Carpe diem! That’s the Latin phrase meaning “seize the day” and it was exactly what I did when I spotted the first apricots of the year at my farmers’ market. While I always prepare jam with summer apricots, this fruit was so small and perfect that I decided to make my Apricots in Vanilla Syrup and capture their whole natural goodness in a jar. Since apricots are the first sweet taste of stone fruit in late spring/early summer but have an all-too-brief season, I make their enjoyment last a little longer by preserving them in simple syrup in shelf-stable jars.
When I saw the sea of beautiful Gold Kist apricots piled on the market stand, I had a delicious déjà vu of my life in Tuscany decades earlier when our fruit trees produced a bumper crop of tiny, sweet apricots like these…all at once! The harvest was so bountiful that we didn’t know where to put them, so every flat surface of my home was covered in blushing little orbs that gave the rooms a warm glow and a magical scent. The delicate apricots ripened quickly and I soon realized that we couldn’t possible eat all the fruit au naturel, so I needed to find ways to cook them presto or they’d spoil. I quickly got to work preparing everything I could think of with apricots—jams, preserves, cakes, tarts, breads…even a lovely liqueur. But perhaps the purest and most natural way I captured the essence of that special summer was by making these albicocche sciroppate, apricots in vanilla syrup, that I jarred for the winter.
Making them is incredibly easy and well worth the little time it takes. First, I halve the apricots, reserving their hard pits to crack open and extract the precious kernels inside—called mandorle amare or bitter almonds—to give the syrup a hint of almond flavor. In fact, bitter almonds are often finely ground and added to Italian baked goods—in particular almond biscotti from Tuscany known as cantucci—to give them a lingering aromatic quintessence that almonds alone can’t provide. Next, I make a simple syrup—an appropriate name for the equal parts sugar and water mixture that, when boiled, become a sweet, silky base in which to preserve the apricots—adding vanilla bean for extra sensual flavor (spices like cardamom seeds or cinnamon stick are lovely too). Then, I pack the apricot halves tightly in sterilized canning jars and pour over the molten syrup before sealing and processing in a hot water bath.
Once cool, I store the jars of jewel-like Apricots in Vanilla Syrup in my pantry to savor during the cold, dark winter months when I crave a ray of summer sunshine and a taste of summer fruit. I spoon the shiny, golden apricots over gelato, on cake, or eat on their own…in a pool of luscious syrup.
I hope that you seize the apricot-moment and preserve some to enjoy all year long. Just follow my recipe and video!
APRICOTS IN VANILLA SYRUP – Albicocche Sciroppate
Makes three 1-cup jars
- 1 pound/454g ripe yet firm apricots, preferably small and unblemished
- ½ cup/120g water
- ½ cup/100g sugar (preferably organic cane sugar
- 3 two-inch/4cm pieces of vanilla bean, scored
- 12 apricot kernels (removed from apricot pits)
- 3 half-pint/240ml canning jars with new lids
- Canning pot with rack or large pot with lid and clean towel; tongs
Note: before beginning recipe, wash and sterilize jars as directed in “Hot water bath canning method” below.
Wash the apricots under cold, running water and pat dry. Divide each apricot in half lengthwise by using a sharp knife to cut along the natural crease of the fruit starting from the stem dimple and continuing around its circumference. Separate apricot halves by gently twisting apart then remove the pits and reserve.
Crack open 12 apricot pits and extract the kernels. To do this, place the pits in a clean cloth or towel and tap with a hammer until the shell cracks. Remove inner kernels (that look like almonds) and discard pit shards. The apricot kernels—called bitter almonds—will add a delicate almond flavor to the syrup.
Prepare a simple syrup by placing water, sugar, and vanilla beans in a small saucepan and bringing to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 1 or 2 minutes until sugar has melted completely and a medium consistency syrup is created. Keep the syrup hot over low heat without boiling further.
Arrange the apricots—cut side down—in warm sterilized jars, fitting their curves snugly against each other. Gently press down to pack as many apricot halves as possible in the jar (without bruising the fruit) to 1/2-inch below rim. Insert 4 apricot kernels in each jar.
Remove the vanilla beans from syrup and place one in each jar. Pour hot syrup over the apricots to cover, leaving about 1/2-inch headspace below jar rims. Wipe the rims with a clean, damp paper towel to remove any traces of syrup then screw on lids and twist until just fingertip tight.
Process the jars in boiling water using the water bath canning method (see method below) for 15 to 20 minutes for half-pint jars (10 minutes for 1/2-cup/120ml jars) then store in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
Hot water bath canning method:
1. Wash jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water and rinse well. Let the lids and bands air dry on clean towel. Sterilize the jars in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes then drip dry overturned on a clean towel. Alternatively, sterilize jars by placing upright on a baking sheet and heating in a 250°F/121°C oven for 20 minutes before filling. Sterilize jars just before filling and keep hot so they are the same temperature (or close to it) as hot ingredients.
2. Carefully fill hot jars (preferably using a wide-mouth funnel) with hot ingredients leaving 1/2-inch headspace below rim of jar for half-pint jars or larger (for smaller jars leave 1/4-inch headspace below rims). Wipe rims with a clean, damp paper towel and allow to dry briefly. Place new lids and bands on jars, then twist just until fingertip tight, without over tightening.
3. Use a canning pot with rack or arrange a cotton napkin or kitchen towel in the bottom of a pot large enough to hold jars without touching and tall enough to allow 2 to 3 inches headspace over jars. Carefully place filled jars in pot and cover with hot water by at least 2 inches. Place over high heat and bring water to a boil then adjust heat to steady simmer. Cover pot and boil the jars at a constant simmer for the time specified in recipe or according to instructions for specific size jar, adjusted for altitude if needed.
4. Turn off heat and let jars stand in hot water for 5 minutes then remove using tongs and place on wire rack or kitchen towel to cool undisturbed for 12 hours. When jars are completely cool, check that each lid has sealed properly by pressing down in center. Lid center should remain down if properly vacuum sealed and not pop up or down when pressed. Tighten lid bands if loosened. Store in cool, dry place for up to 1 year.