Getting Fresh: Apricot Angst

I want to like the apricot. I really do. She's so darned pretty, with her smooth skin, all dolled up in a shade of orange that's easy on the eyes.

Every year at this time, when locally-grown apricots show up at market, I gaze longingly at these beauty queens like a star-crossed lover with a selective memory. Inevitably, I buy a handful and take home my precious cargo, for yet another tasting, hopeful that this time's a charm.


Look how pretty they are! It's a shame they're tasteless. (Kim O'Donnel)


I'm sorry to report that this year's tasting was just like all the previous years, revealing nothing more than what I already knew -- the apricot is nondescript on a good day and mealy on a bad one. Blech is about all that comes to mind.

For counsel (and perhaps commiseration), I work my way through my cookbook collection, and the ideas for cooking apricots seem primarily limited to marinades and chutneys. No thanks. Surely I could use apricots in my cobblers and beloved buckle, but why screw up a good thing when berries and peaches do such a bang up job?

And then I turn to Nigel Slater's "Kitchen Diaries." For his June 18 entry, which is a menu for "dinner for six in the garden," he includes details for "warm apricots with orange blossom and pistachio."

I perk up, particularly when I see a seductive photo on the facing page. But apparently, Slater faces a similar plight. His first sentence after the subhead: "Apricots disappoint." (Aha! Maybe I'm not so crazy after all.)

As a solution, Slater suggests roasting halved apricots with a drizzle of honey and some orange blossom water, for perfume. I do as I'm told and wait 30-ish minutes. I remove the dish, unseal the foil covering and dip my spoon in to sample the juices.

Once again, I'm not feeling the love. The flavor was more sour than sweet, which I suspect is from the orange blossom water, which means, even when roasted, these hot mamas got no flavor on their own!

Maybe that's why everyone eats them dried.

Sigh. I'm moving on... unless you've got a recipe to change my ways. Sound off in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 12, 2007; 10:56 AM ET Getting Fresh
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Comments

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Kim--check out Orangette's blog post on apricots. Have not tried the recipe, but it looks wonderful.

http://orangette.blogspot.com/

Honestly, I think apricots from the NW are sweeter and juicer than anything you can find around here. My grandparents used to can them and make a wonderful apricot jam out of them. Divine!

Posted by: Food Blog Lover | July 12, 2007 1:08 PM

I have to say, I've not had a good apricot in years (love dried ones, tho), but I do have one especially sweet apricot memory/"recipe": I was in my late teens, sitting in a swimming pool in El Paso--searing heat, white hot sunlight, gaspingly cold water--and someone hands me an apricot from the neighbor's tree. It was warm, soft, and juicy--the perfect counterpoint to the sharpness of everthing else around me. It's been 30 years and I still remember that afternoon. It might be near impossible to reproduce the moment, I'm afraid.

Posted by: Claire | July 12, 2007 1:09 PM

That is so sad. The apricots out here in the NW are amazing. Sweet, tart, & juicy. I like them better than peaches (which I love), because they have a bit of sour. I bought a 25 lb box of #2's from the farmers market two weeks ago, and need to get another! There are so many things to do with them.

I made a tart for the 4th of July--just blanched and skinned the apricots, cooked a few to a jam with some sugar and a touch of grand marnier, then arraged the apricot halves in a pre-baked tart crust and covered with the jam. Baked the whole thing for about 10 minutes and served with vanilla ice cream. mmmmm. (My tart was based on something from the Martha Stewart Pies & Tarts book.) You can also make individual tarts with just one half of the apricot. It's very pretty that way.

My MIL also makes an apricot jam using a 200 year old recipe--apricots, sugar, and the seed from inside the pit. I'd have to look up the exact proportions, but this jam, warm, over a nice mellow cheese is to die for.

Dried is good, too. I loaned my dehydrator to my coworker so he could save some for the winter, but his daughter is eating them as fast as he dries them.

The absolute best apricot thing I've ever had is the apricot croissant at Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle (http://www.bakerynouveau.com/). Half an apricot nestled into a nest of butter croissant dough..heaven. He makes some pretty amazing things, but it's the apricot croissants that I get every time I go in.

