14th January 2019
The apricot is the first fruit tree in the backyard to ripen. From the lounge room window, I notice the fruit first. After months of leaves camouflaging the green fruit, I now notice some hints of plush orange bobbing in the wind.
I suspect the apricot is the longest standing fruit tree in our garden. Many of the established trees were planted several decades ago by a thoughtful, previous owner. Rumour has it that he used to cover the root base with old carpet to keep the tree snugly through the frigid winter up our valley.
The now large gnarled apricot sits along the southern border of our property, spreading its long limbs over the chicken run. For the first five years we lived here it produced nada, not one fruit was seen on the tree. Then after a thorough chainsaw pruning, on advice from a wise gardener, the tree has produced some impressive harvests since.
The preserving pan can run hot for many weeks to keep up with the excess fruit. With the spring winds and rain I wasn’t holding up much hope for this season but this chameleon apricot has been hiding its offspring. As they ripen under the warm summer sun I can see we have more than enough for a jam session or two.
Preferring to keep the sugar minimal in my home preserving I make a Scandinavian-inspired fruit conserve. The difference being that the apricots are slow-cooked until thick and syrupy then sugar is added to taste at the end. Or not at all if preferred. This creates a soft-set conserve with full fruit flavour.
The essential requirement with low-sugar preserves is a scrupulous sterilising protocol. Either boil jars and lids for 10 minutes before carefully draining and drying on a rack; OR place clean jars on a tray in a cold oven and heat to 120C (boil lids for 10 minutes). Whichever method you use, work thoughtfully and fill hot sterile jars with piping hot conserve.
Freestyle Apricot Conserve
Halve 3-4kg of apricots and remove stones (other fleshy stone fruit can also be used).
Place fruit in a large pan. A wide shallow pan with a heavy bottom works best for even cooking and to prevent sticking. Add 2 tablespoons water and cover with a lid. Heat gently over a low heat and cook for 40-50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, and then more frequently near the end of cooking to avoid burning.
Once the fruit has softened into a thick puree, add sugar to taste and stir to dissolve. For 3-4 kg fruit, I use around 3/4 cup sugar. Cook for a further 5 minutes then spoon into the hot, sterilised jars. Secure lids, name and date, and consume within 3 months.
Apricot & Sour Cream Clafoutis
- 1/2 cup flour gluten-free: use gluten-free flour mix
- 2/3 cup milk
- 100 g sour cream
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 cup sugar or honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 10-12 apricots halved and stones removed
- Preheat the oven to 190C. Generously grease a 25cm round glass or ceramic tart dish with butter.
- Place the flour into a bowl and slowly add the milk while whisking to create a smooth paste. Add the sour cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla, and whisk well to combine. Set aside for 10 minutes for the starch in the flour to bloom.
- Prepare the apricots and arrange in the base of the tart dish. Pour the custard around the apricots and carefully place in the oven.
- Bake for 30 minutes until the custard is just set. Serve warm, dusted with icing sugar and drizzled with cream.
In the Garden: Summer
I am continuing with my seasonal garden diary today (as a much a record for myself to look back on in coming years). As always summer is a busy busy time in the garden so I will keep this brief. I am doing my best (with school holidays) to keep up with the fruit harvest, the bees in the backyard are clearly making a difference to the fruit set with most of our fruit trees producing larger harvests than previous years.
I am sure I am not alone here when I say I have mountains of zucchini and beans – I did it to myself, planting 6 zucchini plants, and I moved the beans to a new position beside the compost where the rich soil is making for very happy bean plants. I have been filling the freezer with bags of blanched purple beans, as well as frozen peach wedges. I have pickled some zucchini and handed others over the fence to the neighbours.
Our Wiggins peach (heirloom: white-fleshed) has a bumper crop, and being a fruit that is best eaten fresh we simply can’t keep up, so the extra fruit is cut into wedges and frozen on trays to tip into free-flow bags for smoothies (works a treat in place of frozen banana). I use this same technique for other seasonal juicy fruit such as strawberries, plums, and feijoas. We will need a larger freezer at this rate!
Harvesting: zucchini / purple & green runner beans / telegraph cucumber / tomatoes – black krim, moonshine (loving these new-to-me flavourful toms!), yellow cherry + Isle of Capri (another fav) / chillies / parsley / basil / lettuce / silver beet / brown onions / red spring onions / kohlrabi / fennel tops / and new potatoes almost ready (heritage mix from Koanga gardens) + the last of the apricots / Wiggins peach / greengage plum just beginning / brown turkey fig (an early breba crop)
Growing/ready to harvest soon: kabocha squash / crown pumpkin (self-seeded) / spaghetti squash / kamo kamo / more zucchini and purple beans (what have I done!) / cucumber / jalapeno / omega plums / and the grapes are turning purple already!
Garden tasks: sow seeds in trays for winter produce – I know it seems crazy to be thinking about this in January but brassica plants such as kale, broccoli, cabbage/collard greens and Brussel sprouts need to be big and strong before the temperature drops / As summer crops finish I will prep the soil with fresh compost and possibly a green crop, if there is time, to build soil health / Regular watering and weeding, and deep mulching to assist with both; to keep weeds at bay and moisture retention with these hot dry days.