Baku-based foodie, restaurant expert and cook Natalia Golumb shares her favourite recipe for apricot preserves, as May marks apricot season in Azerbaijan
Hurrah! The month of May marks apricot season in Azerbaijan, a time when Azerbaijani women traditionally start making apricot preserves. Of course, every cook has their own secret recipes to making the most delicious apricot preserves, jams and spreads, but what is even more magical is how the process of cooking brings together family, friends and neighbours.
The best apricots in Azerbaijan come from Ordubad, in the south west. If you can find them at a Baku market it’s a real boon – they differ from other apricot types, and are distinguishable for their large size, sweet taste and, most importantly, small kernels.
When making preserves, we remove the apricot kernel because it is usually bitter – and not altogether safe to eat. Do this by using a sharp knife: to pit the apricots, cut the apricots carefully lengthways along the ‘seam’, leaving you with two halves – one containing the kernel. You can then remove this easily.
Here is a traditional apricot preserve recipe with a small twist, as traditionally we do not include nuts, but I think it adds an extra something:
You will need:
2 kilograms pitted apricots
2 kilograms granulated sugar
2 tablespoons baking soda
400 grams of your favourite nuts (I love to mix in cashews and blanched almonds)
Makes 2.2 kilograms of delicious jam
Put the apricots in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan and add just enough water to cover. Sprinkle in the baking soda and set aside for two hours minimum. If possible, leave them in the baking soda water for longer, as the longer they can soak, the harder they will become, allowing them to retain their shape while cooking.
When ready to begin cooking, drain the apricots and rinse with cold running water. Set aside.
Now we can prepare the syrup. Combine sugar with the four cups of water in a heavy bottomed pan. Put the pan on medium heat and stir gently until sugar dissolves. When the mixture begins to boil, put the nuts and apricots into the syrup and cook on medium heat for no longer than one to two minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
Once cooled, put the pan back on medium heat and allow it to simmer gently until you see the syrup has thickened a bit. This should take approximately 20 minutes. To check if the syrup is thick enough, test it by dipping in a wooden spoon and lifting it up – if the syrup runs in broken streams, it’s not ready. It should have an even consistency and lightly coat the spoon.
During this process, stir and carefully skim off any froth with a spoon.
Once the syrup is thick enough, remove the pan from the heat for a second time now, and allow the preserves to cool.
To keep your preserves for a long time you will have to sterilize your jars in boiling water and dry them thoroughly. Then you can spoon the preserves with syrup into the jars and seal tightly. It is important to completely cover the apricots and nuts with the syrup.
They are best stored in a cool and dry place and maybe out of the reach of children (kidding!)
These types of preserves are best served with black tea with an infusion of rose petals or a nice bergamot tea in the company of good family and friends.
A die-hard foodie, Natalia Golumb graduated from the Oil Academy, and spent many years working in the field of international relations in the banking sector. It was during her extensive travels that she began to experience an irresistible craving for the art of gastronomy and decided to put herself through culinary school. Golumb believes that gastronomy is actually the alchemy of love, and that food can affect our emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing and awaken love. She works as a consultant on the creative development of restaurant businesses and has published a book, Metbex Couture, on the culinary scene in Azerbaijan.
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