Apricots

Armenia, China, Same Difference: Apricots’ technical name is “prunus armeniaca,” because some misdirected Western botanists thought that the apricot had originated in Armenia. They didn’t go quite far enough, as the apricot comes originally from China. Any which way, apricots were one of the first fruits to be cultivated in Southern California, by the mission Fathers in the 18th Century.

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History and Science: When initially introduced to the West, the apricot tree was grown for its prettiness, but its fruit was scorned — it was thought to induce fevers. Alexander the Great didn’t believe it and grew apricots wherever he stayed long enough to cultivate the seeds. The word “apricot” comes from a combination of Spanish and Arabic, “al barquau,” meaning “precocious,” as apricots are the first tree fruit to bloom in the spring (tra-la). The apricot tree is a deciduous with lots of varieties that will grow in warm and temperate climates.

Care and Feeding: Your apricots should satisfy Goldilocks — not too soft and not too hard, just right. Green or very hard apricots will probably never sweeten and very soft or brown-spotted apricots will have a mushy, grainy texture and a short shelf life. Apricots are quite sensitive drupes (one-stoned fruit) and must be handled respectfully. Apricots bruise easily and soften quickly, so pack them loosely; don’t jog home with them in your knapsack. If your apricots are wilting right before your very eyes, blanch them (immerse in boiling water for only 30 seconds and them immerse them in ice water to stop the cooking) whole, cut in half and remove the pit and freeze them. If the ripening has gotten out of hand, stew your apricots or puree them and use as an ingredient in shakes, smoothies, sorbets, and baking recipes.

Fresh apricots are a palate-delicate snack eaten right from the tree (or the grocery sack), but wash them (and your hands) first! Slice apricots into poultry dishes, green, fruit and pasta salads, bake a pie or a tart (remember to invite us over) or serve over ice cream.

Nutrition News: fresh apricots are a great source of potassium and Vitamin A. Of course, dried apricots give more nutrients per square inch because they are concentrated. So, enjoy fresh apricots while they are in season and use dried apricots as Plan B. Six medium fresh apricots will give at least one-third of your needs for Vitamin A, and at 20 calories per apricot, you can’t go wrong. In the old days, apricots were thought to stimulate the appetite and to ward off anemia. Whirl some of your pitted, overripe apricots in the blender, save some of the puree for salad dressings and baking (and maybe some for an apricot daiquiri).

RECIPE

Pasta Salad with Apricots

Serves 8

From : California Apricot Commission

Apricot Pasta Salad

4 oz fusilli (corkscrew) pasta

6 fresh apricots (3/4 LB), cut into quarters

1 whole chicken breast, cooked and shredded

2 small zucchini (1/2 LB), julienned

1 red bell pepper, julienned

1 tbsp chopped fresh basil or 2 tsp dried

Apricot Basil Dressing (recipe follows)

1. Cook pasta as package directs; drain and let cool.

2. Combine pasta, apricots, chicken, zucchini, red pepper, and basil in bowl.

3. Toss with dressing.

Apricot Basil Dressing

1. Combine 2 fresh, ripe apricots (pitted), 2 tbsp white wine vinegar and 1 tbsp sugar in blender; whirl until blended.

2. With blender running, slowly add 1/4 cup vegetable oil until thick and smooth.

3. Stir in 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp dried basil.

Makes 1 cup

Nutrition information per serving: 270 calories, 11 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 19 mg sodium, 15 g fat, 18 mg cholesterol, 3 g dietary fiber, 2305 IU vitamin A, 568 mg potassium

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