How many of you have ever eaten a fresh apricot? If you’re like me, there are not many out there. My favorite dried fruit has always been apricots. I remember when I was a young teenager, I would go to the gourmet store in Forest Hills and buy them for myself. I was the only person in the house that would eat them, and by the time I had walked home from Austin Street, they would be gone!
I was introduced to fresh apricots only in recent years, mainly because I never really saw them in the stores, and they hadn’t really entered into the food I had cooked ever. Then I remembered something that had eluded me for a while. My youngest brother was an exchange student in high school, and his exchange family was in Vienna, so he spent an entire semester there. They were a truly chic, European family. The mom was Swiss, the father, Hungarian, and the boys had been born in Austria. They lived in a fantastic apartment in a former Hapsburg princess’ palace (or at least that’s what I remember being told.) It was a side of European life I had never been exposed to. I visited for a few weeks and loved every single second of it! One vivid memory was their breakfast. Typically, they ate cold meats, bread, butter, jam and coffee or hot chocolate. The jam was a special concoction called lekvar, made of apricots. It was specially sent from the father’s sisters in Hungary to him every year. It was wonderful, fruity and sweet but with a tang I have never found in a jam jar since then!
Flash forward 25 years or so, and I am married to a Hungarian man who loves jam. We went to Costco recently and there were beautiful rafts of apricots. I bought 3lbs of them, with the intention of making the lekvar. In Hungarian, it’s called sárgabarack lekvár. When I looked it up online, there were many recipes, and several methods of canning it, but the simplest is always the best. Three ingredients (4 if you consider 1/3 cup of water) and about an hour of cook time. One method of canning I saw was fascinating, it claimed the Hungarian women used any old clean jars with lids they had around, poured the hot liquid into it, and covered it with plastic wrap, put on the lids, and wrapped the whole thing in warm blankets, so they very slowly cooled, sterilizing the whole thing, no need for water baths, etc. That is the method I used. One more tip, you can skin the fruit, but it’s time consuming. My suggestion would be try this with the skins on, they’re so delicate, you won’t even know they’re in there. Or, after you cook it, you can run it through a food mill or a sieve and remove all the pulp and skin. If you do that, return it to the pan, bring it to a boil, then complete the canning method below. I have stored mine in the fridge, because I just do, but this should last in a pantry for about a year, if you don’t eat it all way before then!
As always, there are tons of variations you can use here, plums, cherries (very Hungarian too), under ripe pears, prunes, dried apricots, as a matter of fact any dried fruit, although you’ll need to add 2 cups of water, or a cup for every pound of fruit. I think apples might be a bit too sweet and soft for this method, but I would think quinces would be great too!
Hungarian Sárgabarack Lekvár
- 2 pounds of apricots, cut into quarters, pits removed
- 1 cup sugar
- juice of one small lemon
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, place the quartered apricots and 1/3 cup water on a medium flame. Stir occasionally but allow the mixture to come to a gentle boil. When this happens, add the sugar and lemon juice, and cook and stir for an additional 20 minutes. You’ll see the mixture begin to liquify and clarify, so it starts to be transparent. Once this happens, cover the pot and lower the flame to low. Allow this to cook for an hour, carefully checking and stirring every 5 minutes or so. for the last 10 minutes, bring the mixture up to a hard boil, and keep stirring. You’ll avoid burnt fruit and sugar on the bottom of the pan, remember this is basically a fruity sugar syrup which burns very easily.
Once it’s fully cooked, I recommend putting it into a large glass heat proof pitcher, or as I did, an 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup. It will make it easier to pour into the jars.
Any old jar will do, as I mentioned above, as long as it has a lid on it. Pour the hot liquid into the jars leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch at the top. Place the lids on and tighten, but not completely. I put them on an oven mitt then bundled them into 4 layers of terry cloth tea towels.
Oh, one more thing. Don’t throw out those apricot pits. Soak them in some good quality vodka, and you’ll have, believe it or not, an almond flavor extract that you can’t beat!