When spring turns to summer, fresh apricots enter their finest hour. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to taste a ripe apricot just plucked from a tree, still warm from the sun, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about. Sadly, fresh-picked apricots — luscious, sweet and fragrant, bursting with juice — are a far cry from most supermarket specimens. The fact is that apricots are extremely fragile, perishable, and they don’t travel well; to withstand the rigors of shipping, then, they’re often harvested before maturity. In addition, the season is short and production is small. All these factors make tree-ripened apricots rather precious. If you don’t have a backyard tree, look for fresh apricots at farm stands or farmer’s markets; tree-ripened apricots are the only kind worth eating.
Apricots originated in China and have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years. They’re now grown in most of the world’s temperate zones, with California producing about 95 percent of the American crop. The apricot is a stone fruit, a cousin of the peach; apricots come in a wide range of colors and sizes, but in general they’re smaller than peaches, with smooth skins and smooth, oval pits that separate easily from the flesh. There are hundred different varieties worldwide, but the most commonly encountered in the US are Blenheim and Royal Blenheim, Earlicot, Patterson and Golden Sweet.
Fruit breeders have also developed several hybrids, marrying plums and apricots in varying percentages. Plumcots are 50 percent each plum and apricot; Apriums are roughly 75 percent apricot and 25 percent plum; Pluots are about 75 percent plum and 25 percent apricot. These new hybrids are more durable than apricots and have extended the fruit’s season.
How to select and store apricots
Generally, the deeper its color, the riper and sweeter an apricot will be — but if it doesn’t have a distinct apricot aroma, it won’t have much flavor, either. Look for plump fruits that are just soft to the touch, with rich, vibrant color. To ripen apricots, set them in a single layer at cool room temperature for a few days, until they soften. To hasten ripening, place the fruit in a closed paper bag with an apple or banana; the other fruit’s ethylene gas hastens the apricot’s ripening. Ripe apricots can be stored in a plastic bag for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. They taste best at room temperature, though, since cold masks their fragrance and flavor.
Tips for using apricots
Apricots are at their very best eaten out of hand, but they make a terrific addition to desserts and salads, and they’re delicious in savory recipes. Apricots are often combined with lamb, chicken, or rice in Arab and Mediterranean cuisine. For cooking, a slightly firmer apricot will hold its shape better. Apricots don’t need peeling. Apricot flesh oxidizes and discolors when exposed to air, so cut the fruit just before serving. To pit, simply cut the fruit along its natural crease, circling the pit, and twist the halves gently in opposite directions; pull the fruit apart and remove the stone.
Why choose organic?
Choose organic whenever you can to help keep the residues of conventional agricultural pesticides and fertilizers out of your food. Organic produce is grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, using sustainable farming methods that protect the environment and help keep pesticides out of our soil, air, water and food supply. Organic food is the healthiest choice for people and the planet — and we think it tastes better, too!