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Apricot jam with noyaux, spices and bourbon

Preface: I know perfectly well that canning fruit jam will not produce botulism. It’s called humor.

Apricot jam

Cooking is much more than just producing food for sustenance. It
is at once intimate and objective, creative and logistical. But above all else, it is personal. Even the most basic home-cooked dish is in some way an expression of you as a person, your technical expertise, your sense of adventure, your cultural heritage.

This is why food and its preparation are best shared. Whether you are giving someone a recipe or just soliciting for an extra hand in the kitchen, your kitchen becomes your own personal town hall.

And so when my friend Vanessa expressed interested in doing some jamming and canning with me, I was more than thrilled to oblige. The apricots are finally coming into season, and I’ve been jonesing for more since I opened my last jar of last year’s batch during the winter.

Vanessa gamely showed up with a 26-lb. flat of apricots, some organic lemons and a desire to jam. I had jars at the ready. We set to work right away.

Jars at the ready

Handling apricots, whether for jam or eating out of hand, is an intensely sensual experience. Sitting softly in the palm of your hand, they seem to have an intrinsic warmth. The flesh yields with the gentlest tug from your thumbs at the seam where the fuzzy cheeks meet; honeyed droplets form along the walls of the exposed interior. The stone surrenders itself without resistance. The fruit, once curled into itself, is now splayed out, naked, yours for the taking.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, right. Jam.

Apricot pits

As we ravaged our apricots, we reserved the pits in a separate bowl, for they were our secret ingredient. You see, inside the practically impenetrable pits of stone fruits are tender little seeds called noyaux that, when steeped in liquid, impart a haunting almond-like aroma. Why? Because they are packed with cyanide! In very small quantities, though, they are merely delicious and not deadly.

So, as we prepared to start the first batch, we cracked open our pits and made little sachets with a few other flavor-enhancing spices: Black pepper, cardamom and clove. 

Noyaux and spices

These went into two pots full of fruit, sugar and lemons.

Apricots and lemons

Knowing we would have to process the fruit in two batches of two pots each, I set the first batch on a high flame to get things started, while Vanessa continued breaking down the remaining fruit. Moments later something caught the corner of my eye, at which point my head turned to see brown bubbles rising from one side of one of the pots. The sugar was burning! I quickly gave the pot a stir, hoping I hadn’t ruined the whole thing. As liquid from the macerated fruit mixed with the brown sugar, the room filled with the rich, nutty smell of caramel. No black bits appeared. So, we ended up making one whole pot of caramel apricot jam. Totally on purpose.

I decided to use lemons this time in lieu of commercial pectin. In the past, I’ve found that apricots tend to break down a fair amount on their own, and naturally create a thickened jam; the pectin from the lemon rind would just help move that along.

As the jam came to temperature, I walked Vanessa through the workflow of canning: Sterilize the jars and lids, fill the jars, add the lids and rings, place in the waterbath for ten minutes, then remove to cool. I explained the importance of each step: If the jars are not sterilized, you will get botulism. If you touch the inside of the sterilized jars, thereby rendering them
no longer sterile, you will get botulism. If the lids do not form a good seal, you will get botulism.  I think she got the point.

We ladled the jam into the jars, the afternoon light causing them to glow a bright, golden orange. I called it the color of happiness. It just makes you smile.

Once we pulled our final product out of the water bath, we were tickled by the effervescent pop-pop-pop of lids compressing. It can be hard work, but canning is very gratifying. You feel productive.

In the end we filled 24 cup jars, 24 half-pint jars and more than a dozen pint jars; the pint jars were filled with our second batch. Interestingly, though we didn’t vary our methods, the latter half of our jams just didn’t set up quite as well. In the end, I decided to hold them back and reprocess them with additional pectin later on.

This is the other reason I like cooking: It’s OK to fail, because you learn from your failures. You learn to adapt. And you learn that nothing that’s been done can’t be undone or redone.

Unless you get botulism.

Apricot jam with noyaux, spices and bourbon

1000 g. (about 7 c.) apricots, coarsely chopped, pits reserved
1000 g. (about 5 c.) sugar
One lemon, cut in slices
5-7 black peppercorns
1-2 cardamom pods, cracked
2-3 cloves
1/4 c. bourbon

In a large, heavy, nonreactive pot, mix the fruit and sugar, and let stand to macerate at least 20 minutes.

With a nutcracker, crack open several of the reserved pits and remove the noyaux from within. Don’t worry if they get a little beat up. On a square of cheesecloth (approximately 6″ square), place the noyaux and spices, and tie up the corners tightly to form a sachet. 

