Apricots — the gorgeous, golden fruit that is blushed with pink by the early summer sun — arrived in Europe from the East, China, perhaps, or India. Later they made their way across the Atlantic to the New World in the pockets of 17th-century English settlers.
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Apricots are now firmly established in continental climates on both sides of the pond — Mediterranean regions and California are noted producers — that offer the right combination of cold winters and intensely hot summers. Right now, in central Europe, my favorites are coming in 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 your visit to the farmers market this week yielded an abundance of apricots, or you’ve been the lucky recipient of a tray of ripe fruit from a neighbor whose tree has fruited bountifully this month, 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
This lightly set jam sings of summer. Apricots, especially if fully ripe, have little pectin of their own. For this reason, it’s best to use quick-setting jam sugar with added pectin, which ensures a good set in a shorter cooking time, thus preserving all the jam’s fresh fruitiness.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes to bring up to a boil plus 5 to 10 minutes fast boiling
Total time: 30 to 35 minutes
Yield: Makes eight 1-pound (450 gram) jars.
4 1/2 pounds (2 kilograms) apricots
3 pounds, 5 ounces (1.5 kilograms) 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 the 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 — and 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 page 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.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: Makes 6 servings.
2 pounds (1 kilogram) apricots
1 8-ounce (225 grams) ready-rolled round of puff pastry or pie crust, or 8 ounces (225 grams) puff pastry or pie crust
A little butter for the pan
3 tablespoons ground almonds or hazelnuts
3 tablespoons granulated or light brown sugar or to taste
5 to 6 spays of redcurrants or a handful alpine strawberries for garnish
Icing sugar to dust the tart
Cut the apricots in half, remove the pits (stones), then cut in half again if very large.
Lightly butter a 12-inch (30-centimeter) quiche pan with removable base
Unwrap the round of puff or pie crust (or roll out the puff pastry or pie crust 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, facing upwards, setting them up pertly like little cocked ears.
Sprinkle the fruit with sugar.
Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C) 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 the apricots scored at the farmers market are a little tart or not especially well-flavored, 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.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes
Total time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yield: Makes 6 servings.
2 pounds (1 kilogram) apricots
1 cup (250 milliliters) orange, grapefruit or pink grapefruit juice
6 to 8 cardamom pods, split, seeds only
4 to 5 tablespoons brown sugar
Vanilla ice cream or crème fraiche for serving
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped green pistachios (optional, for garnish)
Cut the apricots in half and discard the pits (stones).
Arrange them in one layer in a large ovenproof dish, cut sides down.
Pour on orange juice and sprinkle with cardamom seeds and sugar.
Heat oven to 425 F (220 C).
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) facedown 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.
Main photo: Apricot Tart With Redcurrants or Alpine Strawberries. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style