Many of you that have been following us on our Facebook page know that ever since I got back from my LA trip two weeks ago, we’ve been foraging for food NON-STOP. We’ve canned many types of fruits so far, but today was Apricot day, and it’s a memorable day to share with you all.
While the past few months have been busy tying up loose ends, finishing up our diy wood-fired hot tub and even tackling our first cement project, the amount of ripe fruit available in the month of June caused us to seriously switch gears.
Actually, to be completely honest, we realized that it was huckleberry season and since huckleberries are such a delectable treat, we decided that we needed to pick as many as possible and preserve them. The only way we saw fit to preserve these was canning.
Long story short, after making huckleberry preserves, huckleberry pepper jam, huckleberry barbecue sauce and huckleberry ice cream, we shifted our focus to the other numerous fruit offered to us both from our neighbors and even fruit trees in town that were being neglected.
So… onto the events that led up to Apricot Day.
Sourcing the Apricots: Ask And You Shall Receive!
Jesse and I noticed that there were fruit trees all over town that were ripe with fruit yet it didn’t appear that anyone was after it. More specifically, the ripe fruit was falling on the ground to rot, especially with the apricot tree we spotted at a local business.
We went into the business and asked them if we might be able to pick fruit off of their apricot tree and they said “Absolutely! We aren’t going to pick it AND it would actually help us out because we have to walk and drive on the rotten fruit which is kinda yucky.”
Believe it or not, at that point we were the only ones that had asked about picking the fruit. Later that week, we went back with a ladder and went crazy on the tree. It turns out our ladder wasn’t quite tall enough, and we had to get creative with pulling the branches down (see below photo), but we were quickly about to fill up almost two 5-gallon buckets. We felt that this was more than enough apricots for us to start with.
You might recall that last fall, we were able to gather (for almost free) $5,000 in materials in three days that would have otherwise gone to waste by simply asking. Asking to harvest fruit that would otherwise go to waste is along the same lines.
In the case of this business, it was a win-win because we prevented a lot of fruit from falling in their driveway (we actually cleaned up some already fallen fruit to be kind) and in exchange, we received gallons of fruit that would have otherwise cost us maybe $3.00+/pound. Mind you, these were completely organic apricots.
For some extra reading, here are other ways we’re able to find great deals on resources and materials. A must-read for anyone looking to start their homestead affordably!
One last tip… if someone lets you pick fruit from their tree, give them a can or two of what you create! It’s great to keep the circle of kindness going and you might really make the day of the person that otherwise wouldn’t have enjoyed the fruit.
Picking Our Apricot Canning Recipes to Attack
We actually picked the apricots before they were completely ripe. It’s ideally best to let them ripen fully on the tree, but in this case, they were already extremely sweet so we decided to risk it. However, a few days later, it seemed that a lot of the fruit was already rotting so we decided it was go time! Time to put these apricots to use… ALL OF THEM!
We decided to try out three different recipes in small batches first to see if they were good or not.
Tools We Needed to Can
We hope to do a full post soon on getting started with canning, but one of the things we have in our homestead toolkit is a canning box that we pull out every time we get ready to can. It has everything we need and every tool has a specific purpose. If you’re new to canning, be sure you have these things in your collection.
- Water-bath canner or pressure canner: The pressure canner can be used as a water-bath canner if you only want one tool for both jobs. Most frequently we use a water-bath canner that holds about seven half-pint jars. This is good for most recipes but if we’re really canning in bulk, we’ll use our Presto canner that’s a bit larger. However, it feels overkill for most of the things we do so why waste water if it’s not necessary?
- Mason jars, lids and rings: We always have on hand pint-sized, half-pint sized and quart-sized mason jars so that we’re always ready to can. It’s recommended to have new lids for each round of canning, although the rings and jars can be re-used.
- Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving: This is our canning bible, especially as we are newbies. I start here with every recipe, and if I find a recipe on the internet, I compare it always to a recipe in here as these are tried, tested and safe. It has lots of great info on why we do what we do, how to can safely, and lots of great info on the pH of different foods.
- Ball utensil set: I didn’t purchase this right away because I didn’t know if I really needed it or not… after my first canning session, I bought this immediately! Each tool really has its own purpose including the jar lifter, lid lifter (from the scalding hot water), jar funnel and air bubble remover.
- Outdoor 3-burner portable stove: While I tried canning in our RV the first time, canning can be rather messy so we bought a 3-burner outdoor cooking stove and love it. We actually cook our real meals on this stove too as it’s too hot indoors to cook.
That’s the basics of what our canning setup is. Ingredients will differ recipe-to-recipe so we won’t include those. Onto the fun stuff!
The Basics: Apricot Preserve Recipe
The first recipe we try with most any fruit is a simple preserves. Believe it or not, there is a difference technically between a preserve, jam, marmalade, jelly and a conserve.
