I put up my first batches of Blenheim apricot jam last week, and even in the bad iphone photo, ABOVE, you can see how gorgeous it was. The Blenheim is an heirloom variety that sprouted from a pit planted at England's Blenheim Palace, home to the Dukes of Marlborough, some time before the 1830s. For a while it was named the Shipley, after the gardener's daughter who tended the seedling, but eventually the statlier name stuck. Either way, everyone agreed that it was one of best apricots grown. (Although in Mansfield Park, Jane Austen celebrates the Moor Park apricot, the offspring of another aristocratic estate.)
The Blenheim was extraordinary but not quite unique, being nearly identical to another apricot first grown in Paris and known as the Royal, a name the French gave to the very finest fruit reserved for the king's table. (See the post below about Duke cherries.) In the 20th century, both the Blenheim and Royal were widely cultivated in California, although the democratic citizens of our state lost track of the distinction between a Duke and a King so the catch-all name Royal Blenheim was applied to both types. Everyone still agreed that they were the tastiest apricots grown, but the Blenheim/Royal became scarce in recent decades because the fruit was highly perishable and growers ripped up the fine old trees to make way for newer varieties that produced fruit firm enough to ship to the East Coast. Taste was a secondary consideration, with results that you already know. Which is why, I'd guess, apricots are less esteemed today than they once were. In Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream, Titiana fed her beloved Bottom mulberries, figs and apricots—a lover's banquet of the most erotically delicious fruit.
This Blenheim apricot jam would live up to Titiana's expectations. When I gave one of my few jars of precious boysenberry jam to someone the other day, I said teasingly, "This is basically a declaration of love." Then I gave the same person a jar of Blenheim jam. "And this," I said, "is a seduction."
The recipe below will work with any apricot variety.
Classic Apricot Jam
3 1/2 pound apricots
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 cups sugar
1 Pit and quarter the apricots. Put them in a non-reactive mixing bowl with the sugar and lemon juice. Stir well to combine, then set aside to macerate for 30 minutes.
2 Pour the fruit-sugar mixture into a wide preserving pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stirring constantly, cook at a full boil until the jam thickens, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of your pot and the strength of your stove's flame. (A very broad pot on a strong flame will reduce faster because the large surface area allows water to evaporate more quickly—cooking fruit into jam is simply a matter of boiling off excess water and concentrating sugars.) Test for doneness by spooning a bit of hot jam onto a chilled saucer. Place the saucer in the freezer for 1 minute. When it's cool, push your finger through the jam, which should cling to the plate with a luscious, thick consistency. Don't worry about trying to get a firm gel set. I think apricot jam is best when it mounds in a spoon but drips through the tines of a fork.
3 Ladle the hot jam into prepared half-pint jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. (Prepared means washed, dried and warmed in a 200 degree oven.) Seal the jars and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes. (Start timing only after the water in the canner has returned to a full boil.) Allow the jars to cool on the counter overnight.
Yields about 3 pints