“At its best the Apricot has a certain Eastern lusciousness, a touch of the exotic which comes strangely into our homely country. In some Persian palace whose quiet garden hears only the tinkle of a fountain it would seem to find its right setting, fitly waiting on a golden dish for some languid Sharazade”

Edward A. Bunyard. The Anatomy of Dessert (1929)

As summer peaks, with my garden vista bestrewn with potato blight, cabbage-white caterpillars picnicking on what remains of my sprouting broccoli and black fly booking the available positions on my pop-up broad bean plantation, I re-boot my culinary optimism by retreating to the kitchen.

Turning my attention to importing, rather than home-growing, and whilst browsing the municipal land-grab my greengrocer quietly undertakes with ever-widening trestle tables cunningly creeping across the pavement, I spied a beckoning mound of apricots. Not the early harvest that requires a bank loan, nor the end of season specimens that taste of polystyrene ceiling tiles, but a well-priced crop that allowed me to purchase a lavish harvest, amounting to just shy of a kilo.

My plan – to manufacture the first jam of the season.

Purely for the record, my jam making has provided the family with a kaleidoscope of laboratory experiments ranging from a pouring consistency not dissimilar to Rome’s Trevi fountain, all the way to a coagulated mass that would barely yield to a jack hammer. There have been successes, of which I am quietly proud, but I fear the bulk would not even gain a Highly Commended rosette at a sparsely attended agricultural show. But to my credit (I like to imagine its creditable) I have persisted.

The choice of this particular fruit is based on romantic notions of warm Mediterranean pavements, rakish café society and a morning dalliance with a soup-bowl brimming with coffee, a whiff of Gauloises still in the air. A baton of accompanying sour dough bread with white, ice-cold butter and a tub of Apricot preserve completes the daydream. For me the manufacture and consumption of apricot jam are as French as a chorus of the Marseillaise at a rugby fixture in Paris.

Closer to home, and with unapologetic pride for their perfectly honed skills, strawberry, blackcurrant or raspberry jam will inevitably conjure up a village hall full of energetic W.I. ladies (exuding a faint whiff of Yardley’s talc) enthusiastically promoting their enviable, home-made wares. But although those imperious rural angels will doubtless provide a triumphant apricot jam here on our sceptred isle, Confiture d’Apricots will always recall memories of lazy morning petit déjeuners across the channel.

However, after my trawl through the kitchen library, which normally provides a wealth of Gallic guidance, my choice of recipe falls much closer to home. Literally, the adjacent county.

Once again, bonjour Delia.

Simple to provision for, simple to follow and in my anxiety-ridden, jam-making  terms – idiot-proof. And although something close to a kilo of fruit only provided a modest five jars of wonderful jam (sorry, confiture) I think I’ve probably got this year’s remaining warm mornings, outside at the garden table, pretty well covered. Standby with the Gauloises wafting…

Fresh Apricot Preserve from Delia’s Summer Collection (2003)

900 g fresh apricots

900 g granulated sugar

Juice 1 large lemon

25 g butter

Begin this the night before you actually want to make the jam.

Take a large casserole or small preserving pan and grease the base with a smear of the butter to prevent the preserve sticking. Halve the apricots and place them in layers in the pan, sprinkling the sugar in between the layers. Add the lemon juice, then cover with a clean cloth and leave them overnight – this pre-soaking in sugar firms up the fruit and this will ensure that the apricot pieces stay intact when you come to make the jam.

To make the preserve, first pop three small plates into the freezer (this is for testing the set), then place the pan over a medium heat and let the sugar melt and completely dissolve – about 15 minutes. The sugar must be absolutely clear and free of granules, otherwise the preserve will be sugary. When the sugar has dissolved turn up the heat to its very highest and let the mixture boil very rapidly for about 10-20 minutes, stirring from time to time to prevent sticking. After that use the cold plates to test for a set. Remove the pan from the heat and place a teaspoonful of the preserve on one of the plates.

Allow it to cool for a few seconds, then push it with your finger: if a crinkly skin has formed on the jam, then it has set. If it hasn’t set, boil it again for another 5 minutes and do another test. When you have a set, remove the preserve from the heat and stir in a trace of butter, which will disperse any scum that has formed and let it settle for 15 minutes before pouring it into the warmed sterilised jars.