What's In Season: Apricots
Sweet and tart at the same time. A luscious summer fruit.
Sources: Field Guide to Produce by Aliza Green; California Apricot Council
Apricots. Just the name can make your mouth water and your senses become active. Some of the most memorable women's perfumes are tinged with its scent. The pale orange color of the fruit's skin and darker inner pulp is so distinctive that a crowd of decorators would easily agree which paint chip deserved the name. The fruit is velvety and appealing to hold and touch. And oh, that fragrance.
The fruit itself is a color richer than its outer skin. And whether eaten raw or cooked, the flavor manages to uniquely combine peach-like-sweet with tang. High in beta carotene and lycopene, apricots are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber, and an average-sized apricot has only about 17 calories.
Most of the year it's best to eat dried or canned apricots. Both California and Turkish dried apricots are very flavorful and satisfying and can be easily used in a range of recipes including savory stuffings, chutneys, cookies, fruit tarts, and with duck or pork. But the great apricot experience comes from when they are fresh and in season, from late spring through the summer.
Most of the fresh apricots we buy in New York are grown in California. Some are also imported from what's called the apricot belt, from Turkey to Turkistan, as well as from Australia and New Zealand.
How to Buy Apricots
Here's the thing about buying fresh apricots: all too often they just don’t taste half as good as they look. It's easy to fall in love with a stack of golden orange fruit only to get one home and discover it has no flavor.
To increase your odds of getting a great apricot experience, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Only buy apricots during the season when they've been grown in the U.S. This means late spring through the summer. While apricots can be found in the winter, these will have been grown in South America, Australia or New Zealand and shipped a long distance. To travel like that, apricots have to be picked when under-ripe, so right away this means the odds are against it having any flavor. So only buy fresh during the hot months or else stick with the dried or canned.
- Don't worry about blemishes or marks unless it looks like the blemish has penetrated the skin.
- A sign of ripeness is that the fruit is soft. But if it's too soft, it may be over-ripe. Think about when you plan to eat or cook with the fruit and have that determine how firm or soft your apricots should be.
- Apricots are not juicy fruits so don't equate softness for juiciness.
- Choose each apricot carefully, looking for plumpness, and lots of golden orange-red color. Avoid apricots that are green or pale yellow or that are bruised or shriveled.
- Finally, smell them. An apricot that has flavor also has a sweet and ready fragrance.
Storing and Cooking
Refrigerate stored apricots in a plastic or paper bag for up to 2 days. Then let the fruit soften at room temperature for a day or two before eating or cooking with them.
If you need to accelerate the ripening process, put the apricots in a brown paper bag and leave at room temperature for a day or two. Wash apricots before serving or cooking with them.
Apricots are wonderful in a wide range of recipes. For example:
- In fruit tarts where a custard or pastry cream base is topped with fresh apricots.
- Stuff a pork loin or roast chicken with wedges of fresh fruit. Sage is a nice addition to apricots and meat or poultry.
- Dice pieces of fresh apricot and toss with rice pilaf, adding some toasted sliced almonds. Serve with lamb or fish.
- Apricot fruit cobbler or crumble.
- Apricot pie -- substitute apricots for peaches in your favorite peach pie recipe (you may need a little more sugar depending upon how sweet your apricots are).
- Apricot upside-down cake.
- Sauté slices and add to a salad along with greens, bits of prosciutto and cheese.
- Poach with vanilla sugar syrup and serve with vanilla ice cream or freshly made zabaglione.
- Oven-roasted with a sprinkling of almonds or crushed Amaretti cookies (maybe served with a glass of Amaretto?).
While I love apricots in savory dishes, if I find perfect fresh ones I can't resist making a fruit tart. I've included a link to a Gourmet magazine recipe for "Apricot Galette," an easy-to-make fruit tart that uses store-bought frozen puff pastry as its base. Even if you're not often a baker, this is the kind of dessert recipe that you should attempt because once you master it for apricots, you can use the same method with plums or apples or other non-juicy fruit.