Kim--come out here and have some apricots. Then you'll know what the fuss is about.

Posted by: seattle | July 12, 2007 1:34 PM

When we moved to San Diego for a short stint with the Navy, as we were moving in, our new neighbor brought us a basket of the best fresh apricots I had ever eaten. They were from her tree in her small yard. I think the ones from the West coast are the best. Maybe something in their soil/climate.

Posted by: SC Native | July 12, 2007 1:44 PM

I visited Morocco last year, and the apricots were amazing -- sweet, sharp, flavourful, and not mealy. Really, all the produce was good. Snide comments about our preference for truck-able food over eat-able food come to mind.

Posted by: Rosslyn | July 12, 2007 3:39 PM

I saw this recipe on Epicurious for apricot upside down cake and made it last week. I liked it and would make it again. The apricots were a little tart in spots but the butter, brown sugar, and the almond taste of the cake made up for it! Here is the link and the recipe:

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/108370

FRESH APRICOT UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

Active time: 20 min Start to finish: 1 3/4 hr

For topping
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
10 or 11 small (2- to 2 1/4-inch) fresh apricots (1 1/4 lb), halved lengthwise and pitted
For cake
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Special equipment: a 10-inchwell-seasoned cast-iron or heavy nonstick skillet (at least 2 inches deep)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Make topping:
Heat butter in skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low and sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter, then cook, undisturbed, 3 minutes (not all of sugar will be melted). Remove skillet from heat and arrange apricot halves, cut sides down, close together on top of brown sugar.

Make cake batter:
Sift together flour, baking powder and soda, and salt into a small bowl.

Beat together butter, sugar, and extracts in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 3 to 4 minutes with a handheld. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then beat until mixture is creamy and doubled in volume, 2 to 3 minutes.

Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and beat just until combined.

Gently spoon batter over apricots and spread evenly.

Bake cake:
If your skillet isn't ovenproof, wrap handle with heavy-duty foil (or a double layer of regular foil) before baking. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.

Wearing oven mitts, immediately invert a large plate over skillet and, keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert cake onto plate. Carefully lift skillet off cake and, if necessary, replace any fruit that is stuck to bottom of skillet. Cool to warm or room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

Posted by: falls church | July 12, 2007 4:26 PM

I agree with the above comments -- maybe the problem is not you, it's the apricots. I'd never been a big fan of them until I moved to California. Out here they are sweet, tangy, juicy, and delicious. I buy baskets full of them every week and they never dissapoint. So maybe the solution is to take a trip out West before giving up on all those recipes!

Posted by: Stacey | July 12, 2007 4:56 PM

I agree! Though once I made an apricot-red lentil soup (maybe from Gourmet) that was actually pretty good ... Those ice cream sandwiches look gorgeous, btw!

Posted by: nicole | July 12, 2007 5:15 PM

Sorry to say, but it's your apricot source that's the problem. Real apricots are so ripe and soft that they can't hold their own shape! I guess technically that makes them a liquid!
My in-laws live in Silicon Valley, and until it died produced intensely perfumed apricots that I've never seen equaled. Even the squishy, just-picked specimens from uber-fancy Frog Hollow Farm are nowhere close. Maybe I should plant an apricot tree.

Posted by: Walter Nissen | July 12, 2007 6:01 PM

I agree that market apricots aren't very good. I have a tree at home that gives floral, juicy fruit.

Posted by: Jessica "Su Good Eats" | July 13, 2007 12:54 AM

I just had some apricots from our CSA in Loudoun County and found them to be pretty tasty. They were really good with some plain yogurt. Sorry to hear you haven't found good ones...

Posted by: AMO | July 13, 2007 8:44 AM

Hi Kim! Your apricot post brought back some wonderful childhood memories. Having grown up in Europe, my family always vacationed in Corsica. Despite the fact that we lived in tents and our 'kitchen' was a two-pit camping stove and some shelves made out of crates, my dad managed to make the best and most delicious meals. Among them: Czech apricot knoedels. Sitting in my grey cubicle I can smell the sweet smell of the ripe and juicy apricots with the mjummie dough,cinammon sugar and melted butter on top...
Thanks Kim for brightning up my day! :)

Posted by: Kat | July 13, 2007 11:02 AM

VALIDATION!! I bought a bunch at Whole Foods to make into a puree for baby. I was so excited because I'd never tried fresh apricots before. And I ended up putting the whole thing down the sink because it was so tart it made ME pucker.

