|Lush, juicy apricots are abundant now. Just five of them provides our full daily requirement of vitamin A. Photo by Esther Oertel.|
It wouldn’t be fair to write about the delicately sweet apricot without indulging in – er, researching – their flavor a bit. I have a bowl of five fully ripe examples at my side, picked fresh at the height of ripeness.
It’s an all-too-scarce privilege to access fully ripe apricots, as the season is short and most commercial operations pick them on the green side for better shelf worthiness.
While you can hasten the ripening process by placing them in a paper bag and leaving them at room temperature, their flavor and sweetness remains the same as the day of harvest. Only their texture, color and juiciness will improve off tree.
An apricot picked ripe is a rare thing of beauty, and I’m especially thankful that local farmers bring them to market ripe from the tree.
Apricots are an early summer fruit. Depending on where they’re grown, their season begins anywhere from mid-May to mid-June and generally runs a couple of months. They’re at farmers’ markets now, but may not be for long.
My mind rushes to “The Arabian Nights,” a favorite book of childhood, when a gently fragrant apricot is at hand. I think of Persian kings and warm nights in Morocco. This softly velvet, light orange fruit has been a favorite in the Middle East since ancient times.
While there is argument as to where the apricot was first cultivated (some say China, others India), its origins are most often associated with Armenia. Its scientific name, Prunus armeniaca, means Armenian plum, and it has been cultivated in that country since ancient, even prehistoric, times.
Apricots were introduced to Greece by Alexander the Great, and then to Europe by a Roman general named Lucullus.
Speaking of ancient Greece, experts in its mythology believe apricots were the “golden apples of Hesperides,” the fruit that Hercules was ordered to pick in the 11th of his 12 labors.
They were popular in ancient Persia (dried ones were valuable commodities on Persian trade routes), and they remain an important fruit in Persia’s modern day counterpart, Iran.
Not surprisingly, the main producers of apricots worldwide are all in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions, with one lone exception, Japan.
In the U.S., California is the king of apricot production, fully 95 percent of it. Most of modern American production of apricots comes from the seedlings carried to the west coast by Spanish missionaries. (Which, in turn, were from the seeds of trees that were introduced to the New World by the English.)
The previously mentioned five apricots at my side (long since eaten) provided me with my entire daily requirement of vitamin A. They’re also high in vitamin C and fiber.
Apricots are full of the important antioxidant beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in our bodies, protecting our eyes, hair, skin, gums, and various glands.
Right now I’m thinking of warm, spicy apricot chutney that’s flavored with ginger, coriander, and a bit of garlic. It’s a wonderful way to preserve fresh apricots, and a recipe is below. It’s fantastic on grilled chicken or pork, or eaten directly on a cracker, with or without cream cheese. Be sure to try it with goat cheese, too, especially since Lake County is home to an amazing goat dairy.
In addition to being delicious, there is a health benefit to consuming apricots in chutney. The cooking process breaks down their cell walls, thus releasing more beta carotene to nourish our bodies.
Apricots added to chicken give it an Asian or Middle Eastern feel, depending on the spices and flavors used.
Tossing halved apricots on the grill brings out their natural sweetness. Balsamic vinegar (mixed with honey or plain) can be brushed on before grilling to add an interesting layer of flavor. Grilled apricots are a wonderful accompaniment to pork and are delicious when served with vanilla ice cream.
A simple, tasty and colorful hors d’oeuvre can be made when halved, pitted apricots are filled with cream cheese and sprinkled with crushed pistachios.
If you were overly ambitious in buying fresh apricots and have a large quantity that are getting near the over ripe stage, you can puree them (sans pits) to make a delicious nectar. Add enough water to make a thick juice-like consistency. If apricots are very ripe, it’s unlikely you’ll need to sweeten the puree, but a bit of honey, agave nectar or simple syrup may be added to your liking.
What about those apricots I just enjoyed? They were ripe, sweet and oh-so-delicious! I hope you’ll have a chance to enjoy many while the season lasts. Bon appétit!
5 cups of fresh apricots (about 2 pounds), rinsed, halved and pitted
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Just under 1 cup raisins (about 4 oz.), dark or light
1 tsp grated fresh ginger root
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt to taste
Put all the ingredients into a large pan and boil until the apricots are very soft.
Remove the apricots from the pan with a slotted spoon and put them into clean, dry jars.
Boil the remaining liquid until it becomes a thick syrup.
Pour the syrup into the jars, cover them, and allow them to cool before storing.
If not using sterile canning procedure, store the chutney in the fridge.
Esther Oertel, a freelance writer, cooking teacher, and speaker, is passionate about local produce and all foods in the vegetable kingdom. She welcomes your questions and comments and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .