This gorgeous golden fruit blushed with pink by the early summer sun arrived in Europe from the East – China, perhaps, or India. Later it made its way across the Atlantic to the New World in the pockets of English settlers.
Apricots are now firmly established on both sides of the Pond in continental climates – Mediterranean regions and California are noted producers, both of which offer the right combination of cool winters and intensely hot summers. My favourites in our part of the world come from Switzerland’s Valais region, where they bask in the sunbaked foothills of the Alps on the southern side of the River Rhone.
Sometimes – though not reliably – apricots are fine to eat raw, with the advantage that the pit or stone comes away cleanly from the flesh. You don’t even need a knife: Just pull apart the two halves with a gentle tug and the pit will come free. All too often, though, they are either unripe or woolly. These are the ones to use in jam, or baked in a tart, or baked in the oven with sugar and spice. You can compensate for their lack of ripeness by judicious sweetening, while woolliness works just fine in jam.
If you have happened on some in your farmer’s market, or been the lucky recipient of a tray of ripe fruit from a neighbor whose tree has fruited bountifully this year, turn them into jam, or bake them in a fragile pastry shell, or poach them in juice with a scattering of fragrant cardamom seeds and serve them cold with ice cream.
Apricot Jam with Lavender
A lightly set jam – more of a conserve – that sings of summer. Apricots, especially if fully ripe, have little pectin of their own so it’s best to use quick-setting jam sugar with added pectin, which insures a good set in a shorter cooking time, thus preserving all the jam’s fresh fruitiness. Store this one in the fridge – with so little sugar, it doesn’t keep as well as highly sweetened, longer-cooked jams.
Makes 8 x 450g jars
1.5 kg quick-setting jam sugar with added pectin
Juice of 1 lemon
8 fresh lavender sprigs
- Put a saucer in the freezer for testing the jam later.
- Cut apricots in half and remove pits (stones). Cut in half again if very large.
- Place apricots in a large preserving pan with the sugar, lemon juice and lavender sprigs.
- Stir to mix well and leave for a few hours or overnight until the juices run and the sugar is dissolved.
- Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring. From the moment it reaches a vigorous boil, count 5 minutes (be careful it doesn’t boil over — reduce the heat a little if necessary).
- Then start testing for a set: Remove the saucer from the freezer, pour a little into the saucer, let it cool slightly and then draw your finger through the jam: A distinct channel should form, and remain formed. If it does, setting point has been reached; if not, give the jam a little longer – up to 5 minutes more. Then test again.
- Once the jam has reached setting point, transfer it into warm jam jars, cover tightly and label.
Apricot Tart with Redcurrants or Alpine Strawberries
Apricots make plenty of juice when baked so take a leaf out of the Swiss bakers’ books: sprinkle a layer of ground nuts in the bottom of the pastry to give a waterproof layer, as well as great flavor and texture.
I kg apricots
1 x 230g ready-rolled round of puff pastry or piecrust, or 250g puff pastry or piecrust
A little butter for the pan
3 tablespoons ground almonds or hazelnuts
3 tablespoons granulated or light brown sugar or to taste
Garnishes: 5 to 6 spays of redcurrants or a handful alpine strawberries
Icing sugar to dust the tart
- Cut the apricots in half, remove pits (stones), then cut in quarters if very large.
- Lightly butter a 12-inch (30-centimeter) quiche pan with removable base
- Unwrap the round of puff or piecrust (or roll out the puff pastry or piecrust to a circle slightly larger than the quiche pan) and lay it in the buttered pan, pressing it gently into the corners with lightly floured knuckles.
- Prick the pastry bottom with a fork and sprinkle with the ground nuts.
Arrange the apricots tightly in the pan in concentric circles, face upwards, sitting them up pertly like little cocked ears.
- Sprinkle the fruit with sugar.
- Heat the oven to 200C (400F) and bake the tart for 30 to 35 minutes or until the fruit is tinged with gold and the pastry golden-brown.
- Remove tart from the oven and set it on a rack. Let it cool.
- To serve, remove the outer ring from the pan leaving the tart on its base and place the tart on a serving plate. Garnish with redcurrant sprays or alpine strawberries and shake some icing sugar on top through a sieve or tea strainer.
Baked Apricots with Orange Juice and Cardamom Seeds
If you find that your apricots scored at the farmer’s market are a little tart and/or not especially well-flavoured, here’s the way to go: cut the fruit in half, bake them in orange juice with a sprinkling of sugar and some cardamom seeds and serve well chilled with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios and lightly sweetened crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream.
1 kg apricots
250ml (1 cup) orange, grapefruit or pink grapefruit juice
6-8 cardamom pods, split, seeds only
4-5 tablespoons brown sugar
Vanilla ice cream or crème fraiche to serve
Optional garnish: 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped green pistachios
- Cut the apricots in half and discard the pits (stones).
- Arrange them in one layer in a large ovenproof dish, cut sides down.</li
- Pour on orange juice and sprinkle with cardamom seeds and sugar.
- Heat oven to 220C/425F.
- Bake the apricots until soft but not collapsed – 15 to 20 minutes depending on ripeness.
- Remove from the oven.
- Tip the juice into a shallow pan and boil down hard to reduce by half.
- Pour reduced juice back over the apricots, let cool and then refrigerate.
- To serve, arrange 3 to 5 apricot halves (depending on size) face down in small bowls and spoon some juice over. Place a blob of crème fraiche or a scoop of ice cream in the middle and sprinkle with chopped pistachios if wished.
[A version of this article was first published here on Zester Daily]