I have been eyeing this recipe for a good while, but fresh apricots are so pricey I have always put it off. However, Soulard Farmers’ market came to save me from my apricot fast by selling them for just over a dollar a pound! They were delicious too.
The reason apricots are so expensive is manifold: they flower very early and suffer poorly from bad weather – they will die even if there’s a light frost or a high wind; they don’t take to grafting well; they are very particular about the soil they grow in, to the point where the amount of fertiliser dug into the soil needs to be calculated; they also do not travel well. They are delicate things and much prefer Eastern climbes as they originated in China, coming to Europe via India and the Middle East. It is for all these reasons that you usually find apricots dried rather than fresh.
As an aside, the reason the apricot doesn’t take to grafting is because they were mis-classified as a member of the plum family, Prunus, and were grafted onto other Prunus species, cherry is usually the grafters’ favourite. It is actually part of the rose family. Everyday’s a school day.
So what are the benefits of eating this temperamental and pricey fruit, other than that they are quite delicious? Well there is quite a long list of benefits to eating apricots. The 18th century French writer Bernard le Bovier Fontenelle, who was a member of the Royal Society, lived to 100 years old and the secret to his longevity was apricots, a tip he got from his grandma. ‘A royal fruit, she called it, saying that the scatterbrained folk of our days ought to make more use of it.’ Quite.
As it happens, apricots are high in phosphorus and magnesium and can significantly increase mental ability. They are super-rich in beta-carotene (which gives the fruit its yellow colour); 4 ounces of apricots will give you 50% of your daily allowance. They are also good for the blood – they can even alleviate anaemia better than liver! They are also a significant source of fluoride. Amazing.
This pie was invented by the great chef Carême. He is very particular about the type of pie dish you should use; it must be very shallow, not much deeper than a plate.
Halve 1 ½ pounds of fresh apricots and take out the stones. Next, melt 2 ounces of unsalted butter in a frying pan and stir in 8 ounces of caster sugar; this might seem alot but they really do need it. Over a moderate heat stir the sugar into the butter. After a few minutes it should start to melt. Add the apricots and coat in the butter-sugar mixture. Stir for a minute or two – you don’t want to cook the fruit, just get the apricot halves well covered.
Use a fork to seal the pastry lid then make a central hole so that any steam generated during cooking can escape. Brush with more egg and sprinkle some more caster sugar. Start the pie off in a hot oven – 230°C (450°F) – for 15 to 20 minutes so that the pastry can turn golden brown, then continue cooking at a lower heat of 160-180°C (325-375°F) for 15 minutes. ‘Serve hot or warm with plenty of cream.’
#345 English Apricot Pie. What a delicious fruit pie! It occurred to me whilst I was eating it that I have never eaten apricots this way. Well it certainly won’t be the last time I do it; the sugar and butter became a deliciously sweet sauce and the cooked apricots softened and turned very tart. That Carême chap knew what he was talking about.
Seeing as we’d had a very un-summery meal of beef and dumplings, I thought I’d better do something nice and cool and refreshing for pudding. This fool is classed as a winter fool by Jane Grigson, I assume because it has dried fruit rather than fresh fruit in it. However, she says it can also be made into an ice cream, transforming into a summer pud.
It uses an ingredient previously unknown to me – dried apricots; not the semi-dried apricots you get from the supermarket, but whole, tiny completely dry ones from Asian supermarkets. They really are rock-hard dry so make sure you soak them in cold water overnight before you use them.
In case you didn’t know what to look for –
the apricots in their dry state
This recipe uses six ounces (dry weight) of the apricots.
Simmer the soaked apricots in their soaking water for 5 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and boil their soaking liquor down to a syrup. Meanwhile, remove the flesh, reserving the stones, and mash it into a coarse puree. Crack open the reserved stones, to reveal the kernels, chop them roughly and add those to the puree. When the soaking liquor is syrupy add that too and allow to cool. Add some icing sugar and lemon juice to bring out the flavours, if needed. Beat ½ pint of whipping or double cream and fold this into the puree. If you are making this into a fool put into glasses and chill, or alternatively pour into an ice cream maker.
Griggers suggests serving it with almond biscuits, but I went one better – I served them in ice cream cones with home make monkey blood (that’s raspberry sauce to you).
#163 Wild Apricot Fool or Ice Cream – 6/10. Very nice, though lacked flavour; this was, I think, due to it being cold and therefore requiring a lot more sugar and lemon juice than I gave it, as it tasted fine before freezing. That said it did have a nice honey-like taste and the chopped kernels were delicious and made it texturally more interesting than a bog-standard ice cream. I think the recipe was best suited to a fool rather than an ice cream. With a few changes though, this could be bumped up to be a 7 or 8 out-of-ten ice cream.
FYI: apricot kernels contain potent anti-cancer drugs and have been used to treat tumours since the 6th Century. They are also believed to cleanse the respiratory system and have been used to treat coughs. Combine this with the super-high carotenoid content of the apricot flesh, and you’ve got a serious super-food on your hands, mister!
Start by poring boiling water over 18 apricots. After a couple of minutes peel the apricots and slice them. Put them in a shallow baking dish along with the kernels from the stones, 1 ½ ounces of blanched sliced almonds and 2 or 3 ounces of sugar. I like my fruit tart.
For the topping rub together using your hands or a mixer 3 ounces of flour, 2 ½ ounces sugar, 3 ounces of ground almonds and 4 ½ ounces of chilled butter. Pour the mixture over the apricots and bake for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C, and then for a further 20 at 180 degrees. Make sure the top is browned, but not in any way burned. Don’t serve straight away – a warm crumble is better than a scolding hot one. Softly whipped cream is the best accompaniment to this summery dessert.
TOP TIP: My Mum says that for a good crumble topping, don’t rub in your butter too finely; some small lumps of butter make it richer and crunchier, which is good news as this also mean less work!
#58 Apricot and Almond Crumble: 8.5/10. A lovely sweet topping and tart fruit resulted in a substantial but light and perfumed marzipan wonder. The addition of apricot kernels was the genius touch. Plus the crumble topping wasn’t mush. I now have to conquer my other food nemesis Hollandaise sauce.