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Friday, January 9, 2009

Precocious Apricots

Question. What do the words precocious and apricot have in common? Answer. Both words come from the Latin root word praecos which means, "early ripening." Cool Huh?

APRICOT: According to Columella, the Persians sent the Peach to Egypt to poison the inhabitants; and a species of Apricot is called by the people of Barbary, Matza Franca, or the " Killer of Christians." The Persians call the Apricot of Iran, the "Seed of the Sun." The ancients appear to have regarded it as a prophetical or oracular tree. - It was in the solitude of a grove of Apricot-trees that Confucius, the venerated Chinese sage, completed his commentaries on the King or ancient books of China, and beneath this shade he creeled an altar, and solemnly thanked Heaven for having permitted him to accomplish his cherished task. Apricots are very plentiful, and in great variety, in China; and the natives employed them variously in the arts. From the wild tree, the pulp of whose fruit is of little value, but which has a large kernel, they extract an oil; they preserve the fruit wet in all its flavour; and they make lozenges of the clarified juice, which afford very agreeable beverage when dissolved in water. The name has undergone curious transformations: it is traceable to the Latin prerocia, early; the fruit being supposed by the Romans to be an early Peach. The Arabs (although living near the region of which the tree is a native) took the Latin name, and twisted it into al burquq; the Spaniards altered its Moorish name into albaricoque; the Italians reproduced it as albicoces; the French from them got abricot; and we, in England, although taking the name from the French, first called it Abricock, or Aprecock, and finally Apricot. Gough, in his British Topography, states that the apricot tree was first brought to England, in 1524, by Woolf, the gardener to Henry VIII. Gerard had two varieties in his garden. The Apricot is under the dominion of Venus. To dream of this fruit denotes health, a speedy marriage, and every success in life. (Plant lore, legends and lyrics by Richard Folkard (google books) 1884)

Happy Apricot Day!

Why National Apricot Day would be proclaimed by the Apricot Producers of California in the early part of January, which by the way is not peak time for apricots, is beyond the scope of this post. Especially since there isn't a kernel of proof available at their website, although, there are some interesting recipes. Does it really matter? Not to me it doesn't. I once had the fortunate experience of plucking an apricot off an apricot tree some years ago while traveling interstate 90 from New York to Washington. To this day I can remember the sweet delectable surprise I encountered, although, for the life of me I can not remember what state I was in. Up until that very moment, I had never eaten a warm freshly picked apricot because, I was wary of touching it. Perhaps, I should explain. I'm weird:) I think one of the reasons I don't bake is because I can not stand the feel of flour. Actually, it's worse than that. I can't stand the feel of flour, corn starch or baby powder. I've known this most of my life so the thought of touching an apricot or a peach for that matter was never one of my priorities. That all changed that day. And boy oh boy, am I glad it did. 

"In the Chinese culture, "Apricot Forest" is another term for the medical community. Medical professionals often call themselves "persons of the Apricot Forest". I knew apricots were high in Vitamin A. However, I didn't know they were a good source of potassium. That's a good thing for me to know because sometimes I get cramps in my legs at night and I'm sure it is from a lack of potassium:) They are also low in fat, calories and sodium. That's a GOOD thing!

"Apricot Forest" originally came from Dong Feng, who was a highly skilled doctor in the period of the Three Kingdoms (220 – 280 A.D.). Dong Feng, also named Jun Yi, was born in Fujian. Dong Feng and other two well-known doctors, Zhang Zhong Jing and Hua Tuo, were called the "Three Miracle Doctors" in that period. Dong Feng once practiced medicine in Mountain Lu, where his deeds were praised and he became a legend.

The California Fresh Apricot council suggests selecting "plump, well formed, fairly firm apricots with a delicate aroma and a golden orange color." They also say, ripe fruit should be refrigerated. They have the pictured apricot ice cream recipe available at their site. (this link may longer be working) I was grateful to be able to download the picture with their permission but ever so grateful to feast my eyes on that dish of oh so cold yet glowing bowl of sun kissed fruit. The image at the top of the page was kindly offered by wikipedia. They also have an extensive sampling of apricot history from cultivation to etymology. As wonderful as that is, I think you might prefer to visit the Morsels & Musings blog where you can find a recipe for Apricot Summer Soup and the wiki info too.

Did you know apricots could be frozen? I didn't. Gee, its kinda good National Apricot Day is in January. When that new crop lands in the supermarket, I'll be sure and buy extra so I can experiment with the suggestions for freezing apricots offered at about.com. They can also be frozen in sugar or syrup which may be more convenient for baking. 

Selection & Preparation of Apricots:
Select firm, ripe apricots with deep yellow to orange color.
To prevent browning while preparing apricots for freezing, canning, or dehydrating, place apricots in a solution of 3 grams ascorbic acid to 1 gallon of cold water.
Ascorbic acid is available in several forms:
Pure powdered form: seasonally available among canners’ supplies in supermarkets. One level teaspoon of pure powder weighs about 3 grams. Use 1 teaspoon per gallon of water as a treatment solution.
Vitamin C tablets: economical and available year-round. Buy 500-milligram tablets; crush and dissolve six tablets per gallon of water as a treatment solution.

