Grandpa Herman kept a small apricot tree just past one of his rose gardens. Gnarled and ancient, the tree draped over a path that led to the large vegetable gardens, the orchard and the pond. In the early spring the tree would exploded with blossoms and hummed with delighted bees, which would in turn give us delicious honey. Heavy blossoms meant a heavy yield and by late June the branches would be bending under the weight of the ripening apricots. This, in turn, meant a lot of work. We picked, cleaned and pitted. We ate apricots fresh and stewed. We froze and dried, canned and made jellies, jams and butters out of bushels of fruit from one little tree. Needless to say, I would get a little sick of the apricots for a short while – but that never lasted long. The tart, vibrant, slightly musky flavor of apricots is still one of my favorites.
Lovely apricots – Prunus armenaica – apricots are a member of the drupe family like cherries, peaches and plums. Meaning they have one stone or pit surrounded by fleshy fruit. Apricots have been a part of the Chinese and Greek diets for thousands of years and they made their way to North America in the early 1700’s. Like other drupes, apricots do not easily succumb to the whims of humans. They have a very short growing season and don’t travel well, coupled with the fact they have a stone in the middle of them, American’s often overlook apricots, prunes and cherries when they make an appearance each year. However, you should grab these velvety little gems and make them a part of diet whenever you can.
Apricot’s nutritional highlights
Apricots are little powerhouses, containing ample amounts of iron, potassium and carotenes. 2 apricots (70 grams) will bear 32 calories, about 1 gram of protein, 8 grams of carbs., and 1.2 grams of fiber. The same size serving of dried fruit will give you about 160 calories, 1.5 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbs. Apricots are loaded with lycopene and lutein which gives them a lovely color. Apricots protect against heart disease and cancer and they protect the eyes.
Neutral in temperature, they neither heat or cool the body. Apricots possess a sweet sour flavor and enter the Spleen and Lungs. They are abundant in Yin fluids which replenish the Lungs aiding in cases of excess thirst, cough and asthma. Apricot’s properties along with high levels of copper and cobalt nourish and build the Blood. Use for anemia and following times of blood loss. Because of their influence on blood they benefit the eyes and menstrual cycle. Be cautious, however, as too many apricots can lead to diarrhea.
Ways to eat apricots
Grill them – Wonderful little after dinner treat on a hot summer’s day. Skewer halved and pitted apricots, and little oil. Grill until just soft, drizzle with a little honey and a dap of goat cheese.
Eat them fresh – Right off the tree or slice them into a summer salad or toss them into a smoothie or spring fruit soup–yum!
Freeze or can them – An easy way to save and use them. Rinse, pit and blot apricots dry. Peel them if you like. Lay them out on a cookie sheet and freeze. After frozen, move them to a freezer safe container. Use later for cobblers, sauces, baked goods, or as a quick base for a chutney. You can add a little lemon juice before freezing if you want to maintain a brighter color, but it’s not necessary. Canning takes little more work, but is well worth it.
Make Jam or butters – Jams and butters (or fruit spreads) are great ways to preserve summer’s delights. For the English, jams and spreads were one of the ways to get vitamin C into their diet.
Dry them – The first time I saw an orange dried apricot, I was confused. Dried apricots were always a deep brown – but packed with flavor. This vivid orange coloring in commercially dried fruit is a result of sulfur agents. They may save the color but the sulfur is linked with health problems including asthma which apricots naturally help to treat. Drying is easy. Wash apricots, slice in half and remove the pit. Peel them if you like. Dip into lemon juice if you care about preserving the color. Place on drying trays. Dry at about 135-140˚ until pliable. With how hot the summers are in Boise, I don’t even bother with using the dehydrator’s element – just set the trays out in the sun for a day.
Make leather – puree’ fruit, maybe mixed with another fruit and add a little lemon juice. Spread the mixture out, about 1/2 in thick, onto parchment paper or non-stick surface pan and either dry in a conventional oven at lowest setting until moisture has evaporated, or use a dehydrator.
Poach or macerate – them in spiced rum or wine for a warming winter treat.