The apricot (Prunus armeniaca) is a small, pale orange stone fruit. Apricots originated in China, where they were cultivated 4,000 years ago. Cuttings made their way across the Persian Empire to the Mediterranean, reaching Italy about 100 B.C., England in the 13th century, and America in 1720. The Greeks wrongly believed the apricot to have originated in Armenia, which explains its botanical name: Prunus armeniaca. The Romans named the fruit praecocium, meaning “precocious,” because it ripens earlier than other stone fruits.
A relative of the peach, the delicately flavored apricot is small and has a smooth, oval pit that easily falls out when the fruit is halved. In the U.S., apricots are pale orange-yellow when ripe with velvety skin and somewhat dry flesh. In the apricot-growing belt from Turkey to Turkistan, white, black, gray, and pink apricots are grown. Apricot kernels are similar to almonds, and they are used in baking. The small amount of toxic prussic acid the kernels contain is destroyed when roasted. Apricot cultivars include Goldcat, Harglow, Moongold, Moonpark, and Sungold. Among the many interspecific apricot hybrids are the peachcot, plumcot, and cherrycot.
Season: Spring and summer are the apricot’s harvesting season.
Purchase: Look for plump fruit with as much golden orange color as possible. Blemishes, unless they break the skin, will not affect flavor. Soft-ripe fruit has the best flavor, but must be used immediately.
Avoid: Do not buy fruit that is pale yellow, greenish yellow, very firm, shriveled, or bruised.
Storage: Refrigerate ripe fruit, unwashed, in a paper or plastic bag for up to 2 days. Allow apricots to soften at room temperature a few days before eating. To ripen apricots, place them in a closed paper bag at room temperature until they give to gentle pressure and are fragrant.
- Wash apricots just before serving.
- To cut apricots, slice around the seam, twist in half, and lift out the pit.
Serving Suggestions: Add sliced apricots to fruit or green salads. Poach apricots with sugar and water and purée for dessert sauce, or use as a glaze for meats. Bake duck, lamb, or chicken stuffed with a mixture of apricots, onion, and other vegetables. Top cheesecake with apricot halves poached in equal quantities of sugar and water till plump and soft.
Flavor Affinities: Bavarian cream, cardamom, lamb, orange, pork, poultry, vanilla.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com