Today the neighborhood jam-makers’ guild met once again, this time to process 2 kilos of sour cherries and 2 kilos of apricots. Using the same 2:1 ratio of fruit to sugar as we did two weeks ago, we came up with the following variations:
Sour cherry and lemon verbena (3 jars)
Sour cherry and walnut (3 jars)
Apricot (2 jars)
Apricot-lavender (2 jars)
Apricot-lemon verbena (1 jar)
The walnuts were toasted and then cooked with the jam; the herbs were chopped and placed in the jar before the hot jam was poured over them.
My previous jam-making post elicited some concern from a few readers because of our method of sealing the jars by igniting a thin layer of rum, putting on the lids, and inverting the jars. The consensus of the jam-makers’ guild is that nothing is certain and that there is always a risk that the jam may turn moldy. However, our eyes, noses, and taste buds are normally capable of sensing if food has gone bad, in which case we would dispose of the jam instead of eating it.
You should be familiar with sour cherries from my previous post but what about apricots? Though the apricot tree originated in Mongolia and not in Armenia, as its name Prunus armeniaca would indicate, it has a special place in Armenian culture. Cultivated in the Caucasus since at least 6000 BC, its wood is used to make the duduk, a double-reed instrument also called tsiranapogh, which means “apricot flute” in Armenian. Listen to Djivan Gasparyan, the world’s most famous dudek player, here.
Apricots also play a role in Austrian cuisine, most famously in Marillenknödel, or apricot dumplings, about which you’ll read more very soon. Faschingskrapfen, the jelly-filled donuts ubiquitous before the start of Lent, have an apricot-flavored filling. Apricot schnapps and apricot liqueurs are also common.
The first mention of apricots being cultivated in Austria was in 1679 in Lower Austria, the province where the Wachau is located. The Wachau refers to the Danube valley between Melk and Krems that is known for apricot and wine production. The Wachau apricot has the label Protected Designation of Origin established by the EU. Products claiming to have Wachau apricots in them must be produced, processed, and prepared in the region. This label is not to be confused with the label Protected Geographical Indication, which only requires that the food product be prepared, processed, or produced in the region – i.e. one of three steps instead of all of three. Styrian pumpkin seed oil falls into the latter category.
A study done in 2006 by the consumer protection association Verein für Konsumenteninformation revealed that of 28 jams professing to be made in Austria, one contained solely Austrian apricots, three contained a mixture of Austrian and imported apricots, and the rest contained apricots from other European countries and Turkey. Apparently it is enough for the product to be processed in Austria for it to be labeled “Made in Austria” – buyer beware! Frankly, I find this misleading advertising more troubling than the presence of mold in homemade jam. I guess the only way to be certain of the source of your jam is to find a local source of apricots and make it yourself.