Because we don’t like more work than necessary, such as using a jelly strainer to make jelly, we often opt for the most-simple recipe. We also try to use recipes that don’t need pectin because it’s just one more thing to buy. However, some fruits are low in pectin and it can really help the jam to gel, but generally there are options when it comes to what type of jam-like substance you want to make!
We used the jam recipe in the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving which only required additional sugar and lemon juice. I think apricots are safe enough to water-bath can, but their pH is on the lower end of safe for this method I believe, so the lemon juice either exists to raise the pH to be safe or to maybe help with preservation. If you’re a canning expert, chime in on this would ya?
Apricot Initiation: Blanching apricots is no fun at all!
Up until this point, our jams and preserves have been quite easy (like this thimbleberry jam), but this easy streak came to a screeching halt with the apricots!
The recipes call for blanching to remove the skin, and I can see why, but this was quite the messy task. I was very frustrated with this the first day because I seemed to need about six dishes or something ridiculous for the task! This was after trying to sort through the rotten apricots, and using apricots that were too ripe for the task. Either way, we prevailed, but I can’t say this idea makes me want to plant an apricot tree when I have many other fruits to pick from that aren’t as messy.
After one batch went well, and after I discovered that apricot jam can be used as a base for several sauces including sweet and sour sauce, we decided to finish the apricot batch with additional preserves. Total, we ended up with 17 half-pint jars of apricot preserves! HOLY COW!
Apricot Nectar Recipe
The next thing we decided to try was an apricot nectar. Apparently there aren’t any recipes titled “apricot juice” because it turns out it’s quite hard to juice an apricot. Instead, the “juice” is a thicker substance but equally delicious.
We had so many apricots that we thought turning them into juice would be a great way to use them in bulk, and then we could drink the nectar throughout winter or even later in summer as a delicious probiotic soda!
Apricot Initiation #2: Juicing an apricot is near impossible!
Even with easy-to-follow and seemingly straightforward recipes, juicing apricots isn’t as easy as it looks. The first round I attempted boiling the apricots and straining the juice through a colander which only clogged the colander. I tried the jelly strainer and that was equally laughable – not even a drop came out! I ended up having to take a large spoon and push the nectar through the colander.. and some of the pulp didn’t make it through, thinning out the juice just a little bit. In the end, I ended up adding A LOT of water.
The next round, we ended up going to our storage unit and getting our juicer. I warned Jesse that I didn’t think this would be very successful, and I was pretty right for the first half of the juicing anyways. The pulp clogged the juicer so bad that apricot sauce was oozing out the sides! We cleaned it out frequently, added some water to the apricots when we juiced them, and finally completed batch two. UGH.
In the end, we have two quarts, five pints and a half-pint of apricot juice. We look forward to see how we can use this! Apricot nectar IS delicious although I see us only consuming it in small quantities.
The Star of the Show: Apricot Salsa
The last thing I decided to try was this apricot salsa recipe. We don’t consume that many jams or sweets in our daily diet to be perfectly honest, so I was hoping to turn these apricots into something a little more hearty. I wasn’t feeling anything like a barbecue sauce, so I attempted the salsa. I’ve never had a fruit salsa so I was highly skeptical.
We did have to go to the store to buy some peppers, onion, garlic and cilantro, but the costs on those were minimal and the other ingredients we already had. I started with half a batch to test it out.
When I sampled the final product, I was completely floored. It was SO GOOD! I knew immediately that we would need to make another batch so that we could end up with eight pints total. I can see us loving this over the next year with salty tortilla chips… there’s just something about the sweet/salty combination that is to-die-for! If you need to use up fruit but are tired of jams, I suggest trying a fruit salsa such as this!
Summing it Up: Apricot Canned Goods Galore
In the end, we ended up with loads of canned apricot goods! What a terrible problem to have, right? Jesse and I tend to go big with whatever we do, and only after a year goes by will we know if we canned enough fruit goods to get us through the year.
We try to “get while the gettin’s good” so we are taking that mentality with the fruit available now. Huckleberries, currants, serviceberries, apricots and cherries are a few things that are available to us today to gather for free and can, so why not take advantage of it?
How You Can Do This Too
If you are new to canning, we suggest you invest in a water-bath canner and the Ball Blue Book to get your feet wet. Alternatively, you can likely use a large stock pot you already have AND you can probably find canning books at your local library!
Then, look around where you live and see if there are any fruit trees. Simply knock on a near door and ask if you can pick some fruit! Alternatively, you can learn about wild edible plants in your area OR even visit a you-pick berry patch. Heck, you can even visit a farmer’s market!
The idea is to take advantage of seasonal, quality food and preserve it for later. You can also try freezing the food if you have freezer space and enough electricity (we don’t) or even invest in a entry-level dehydrator and make dehydrated fruit or fruit leather! The opportunities are endless!
Let us know your thoughts! Have you done any big canning projects this year? What is something you try to preserve every year? What have you learned over the years as far as what to preserve and what not to preserve (like what sounded like a good idea but really wasn’t)? We’d love to hear as always!
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