Apricot jam and pickled beets, recipes to add to your collection. (Photo: Contributed)
Apricot jam and pickled beets, recipes to add to your collection. (Photo: Contributed)

Trying to get unstuck

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She says:

First of all, I must apologize for our lack of article this past week – we were just too busy in the kitchens (me in ours and Martin all over) to manage to put our fingers to the keyboard. But we were thinking of you! I had sticky preserving projects to do over the last two weeks, and amidst the sugar and fruit and veggies and vinegar, I thought of sharing my experiences with all of you…

As I was weighing out the apricots we picked last Sunday in Peachland for jam, I was thinking of telling you how that was the first jam recipe I learned, and even one of the first adult experiences I had a “foodie”. My first job in a restaurant was serving at a little café that had only 12 tables.

The owner and sometimes chef was a strict Turkish lady named Damla who took great pride in sharing her traditional recipes with many regular clients. She saw quickly how keen I was to learn about all things to do with food, and so when the weekend came to restock the larder with her coveted homemade apricot sauce for the signature cheesecake we served, she lured me in. “Why don’t you buy a case of fruit for yourself?” she asked innocently. “Then you can bring it in on Sunday and I will show you how to make jam.”

Sunday was my one day off from working and university studies, but this was a once-in-a lifetime chance to work with her in the kitchen! I dutifully bought a ten pound case of apricots that were not too ripe, left them in the sun for one afternoon on newspaper as instructed, and then lugged them to the café for Sunday morning.

As I look back now, I should have seen it coming… I was free labour that day. Damla was a wise woman and a wonderful cook and she knew the value of a good worker. I not only prepared my ten pounds of apricots, but also most of her fifty pounds! We had huge stock kettles all bubbling with fruit, and enough sugar measured out to sink a battleship, it seemed. But despite the oppressive heat of the small kitchen on an August day I enjoyed every minute.

I loved learning that a knob of butter melted around the edge of the pot just where the fruit level reaches keeps it from caramelizing and adding a bitter flavour or dark bits to the jam. I was amazed to discover that you had to measure equal weights of fruit and sugar to make a good jam with flavour, one that would set and not run off the edge of your toast. And I learned that you have to keep the jars clean to make the seals work – cleanliness can be next to sanity if you have to consider resealing a whole canning kettle of jars!

I never did get the cheesecake recipe from Damla, but every summer that apricot jam takes me back to my start as a Foodie. The sunny colour makes me think of hot summer days even in the dead of winter when I pull a jar from the pantry. And living in the Okanagan, I don’t have to leave the fruit out on a sheet of newspaper – I just pick it right off the tree myself!

This past weekend the project was beets, as they are fast taking over the garden. I pulled out my dog-eared recipe journal and looked for my old stand-by recipe for Auntie Max’s Pickled Beets. My aunt Maxine is no longer with us, but she was a true prairie cook who had all kinds of wonderful kitchen secrets in her apron pockets. Her memory lives on for me every year when I make those beets – as a kid, I never knew you could eat beets another way!

As an adult, beets took on new meaning for me. I don’t know if any of you are Tom Robbins fans, but that Pacific Northwest author once touted in “Jitterbug Perfume” that the beet was the perfect vegetable. (I won’t give away more than that – if you fancy a bit of irreverence, his books are worth looking up.)

We have four kinds of heirloom beets in the garden this year, so whatever Martin doesn’t take for clients will be up for grabs here, and when they start getting big the best thing to do is pickle them. I can still enjoy the brilliant colour of them long into the winter, and they seem to enjoy the endless permutations of flavours you can add to them for another layer of complexity. There is something really intriguing too about the simple task of peeling the skins after they are boiled – it’s a playful task, a bit like playing in the sand box, I think.

So, for those interested, here are the recipes if you wish to try them. I promise not to miss another week of writing – we are off camping for a few days so we are sure to have some new tales to tell. I hope you are all finding time to enjoy the summer and share its bounty with friends and family, even if like us it might be more in terms of saving a bit of summer for later. Cheers!

Damla’s Apricot Jam

  • Equal weight fresh unbruised apricots and white sugar (5 lbs makes about 6 – 250 mL jars)
  • Clean canning jars with unblemished lids and sealing rings
  • Knob of butter

    Pit the fruit and put it in a large stockpot. Place on medium heat and stir frequently as fruit “melts” in the pot. Once liquid develops, add sugar gradually, stirring to avoid lumps. Let mixture come to a rolling boil, then reduce slightly. Melt the knob of butter along the rim where the fruit level meets the top of the pot, and skim foam from the top surface for approx. 5 minutes. Once jam is set, it can be poured carefully into sealer jars to within 1/2 inch of top. (Jam is set when you place a spoonful on a chilled plate and it doesn’t run back together after you run your finger through the middle.) Seal jars with hot rings and lids and then can in canning kettle with boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Refrigerate once opened.

    Auntie Max’s Pickled Beets (makes approx. 3 x 500 mL jars)

  • Approx. 2-3 lbs beets (more are needed if they are smaller as they fill up spaces in the jars)
  • 1-1/2 cups white vinegar
  • ½ cup water or cooking juice from beets
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • Fresh herbs or spices (dill, cloves, caraway all work well)
  • 1 tsp salt

    Trim root end and greens off fresh beets. Boil the beets in medium pot in water till soft (like potatoes). Save ½ cup of cooking water for added flavour and then plunge beets into cold water immediately. Let rest for 1 minute, then peel skins by gently squeezing the beets out of their skins (using rubber gloves prevents you from getting purple hands!)

    Prepare brine by combining all other ingredients except herb or spice in a pot and bringing it to a boil.

    Slice or chop beets to fit in canning jars (small beets can be left whole). Add herbs or spices – a few sprigs of dill, 3-4 cloves per jar, ¼ tsp of caraway seeds… or try your own variation!

    Pour hot brine over beets in jars to within ½ inch of top of jar. Seal with hot sealing rings and boil in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

    (Any extra beets or brine can be kept refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

    He says:

    Summer is so busy for me this year that I have no time to write! You can catch me on CHBC Sunday nights at 5:30pm or in traffic on my way to a client!!

  • More Happy Gourmand articles

    About the Author

    Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

    Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

    Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

    Kristin says:

    "Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


    E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

    Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


    The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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