Apricots can disappoint you. What looks pretty and promising, all orange and plump, is all too often mealy or hard, tasteless or mushy. Cook them, though, and the fruits deliver, with zesty, tart and tangy flavor.
The fruit is climacteric, meaning it can ripen on or off the tree. Most trees in commercial orchards will be completely stripped during harvest, with most of the apricots at peak ripeness, some underripe and some overripe. For this recipe, look for slightly underripe fruit that gives only slightly when gently squeezed. The fruit should be not at all green and should have a sweet scent. Apricots that have passed their peak will not work well at all.
Canning them in syrup is simpler than you think, but it's not without a few challenges. Selection of fruit is critical, as is packing the jars. Stacking the apricot halves takes finesse. Work quickly to avoid bruising. Layer them like spoons, resting inside one another, one after the other, spiraling as you fill the jars; repack as needed. Make sure to eliminate air bubbles by carefully running a plastic knife or chopstick around the inside of the jar. Air bubbles might cause the liquid to burble up during processing, siphoning out of the jar and compromising the seal.
Apricot halves can be preserved in water, in no-sugar-added white grape juice or apple juice, or in a simple syrup. Depending on the fruit's natural sweetness, make a syrup that is light (barely any sugar), heavy (equal parts water and sugar) or somewhere in between. The only way to know how sweet the syrup should be is to taste the fruit before you start. In many cases, a sweeter syrup improves very tart apricots, making them taste more apricot-y.
After processing, if the fruit floats at the top of the liquid in the jar, do not despair. That is called fruit float, and it happens. There's no safety issue; apricots floating above the liquid might discolor over time, but they'll still be edible.
These apricots in syrup are divine in the depths of winter. Spoon a few into yogurt. Arrange them over pastry crème on a tart. Put a single apricot half on a cracker, top with a knob of oozy Saint-Andre cheese, add a dash of cracked black pepper and call it an amuse-bouche. They're almost too good to share. Almost.
• Cathy Barrow's first cookbook, "Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving" (W.W. Norton), will be published in the fall. She blogs at mrswheelbarrow.com.