Posted by: Jill | July 13, 2007 12:11 PM

I have a great recipe for an apricot brandy pound cake that used the brandy form of the fruit. It always gets raves whenever I bake it. It's served with fresh berries or vanilla ice cream.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | July 13, 2007 2:24 PM

Thank you Kim. I always thought it was me too! Apricots can be so beautiful to look at but then you take a bite and yuck! I guess I need to go to the NW to taste one fresh from a tree. Too bad -- rather than bring the food to us, we go to the food.

Posted by: Anne | July 16, 2007 7:26 AM

I'm almost seduced by apricots too--they're so beautiful all golden with a hint of pink, and they're so velvety and fit just in your hand. However, I have a general aversion to all slick, sweet orangy fruits (peaches, mangos, papayas . . .) so I sniff them and never buy them. Somehow nectarines have escaped my completely irrational bias, yet none of them ever matches the ones I ate in Paris as a student nearly 20 years ago and I'm always disappointed by them.

Posted by: Marianne | July 16, 2007 8:23 PM

I love apricot jam but don't have a lot of experience with fresh apricots. However, that upside down cake recipe looks delicious and I will try it (without the almond flavor).

I will recommend my favorite summer recipe which is the fruit torte from Elegant But Easy, my mother's fail-safe cookbook from the 70s.

Posted by: Constance | July 17, 2007 12:41 PM

Blenheim Apricots is what you want. Saveur and Gourmet each had articles on the Blenheim apricot a few years ago. It's an heirloom variety not grown commercially for fresh apricots on a large scale any longer except for dried apricots (Trader Joe's carries dried Blenheim apricots). The reason is that they are very fragile and don't ship well. After reading these articles I tracked some down while I was out in CA a few years ago--there are a few orchards who still do grow them. I seem to remember from the articles (alas I have lost them) that an orchard in upstate NY grew them at that time and shipped them.

Wow are they amazing!!!! They are the stuff of apricot heaven. I haven't had any luck locating any locally in DC area; when I've asked purveyors at the local farmers market they didn't know what I was talking about.

If you want to try them while on a trip out to CA, google to find an orchard, and call ahead for that year's season which is generally in June, sometimes extending into early July depending upon the locale and the weather.

They were introduced into Slow Food's Ark; here's a link to an article in San Francisco Chronicle about it from 2004.

Posted by: DC beach lover | July 17, 2007 12:46 PM

P. S. Found the CA orchard where I bought my first Blenheims in Morgan Hill (near Gilroy) south of San Francisco.
http://www.andysorchard.com/index.shtml

Posted by: DC beach lover | July 17, 2007 12:50 PM

Blenheim Apricots is what you want. Saveur and Gourmet each had articles on the Blenheim apricot a few years ago. It's an heirloom variety not grown commercially for fresh apricots on a large scale any longer except for dried apricots (Trader Joe's carries dried Blenheim apricots). The reason is that they are very fragile and don't ship well. After reading these articles I tracked some down while I was out in CA a few years ago--there are a few orchards who still do grow them. I seem to remember from the articles (alas I have lost them) that an orchard in upstate NY grew them at that time and shipped them.

Wow are they amazing!!!! They are the stuff of apricot heaven. I haven't had any luck locating any locally in DC area; when I've asked purveyors at the local farmers market they didn't know what I was talking about.

If you want to try them while on a trip out to CA, google to find an orchard, and call ahead for that year's season which is generally in June, sometimes extending into early July depending upon the locale and the weather.

They were introduced into Slow Food's Ark; here's a link to an article in San Francisco Chronicle about it from 2004.

Posted by: DC beach lover | July 17, 2007 12:51 PM

I have found that apricots work very well in a cold chicken salad. It adds a sweet tart component which is yummy.

Posted by: lca | July 17, 2007 3:21 PM

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