I have been sick as a dog this past week.

{What’s up with that expression, by the way? My dog is perfectly healthy.}

The kind of sick where you cannot breathe without all sorts of nasty gurgling in your nose.
The kind of sick where your abs are ridiculously sore from all the coughing.
The kind of sick where your head pounds when you stand up.

Yeah. That kind of sick.

For some reason, I always get sick at this time of year…right as winter’s winding down. And this year, spring has not so much quietly arrived as it’s literally exploded.

Sickness (and/or spring allergies?) aside, there’s been much to love about this past week because of the glorious weather. Bulbs are emerging from the ground and starting to bloom, as are the forsythia that line the roads around here. Trees that were responsible for the local landscape appearing pretty desolate just weeks ago have come back to life…

… and the days have been so warm and breezy, you just can’t help but fling open all the windows.

Last night for my son Dylan’s 13th birthday, we grilled our dinner and ate outside. In March!

{I won’t dwell too much on the negatives, but there are some: the deer ticks I’m already finding on my animals and the mosquito bites I am already scratching at, for example. And of course there’s the overwhelming concern about global warming when there’s been no winter to speak of here, and it’s 80 degrees. In March. }

So the week’s been lovely, but my appetite’s been pretty nonexistent due to “the sickness”. I’ve been able to eat some eggs. And some soup. And I’ve eaten lots of sourdough wheat toast. With lavish helpings of spicy dried apricot jam slathered on top.

So let’s talk about this jam.

A few weeks ago, I received a package with four varieties of beautiful dried apricots (and also some sun-dried tomatoes) from the folks at Enduring Sun. I could see right away that these were unlike other dried apricots I’ve experienced.

For years, I’ve stayed away from dried fruit that is preserved with sulfur dioxide. I’ve always purchased unsulphured dried apricots: they are generally dark with a flavor that’s distinctive, but not always entirely reminiscent of apricots.

I was initially put off by the fact the Enduring Sun’s apricots contain this preservative, and figured it must be added to maintain their orange color, but when I read a bit more I came to understand that only a small amount of it is used, and it’s there mostly to preserve the apricots’ flavor and nutrients. I also learned that all of Enduring Sun’s dried apricots are heirloom varieties from Central Asia, and that purchasing these apricots helps to bolster the economies in the nations in which the apricots are grown.

I promise you this: you have never tasted dried apricots like these. I tried all four varieties and they all have something unique to offer: they’re SO sweet, yet just a bit tart…with flavor that explodes (just like our crazy early spring).

Now while I love grabbing a few of these special apricots to snack on every now and then, when I saw this dried apricot jam I couldn’t resist cooking up a similar treat. I decided not to water bath can my jam, however, so I was able to use quite a bit less sugar, and I added some Thai chile because I love a hint of spiciness in my jams (you may or may not remember me going crazy over this Spicy Strawberry Jam). You can definitely leave out the chile for a jam that will be straight up sweet (and plenty delicious); this recipe makes about 3 cups, and it will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

Spicy Dried Apricot Jam

Yield: 3 cups

This recipe is not intended to be canned; if you'd like to make a dried apricot jam that's shelf stable, please use a recipe like this one.

Ingredients:

*8 ounces dried apricots (you could chop them, but I didn't because I enjoy chunky textured jams; I used Enduring Sun dried apricots)
*3 cups filtered water
*2 tablespoons lemon juice (I used fresh, from an organic lemon)
*1/2 cup organic sugar (I used Madhava Organic Coconut Sugar)
*seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean (or use 1-2 tablespoons of pure vanilla extract)
*1 dried Thai red chile pepper, chopped fine- optional

Directions:

1. Place apricots in a medium bowl and pour the water over them. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight.

2. Drain and reserve the apricots' soaking water.

3. Place the apricots in a pot on the stove with 1 cup of the soaking water and the lemon juice (I suggest using the rest of the "apricot nectar" as a mix-in for still or bubbly water- it's delicious). Add the sugar, the vanilla bean seeds, and the chile pepper and bring to a boil.

4. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the jam has thickened: 30-40 minutes.

5. Taste the jam: you can add a bit more sweetener if you like; note that it may taste very spicy right now, but don't worry- the chile flavor will mellow out with time. Spoon into glass jars and store in the refrigerator, where the jam will last for at least a few weeks.