Place the macerated fruit over medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved (unless you’re on purpose going for caramelized apricot jam, in which case crank it up! Carefully.) Add the lemons and the sachet. Raise the heat to high, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

When the jam reaches 220ºF, turn off the flame, add the bourbon, stir will to combine and let the jam stand for a few minutes. Ladle through a canning funnel into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2″ headroom. Give the jars a jiggle to release any bubbles in the jam. Clean away any jam on the lip of the jars with a moistened paper towel, being careful not to touch the interior of the jar. Cover with new, unused lids and add the rings, tightening until finger-tight. Lower into a water bath at a full, rolling boil with at least 1″ water above the tops of the jars, and boil for at least five minutes. (If you are more than 1000 feet above sea level, you will need to adjust your boiling times by adding one minute for every 1000 feet in altitude.)

Remove the jars to cooling racks. Smile as the lids go pop-pop-pop. If any do not, keep them in the refrigerator and consume at will, or reprocess and can as above.

  • “…and then you get botulism and you die”- a very good lesson, trying not to learn from mistakes on that one!! Thank you for walking me through the process, I can’t wait to make more!

  • Love, love, love the totally on purpose caramel apricot jam. So curious as to what that must taste like!

  • It was so much fun, Vanessa! And I'm glad I made a convert out of you. 🙂

  • If anything, it made the jam sweeter, but it didn't really impact the flavor as much as I expected. It did, however, darken the jam by several shades. There's no mystery which jars are caramelized.

  • Sean,
    Yumm can we have some? lol
    It would be fun to meet you guys sometime.
    Coffee? Drink? Dinner?
    Let us know.
    Heg

  • You betcha on both accounts! I'm taking care of a friend's gallery thru next Monday, but my schedule opens up after that. What works for you?

  • You betcha on both accounts!

  • Jill

    I do something along those lines when I make chokecherry jelly. The fruits are very small and the seeds are big! I usually run them through a meat grinder and then process the fruit for jelly. Has a wonderful hint of almond the the jelly. Yumm!

  • I like the addition of cardamon and peppercorns. You might want to experiment with a a bit of salt because it always takes the sweetness down a notch and lets the other flavors come through. Also I love the bourbon and often use scotch, especially in marmalades. Lovely apricots…….

  • Yeah I was thinking about a wee bit if salt for just the reasons you mention. Next time for sure. I love how bourbon pairs with sweet things; the only scotch we have in the house right now us Lagavulin, which is probably too peaty for jam. (But maybe not …)

  • Actually, inexpensive scotch works well.  Who knew?  Candace

  • How cool is that!A mystery ingredient inside the pit to impart that certain je ne sais quoi.

  • The caramel apricot jam just sounds so exotic, but the whole process sounded exotic! Thanks for taking us through the steps, because I know I won’t be doing it anytime soon. (I don’t want to get botulism.)So I live vicariously through this post. 🙂

  • Two questions 1) what is the noyaux in this case (thought it was a liquor or something) and 2) if you unknowingly mess-up, is the resulting botulism very apparent? I’d be scared to even try…going out with a bang and a whimper. But your version sure looks amazing!!!

  • Hi Amy! Noyaux are the kernels in the center of the pits of stone fruit. You're probably thinking of vin de noyaux, which is an infusion made from them. It predictably has a strong almondy perfume and flavor. As for the messing up, if your jars were sterilized and seal properly, your risk is very low. However, water-bath canning is only for high-acid foods like fruits. Low-acid foods, as well as things like sauces that have onions or garlic sauteed in oil, must be pressure canned, or water-bath canned for a very long time. Most importantly: DON'T BE AFRAID.

  • Ben, I'd be happy to take you through it, and you will NOT get botulism. If you do everything properly, the risk is extremely low. People have been doing it for a long time!

  • Perfect timing for this post. I have 10 pounds of Blenheim apricots arriving today from the Happy Girl Kitchen’s Preservationist Society and will be making preserves this weekend.
    Two years ago I also made “carmelized apricot preserves” — on purpose of course 😉 — but cooked so long that they became more like hard candy. Last year I got a much better result: no overcooking, decent consistency. So this year I’ll try some more interesting flavors, getting some inspiration from this post. And technique-wise, I’ll try lemon slices as a pectin booster (I probably also should have been saving my lemon seeds from recent juicings as another source of pectin).
    For those who are ultra-worried about cyanide from apricot pits, Shuna has some notes at eggbeater about how to deactivate the cyanide compounds (it involves roasting them in the oven).

  • Hey, nice looking jam! And it sounds delicious. But, just so’s you know, fruit can’t create botulism spores–or at least most fruit, cause they have high acid content—it’s low acid foods, mostly vegetables, that can prove a problem. Just making sure people aren’t scared to jam those Blenheims!

  • Thanks for the reminder on Shuna's post. Myself, I prefer to live dangerously. Good luck with the jam!

