When you’re in a jam...
When you live in the wops, it pays to keep your friends close and your local contractors even closer, for when things go wrong – when the tank runs dry or the wifi won’t work – who ya gonna call?
As a city slicker, I kept my favourite Thai restaurant, kebab shop, and Indian takeaway on speed dial. But since escaping to the country, my emergency contacts list has morphed into a manifesto of rural crisis management and conflict resolution. From the volunteer fire brigade to the water delivery guy, the local winery (they do a fine four-cheese pizza), to the fella who cuts roadside barberry hedges like he’s slicing a cream layer cake, help is only a phone call away.
At the top of the list? The rural postie. Forget Postman Pat and his black and white cat; our postie Bernie has a soft spot for our black and white dog, while her colleague Darryl, on the next rural delivery route over, has been known to stop in on his way home, armed with hedge clippers, to prune my topiary buxus balls into perfect spheres.
Bernie is a bona-fide, salt-of-theearth sweetheart. Though it must try her patience delivering bulky boxes of preserving jars, fruit trees, flower bulbs, and sacks of seed spuds to my door, her smile never slips. Our dog loves her even more than I do, for not only does she know the name of every RD3 mutt, she’s never too busy to give them a pat and a handful of biscuits.
A fortnight ago, in a fit of preserving enthusiasm, I ordered a 10kg box of gorgeous ‘Clutha Gold’ apricots from a family orchard in Cromwell. I ordered them on Monday. They were shipped on Tuesday, on an overnight courier. Wednesday came and went (as I expected it to, for overnight in cityspeak translates to sometime this week in the sticks), but there was still no sign of my apricots on Thursday.
Bernie sent me a text: ‘‘No fruit,’’ it said.
‘‘Any fruit?’’ I asked on Friday. ‘‘No fruit,’’ she confirmed.
‘‘If they arrive on Saturday,’’ I sighed, ‘‘can you bung them in your fridge over the long weekend?’’
They did and, bless her, she did. Then on Tuesday morning, she turned up at our door with a box of the finest, blushing red and gold, plump-cheeked ‘Clutha Gold’ apricots, still in pristine condition, despite their dawdling pilgrimage across our fair islands.
I can’t grow apricots here. I’ve planted seven supposedly low-chill grafted trees, but each is as useless as the next, so every summer I splurge on a big box of Cromwell beauties for bottling and jam.
Bottled apricots are a mainstay of A&P show tables. They look so good, all those cupped cantaloupe crescents stacked top-to-tail in quart jars of sugar syrup, and they taste even better. To open an Agee jar of home-bottled apricot halves in winter is to unleash a ray of summer sunshine on your porridge. Quite frankly, the canned ones sold in supermarkets are a slanderous abomination.
Any apricots that are slightly soft turn to mush when bottled, so they’re better sliced into the preserving pan to make jam. However, because apricots are low in pectin, apricot jam is notoriously tricky to set, as well as being sickly sweet, but adding a little citrus helps on both fronts.
Slice 1kg of apricots into 1cm chunks. Place in a large pot with the juice and finely grated zest of 1 orange. Add a little water to stop the fruit sticking and heat slowly until the fruit is gently simmering. Add 1kg pectinenriched jam-setting sugar, stir until dissolved, then boil hard for five minutes. Pour into jars and seal.
You could make your own deliciously aromatic apricot jam this weekend but let me save you the bother. If you come along to the Heroic Garden Party at Ayrlies Garden in Whitford, Auckland, next Friday, and make a $5 donation to Mercy Hospice Auckland, I’ll give you a jar of mine instead.
The Heroic Garden Party, hosted by Lynda Hallinan, is held at Ayrlies Garden of International Significance in Potts Rd, Whitford, on Friday, February 17, from 10am to 4pm. This gardeners’ day out includes specialist plant stalls, a boutique gift market, fashion, food, and expert speakers. Tickets are $10 at the gate or from heroicgardens.org.nz
A special delivery of the finest ‘Clutha Gold’ apricots from Central Otago.