One of the simplest and most rewarding canning recipes, apricot nectar is true ambrosia, a term referencing the mythical “food of the gods.” In our home, apricot nectar has obtained that nearly divine status in the pantry and thankfully it also fills the body with concentrated vitamins and nutrients.
To our family’s satisfaction, the trees are lush at summer’s end and brimful of harvestable cots. At this time in the season, writing goes by the wayside while I preserve our bounty for winter. Many in the Methow Valley reflect during harvest that if production recipes aren’t happening every day, we’re getting behind.
I learned to make apricot nectar (and to surreptitiously gather it from the cellar) from my dear friend’s mother, Betsy Buford. It never fails to please and includes the wonderful necessity of a hand crank food mill.
Betsy was one of those rare super-moms of the ’70s. Raising four children miles from any town in the north woods of Okanogan County, she prided herself on completely home-grown, self sufficient living ~ from dispensing with running water and electricity to canning meats raised on their farm. Meals at Betsy’s house might consist of giant buckwheat pancakes with straight molasses for breakfast or a gooseberry pie for a treat. Everything eaten was grown in the yard or gathered from a friend.
I asked her once why she did it. Her response: “to prove to myself that I could.” She’s the mountain mama I think of as I preserve apricots each year.
Now a professional chef and baking professor at Edmonds College, Betsy Buford has been a pastry chef at fine Seattle restaurants including Falling Waters, Ray’s Boathouse, and Campagne as well as at Sun Mountain Lodge, local here in Methow. Betsy taught me about the spirituality of food as a kid. Grow it, harvest it, can it or cook it, and feed it to your family without apologies but with loving appreciation ~ that’s the joy of cooking. And, cooking without devices to cook for you is not only an accomplishment in self-sufficiency, it is immensely satisfying for the soul. This recipe captures all of those spiritual aspects of cooking.
Apricots make their appearance mid to end of summer. Many trees in the Methow Valley’s semi-arid, high mountain climate are ancient and laden with fruit. Huge, knarly branches bend under the weight of the fruit, dripping golden, pink and crimson orange hues in a variety of flavors. Some cots can be subtle in taste yet substantial in size, while others are tiny (even 1″ diameter) but pack so much flavor that they are more than worth the effort of picking and processing. I have two such trees in our yard, but I’ve found that any cots will work well for nectar. If you do not have a tree immediately near, try your farmer’s market for fresh organic cots. One or our favorite local growers for purchase is Smallwood Farms. Or just keep an eye out throughout the year for a rogue tree on public land, for there are many.
One beauty of this recipe is that it is entirely malleable to your taste; no sugar or sweetener is needed, but the recipe is very responsive to added acidity or sugar depending on your cot. I choose to cook the fruit down, but Betsy also made a raw pack version of the nectar that is excellent.
But the most satisfying part of this recipe? One sip of nectar in winter is like a mouthful of fresh picked apricots at harvest.
NOTES on Method
A word or two about hand-crank food mills. There are a couple varieties on the market and many work well, however, my favorite for efficiency is the old fashioned cone shaped food mill.
Apricot Nectar Recipe
Hand-crank food mill
7 quart size mason jars
New sealing lids, bands
Sugar or honey, to taste
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
~ Your apricots need not be perfect; after rinsing them, pit and cut any brown bits or buggy parts inside the cot; don’t worry about marks on the skin as they will be pressed and discarded. In this way, the recipe maximizes the fruit, capturing all possible pulp.
~ Fill your largest sauce pot to the brim with apricots and add enough water (at least 1/3 of the pot) to account for moisture loss and to prevent sticking; cook on medium heat until all fruit is softened.
~ Place your food mill over a large bowl and have a couple other bowls on hand; fill the mill with cooked apricots, cranking both clockwise and counter clockwise and repeat until all juice is extracted and you’ve pressed down the pulp as much as possible; return all to the sauce pot.
~ Add honey or sugar and lemon juice to taste; generally I use very little lemon or none and as little sugar and water as possible, preferring a pure thick nectar, however experiment to your liking; then bring the nectar to a simmer and immediately can your nectar; as with any fruit or veggie, the less it is cooked, the more nutrients are retained.
~ While you are processing the apricots, start your boiling water canner on high and boil quart jars to sanitize for 10 minutes.
~ Pour boiling water over new lids and bands and let sit.
~ Remove jars from hot water bath; fill each jar with nectar to within ½ in head space; in case of splatter, wipe jar rims clean with a wet, hot towel and lid them, screwing bands to finger tip tightness.
~ Process in hot water bath at a full boil for 25 minutes; remove from water and tighten bands; let stand untouched for 12+ hours to set.
~ Put up in the pantry for yumminess all year long
NOTE Aside from a drink, nectar is great over ice cream for desert, added to baby’s foods or as a base for a meat glazes.
Love from our pantry to yours! Georgina @ Soul & Stomach