  • Fair point — botulism is really only a concern for low-acid foods and things with onions or garlic in oil, and do require pressure canning. However, poorly processed water-bath cans can still harbor icky things that make you sick. The USDA publications do a pretty great job of mongering fear, but they need to err on the side of total caution. Do it right and you've little to fear.

  • Indeed. You were being funny, and you know, it wasn’t lost on me. It was funny!

  • Jennifer

    I just made a batch and substituted brandy for the bourbon since I like brandied fruit. Simply amazing. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  • I love a happy ending!

  • One of these days I will tackle canning. I’m just too lazy to sterilize the cans. So i make jam and marmalade in small batches and stick in the fridge and try to use them up fast.
    Which, of course, defeats the purpose of making preserves so you can have them in the off season…
    Also I have no room in my tiny one bedroom apartment to store jars of jam. Perhaps if I got rid of my clothes… How is it that I seem to have closets full of clothes, but nothing to wear?
    *sigh*
    I’m assuming that cherry pits also have noyaux in them like apricot pits? Which is why I’ve seen recipes that call for cooking the pits with the cherries to infuse them an almond flavor?
    I must get off my lazy ass and learn to properly sterilize and can. Thanks for recipe though. Perhaps one of these days I will can. In the meanwhile, you’ve inspired me to make some jam…though probably not 24 cans worth.

  • Oh but it's so easy! You're going to have a big pot of water going anyway to do your water-bath canning, so when the water is not quite boiling (at least 180ºF), just pop in the jars and lids for a few minutes. Then remove and drain, and you're ready to go. Or, if you're doing a lot, use the dishwasher to sterilize a bunch at once.

  • But you know what’s even easier? Making the jam/preserve/marmalade and then spooning it into a cereal bowl and sticking it in the fridge covered in plastic wrap and using it up in two weeks.
    ‘cuz I’m that lazy. But perhaps one of these days I’ll do the whole water bath thing. Because canning would fulfill my boyfriend’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie fantasies, among many other reasons.

  • Canning food runs in our family a very midwest thing to do. Great recipe love the bourbon in this .. must do for me.
    Sara
    http://www.momentsofelegance.com

  • Great recipe! I made a slightly modified batch last Saturday, and it’s already getting rave reviews.
    http://imperfecturbanfarm.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/apricot-noyaux-bourbon-jam/

  • Bonjour: I just found out about your blog. This is the FIRST time I see noyaux, or apricots pits, mentioned in a jam recipe. This has always been the secret ingredient my mother (native of France) added to her apricot jam. We ALWAYs included a noyau in each jar.
    In Morocco, where I come from, we use the best little apricots called “meshmesh” to make jam. My personal favorite!

  • Bonjour Kitty! Yes, I think noyaux are the best-kept secret, at least here in the states. My good friend Shuna (http://eggbeater.typepad.com) has written about them some, and suggests roasting them to deactivate the cyanide before using them in things like ice cream. I am very curious about meshmesh — is it spiced differently, or is it straight up apricot?

  • Hey I made this jam a few weeks ago (with both peaches and apricots cause that’s what I had) and wanted to let you know I used it tonight as the base for some fan-freaking-tastic grilled chicken glaze.
    Glaze: Take a blob of jam, add a generous glug of additional bourbon and a few dollops of tomato paste (enough to thick it up but not make it taste tomato paste-y. It’s all very precise, as you can tell. Grill chicken until deliciously brown and almost cooked through. Dip pieces into glaze, return to grill to finish cooking and set glaze. Try not to eat 5 pieces of chicken. Fail and eat 5 pieces anyway.

  • Kathy Collins

    Quit being so paranoid about botulism. Simple, practical, and sterile methods are al that is required. the ingredients are not the cause

  • Becky

    safety in canning is important but please please please stop spreading the misinformation that you can get botulism from fruit based jam and that pre-sterilzing the jars will destroy botulism spores!
    Anything safe for waterbath canning will not allow botulism spores to convert back to their non-spore form and grow since its the acid content that renders them safe. BWB canning does not kill botulism spores, sterilizing your jars ahead of time does not kill botulism spores. If the food isn’t acidic enough to prevent the growth of the botulism bacteria you must pressure can – it doesn’t matter how much you sterilize in boiling water at atmospheric pressure you aren’t preventing botulism.
    Here is a good summary of when botulism is a danger and how its prevented.
    http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/general/ensuring_safe_canned_foods.html
    Also note that pre-sterilizing jars is only required when processing for less than 10 min. NCHFP has some recipes that process for 5 min and those require pre-sterilization but other than those clean, warm jars are all that is required. The sterilize everything ahead of time was needed back before BWB became the standard technique since there was no post filling sterilization processing.

  • Hey Sean! Did you know that canning fruit jam can cause botulism?

  • OMGWTFBBW??!