Summer Food: Melons, Fresh Pesto, Apricot Jam

Apricots i i

Ripe apricots hang from the trees in Capitol Reef National Park in Fruita, Utah. Every July, rangers open the orchards to the public. Stephen Trimble hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Trimble
Apricots

Ripe apricots hang from the trees in Capitol Reef National Park in Fruita, Utah. Every July, rangers open the orchards to the public.

Stephen Trimble
Picking i i

Joanne Slotnik and her children, Jake and Dory, pick apricots. The family travels to Capitol Reef each year — which begins their descent into "apricot jam hell," as Slotnik describes it. Stephen Trimble hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Trimble
Picking

Joanne Slotnik and her children, Jake and Dory, pick apricots. The family travels to Capitol Reef each year — which begins their descent into "apricot jam hell," as Slotnik describes it.

Stephen Trimble

Melons, homemade root beer and apricot jam — these are some of the foods that mean "summer" to you.

Last month, we asked listeners to tell us their summer food stories.

Peter Stoll of East Chatham, N.Y., told us about melon-hunting during summer camp. He remembered those hunts ending with "ripe, icy-cold honeydews and cantaloupes dripping with juice."

Several listeners mentioned pesto, including Don Beyer of Marshfield, Wis.

Beyer follows his mother's recipe, using basil and Italian parsley from his own garden, plus garlic, pine nuts, black pepper, salt and parmesan cheese. He mixes all that with the best olive oil he can afford. And, since pesto freezes well, he gets to defrost a bit of summer, even during the coldest Wisconsin winter.

Salt Lake City resident Joanne Slotnik's favorite summer food involves a beautiful setting and a lot of hard work.

Slotnik and her family pick the fruit each July in Capitol Reef National Park in Fruita, Utah; fill every available container with apricots; wash, pit and halve them; boil, skim and stir; and jar and admire — and enjoy — the finished product.

Even though Slotnik describes it as "apricot jam hell," she and her family do it again, and again.

"I decided it's like childbirth. You're sick of it, hate it right after it happens, you hate the pain of it, but then a year later you don't remember that," Slotnik tells Michele Norris. "You remember the good parts and you've enjoyed this wonderful jam all winter, and the next season comes around, and you think 'How can I not do it?'"

Capitol Reef Apricot Jam

Every July, the National Park Service rangers open the orchards in Capitol Reef, one of Utah's least visited but most spectacular national parks. And every year, Joanne Slotnik's family and friends make the pilgrimage.

Preliminaries:

Get to Torrey, Utah, gateway to Capitol Reef National Park (4 hours from Salt Lake).

Find someplace cute to stay, like Muley Twist Inn or Pine Shadows Cabins, both in Teasdale, or maybe SkyRidge Inn or the Capitol Reef Inn (funky, but with lots of personality) in Torrey. There are plenty of chain motels, too, if that's your style. Or you could camp in the park.

Locate the open orchards and do your thing.

Barring the above, just find some apricots.

The Recipe

Wash, halve and pit the fruit. Don't worry about the skin, which disappears in the course of cooking. Put the fruit in a heavy pot. Recipes say to make small batches, but I never do. I just fill up the biggest pot around, usually doing about 12 cups each time.

For approximately every 2 cups of fruit, add 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and lots of lemon zest.

Bring to a boil, lower heat, and cook until the mixture turns a bit darker and looks like jam when you let it dribble off a spoon (about 45 to 60 minutes.). Stir it frequently enough that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. You can skim off the lighter colored stuff that rises to the top if you want; otherwise, it seems to just disappear after a while.

While the jam is cooking, wash a bunch of canning jars and put the jars, lids and rings in a pot of hot water, just to keep them hot until you fill them. (Caveat: I have no idea if this is even really necessary if you use a steam canner.)

Canning the Fruit

This is the part that always intimidated me, and I make no claim at any expertise here. For me, though, the key is a steam canner (mine is made by Back to Basics, about $30; available online). It's like a big pot turned upside down. You put 6 cups of water in the bottom, set 8 jars at a time on the little rack that sits over the water, put the top on, and then steam the jars for about 15 minutes. It's the easiest method I've tried and does not get your entire kitchen hot and steamy like the more traditional water bath processors. When you take the lid off the canner, the tops of the individual jars make an incredibly satisfying "ping" as they seal.

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