Apricots

Apricots

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
3 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

Every summer we eagerly anticipate the arrival of the first stone fruits. Apricots, with their blushing rosy cheeks and syrupy perfume, are a visual delight. But sadly, in temperate climates – even the sunnier ones – they never quite live up to their promise and all too often are a furry, bland disappointment, requiring gentle poaching to bring them to life.

Originating in China, apricots spread along the ancient silk road to the Mediterranean, flourishing along the way in orchards throughout Persia and Syria, where they are still plentiful today. Some of the best apricots in the world are said to grow in Isfahan in modern Iran. Certainly they so delighted the ancient Romans when they invaded Persia in the first century AD that they took them back to Italy to plant, and within a few decades the cultivation of apricots had spread throughout western Europe.

The Arabs, who overran Persia in an explosion of religious fervour during the seventh century, were also seduced by the vast orchards of fruits growing in Persia – orchards of not just apricots, but also apples, plums, pears, pomegranates and quinces. It was in Persia that the Arabs learned to combine fruit with meat in fragrant, spicy stews and rice dishes. They took this new fashion, together with their new religion, back through the Mediterranean and the countries of North Africa, finally ending up in Spain. Of all their subjects, it was the Moroccans, at the extreme west of the Arab empire, who embraced this idea most enthusiastically, as can be seen from their national dish the tagine, which combines fruit, meat and spices in a very similar way to a Persian (Iranian) khoresht.

In the hot Middle East, it seems only natural that many fruits are also sun-dried and then stored to be enjoyed through the winter months. The best dried apricots are said to be the legendary Hunza apricots from Kashmir, which need only a little plumping up in water and then gentle poaching to release their sublime tart–sweet intense flavour. They may look rather unprepossessing with their dull beige colour when compared with the bright-orange Australian and Californian apricots we see on our supermarket shelves, but looks aren’t everything. The colour of the latter owes much to their treatment with sulphur dioxide, which is used to avoid spoilage and help preserve the colour of the fruit.

Sheets of dried fruit purée are also common throughout the Middle East. The only one we have found readily available here in Australia though, is apricot, known as ‘amardine’. This is rather like an adult version of a fruit ‘Roll-Up’, and can be torn into strips and eaten as a chewy snack or cut into little shapes as a garnish for desserts, cakes or even rice dishes. Our sister-in-law, who grew up in Damascus, boils up Syrian amardine to make a thick, creamy summer pudding, studded with almonds and served with a big blob of whipped cream.

Selecting and storing apricots

Selecting apricots to eat fresh can be tricky. Always choose fruit which is unblemished and gives a little to the touch. Colour is not always a good guide, as fruit which is a beautiful pinky-orange and feels ripe to the touch may still taste unpleasantly furry and bland. The scent of the fruit is often a better guide to its flavour. If you plan to poach the fruit or use it in a cooked dish, though, the degree of ripeness is less critical.

Most dried apricots usually have a reliable flavour, and brightness of colour is not important, as the most expensive Hunza apricots prove. Dried apricots should be stored in an airtight container in a cool cupboard or pantry, where they will keep up to a year. In very humid climates they should be kept in the refrigerator.

Using apricots

The intense syrupy sweetness of apricots is delicious in jams, preserves and jellies. It is also good in sweet tarts, crumbles and pies, or poached, puréed, and folded into cream for a bavarois or mousse. To prepare apricots for cooking, simply cut them in half lengthways, without peeling (the skin slips off easily once the cooked fruit has cooled a little). Don’t discard the kernels, but add a few of them to the fruit for poaching – they contain minute quantities of prussic acid, which adds a slight bitter-almond flavour to the syrup. Dried apricots may be plumped up by soaking them overnight in water before poaching.

Recipes in this Chapter

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