I love this time of year; that stretch between November and March in Australia when the stone fruit comes in to season and adds an extra bit of flair to the festive season. Peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries are some of the true joys of summer for me.
Apricots would probably be my favourite, but they are tricky little buggers. I have often found myself at a loss after coming home from the market with a bag of powdery or tasteless fruit. I can’t express how important it is to use all of your senses when picking fruit, which is why I now press my nose against the flesh of the fruit and breathe in the taste (the fruit should always smell how you want it to taste).
I love the simple sweetness that comes from the apricot; it reminds me of childhood summers spent on the far north coast of Queensland, and more recently a trip to Italy where I bought locally grown Albicocca Vesuviana (apricots of Vesuvius) from stall vendors on the cobblestoned streets of Sorrento.
As with almost all fruits, apricots that are heavy for their size are often the best ones. Juicy, aromatic and with that light yellowy-orange colour that never fails to make me smile — it is how an apricot should be.
There’s a bit of mystery around where the apricot originated. There are thoughts it comes from northern China. However, its scientific name — Prunus armeniaca — is thought to have derived from its origin in Armenia before being introduced into Greece and Italy. In Australia, apricots are largely grown in South Australia, but there is also production in Tasmania, southwest New South Wales and even southern Queensland; it needs a moderate amount of chill in winter, but flavoursome fruit develops in areas where the summer is hot and dry. I have heard that the fruit has grown with some success in subtropical regions of Australia (and would be interested in hearing from growers about this). The trees are quite pretty, bursting into white flowers with heart-shaped leaves that change colour with the season.
Like peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, greengage and the almond, apricots contain a large and often pitted seed. The seed can sometimes be substituted for almonds, and I do recall during my Italian travels that the liqueur amaretto was flavoured with the extract of apricot kernels instead.
Apricots can be eaten fresh (my preferred way), dried or used in preserves and cooking. There is something quite delightful about eating an apricot that has been freshly picked from the tree, but the closest I can get to that experience at home is to buy them from the farmer at my local produce market.
I find that a plump and juicy apricot can satisfy my sweet cravings, and the raw fruit is full of vitamins, (including A, B1, B2, C, E, K) and minerals, making them a much better option than another serving of Christmas pudding.
IN THE KITCHEN
I came across a very simple, but incredibly delicious, dessert recipe by Maggie Beer <link to: http://www.maggiebeer.com.au/> a couple of years ago — Poached Apricots with Butter and Brown Sugar. It’s fresh and summery, and perfect for two.
4 whole apricots
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp brown sugar
Cream or ice cream
Place a piece of baking paper on to a ceramic plate. Melt the butter and brown sugar in a microwave safe dish, then brush over each apricot. Place the plate of apricots into the microwave and cook on a medium high setting for two  minutes. Remove from the microwave, place on a serving plate, pour over the juices, butter and sugar syrup, and serve with either cream or ice cream (or both if you’re feeling particularly devilish).