked as quickly and easily as this little beauty. The two grinding ‘wheels’ are labelled ‘coarse’ and ‘fine’ so I tried one of my kitchen knives on the coarse one first. I could feel the sharpener biting into the edge of the blade. After a couple of swipes I switched to the ‘fine’ grinding wheel and gave the knife a few more swipes. Then I tested it on a raw chicken drumstick.
Now I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to fillet a chicken drumstick, but it’s not easy. The shape is awkward and the meat lies snugly along the bone, making knife work difficult. But you should see how easy it is when you have a truly sharp knife! I’m just grateful I have a knife block in which to store my newly sharpened knife because I wouldn’t trust it loose in a drawer. Honestly, this thing is like a razor blade now!
So there you have it, some tips on preserving home-grown apricots [from a complete novice] and two gadgets that would be a welcome addition to any kitchen.