Apricot Recipes

Among the many fruit trees in the Italian Orchard at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson planted a variety of apricot trees. In the list of foods named after people, it is written, Apricots with rice à la Jefferson was created by Charles Ranhofer author of The Epicurean in 1894. I did a quick check to see if I could locate the recipe but, alas, no can do. However, I did post a recipe on Presidents' Day last year for Jefferson's Rum Omelet which not only uses 4 tablespoons of rum but also 4 tablespoons of apricot preserves. Marion Harris Neil has another omelet recipe which includes apricots in The Story of Crisco

Apricot Omelet:
Cut 6 preserved apricots into dice, and heat up in a little fruit juice. Beat up 5 eggs, add pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. Melt in an omelet pan or frying pan 2 tablespoons Crisco, when hot pour in beaten eggs and stir over quick fire till they commence to thicken, put in the prepared apricots, then shape quickly into an oval form by folding the ends. Allow the omelet to acquire a golden brown by putting it in the oven, turn out on to a hot dish, dredge with sugar and serve at once.

The creations which can be brought to life with the addition of apricots are endless. We won't be celebrating National Amaretto Day until April, oooh, just before Apricot harvest in California:) but the Italian liqueur has a pleasant affinity in all sorts of desserts like Apricots in Amaretto which I found at A Spoonful of Sugar. Feeling feisty? Apricot Wine may just be "just what the doctor ordered."

Battenberg Cake not only has a checkered history (the theory is, the cake was created in honor of the marriage of Queen Victoria's granddaughter to Prince Louis of Battenberg) it is also joined together with apricot jam. Now, you know I'm not much of a baker but if I were, I would certainly want to try my hand at making this glorious cake. It looks like it may take some time and energy to assemble but WOW doesn't it look AMAZING!

When I first posted the following recipe back in June for St. John's Eve, it seemed like the perfect recipe to bestow among the haze of Midsummer's Night Dream. I was also intrigued by my lack of finding another recipe by the same name online. I thought perhaps, it was known by a different name. My guess was right. As you may have read, the etymology of apricots has been romanticized through the ages. I'm guessing it is one of these dazzling entremets but, I'll be darned if I can figure out which one. So, my question is, which of the following entremets best describes the recipe for Apricot Floating Pudding (Pudim De Clara's Com Damascos?)

From Menus Made Easy by Nancy Lake (1907) available online at Chest of Books.

Apricots Abricots
à l'Americaine are cut in halves, stewed, and dressed on croûtes of fried bread; glazed with sugar,and served with custard.
à la Cécile are cut in halves, stewed, and put together again, filling the space the stone was taken from with crushed macaroons moistened with liqueur; set in little blocks of lemon jelly coloured green, and garnished with whipped cream and chopped pistachio nuts.
à la Condé are stewed, dressed round a mould of rice cream garnished with cherries, angelica, etc, and served with apricot syrup. Apples, pears, peaches, plums, etc., are dressed in this way.
au riz are stewed with rice.
Compote d' abricots is apricots boiled in syrup. It is also made of green apricots. A la créme, it is served with cream or custard.
Compote d'abricots half apricots sprinkled with sugar and à la Breteuil broiled, and served with apricot and raspberry syrup.
Croûtes aux abricots are fried slices of bread spread with preserved apricots, and served with a syrup of apricots.
Meringue d'abricots is apricot marmalade with custard over it, and meringue mixture on the top.
Pain d'abricots is a mould of apricot purée; it is served with cream in the centre.

So, I was thinking. Since this recipe is what I would like to call "rare," wouldn't it be fun for it to have it's own post. Now, you know, I'm not about to tackle meringue of all things, but, I know there's an awful lot of you out there that have no problem and would probably welcome the challenge. Any one up to creating their version of Pudim De Clara's Com Damascos? If you are, let me know and I'll give Apricot Floating Pudding permanent air space, with links to everyone's recipe:)

Pudim De Clara's Com Damascos
Apricot Floating Pudding
1 cup dried apricots
4 egg whites
5 tsp. sugar
Sugar Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup boiling water
Wash apricots and cut into small pieces. Cook until tender. Cool. Beat whites of eggs until very stiff. Add 5 teaspoons of sugar and beat some more. Mix with apricots.
Meanwhile, melt 1/2 cup sugar in a heavy skillet over a low flame until light brown. Remove from heat and slowly add boiling water. Place skillet back on low flame and simmer 10 minutes more. Spread mixture over bottom and sides of an angel food mold. Cool. After the mold has cooled, pour the apricot mixture into it. Bake for 25-30 minutes in 300 degree oven in a pan of water until done. Cool. Remove from mold and cover with sauce below.
Sauce:
4 egg yolks
2 tbs. sugar
1-1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Beat egg yolks and sugar. Blend in milk and vanilla. Cook over hot water in double broiler several minutes. Stir frequently.

I think this recipe, also from Chest of Books, may be an earlier version of Apricot Floating Islands. It's under Cold Fancy Sweets in "Larger Cookery Book Of Extra Recipes", by Mrs A. B. Marshall. (1891)

Apricot Meringues Meringues D'abricots
Take half a pound of finely sifted castor sugar, and mix with it a teaspoonful of Marshall's Apricot Yellow and a saltspoonful of Vanilla essence; rub it well together and allow it to thoroughly dry. Put in a whipping-tin four large fresh whites of egg and a pinch of salt, whip them quite stiff, then add the prepared sugar by degrees, taking care not to stir the mixture more than possible after adding the sugar. Take a hot baking-tin, rub it all over with white wax, then leave it till cold; put the meringue mixture into a forcing bag with a plain pipe and force it out on to the tin in portions of about the size of apricots, dust them over with castor sugar, and put into a moderate oven till quite dry and crisp on the top, but the under side should be somewhat soft; then take them from the tin, and by means of an egg work a little well in the bottom of each, holding the top of the meringue in the hand; return them to the tin and place them in the oven (care must be taken that the meringues are not hurried in the cooking or they will lose their colour); when quite dry remove from the tin and set aside till cold, then place in each of the little wells a small round of cooked apricot; place another meringue on the top of this, mask them over with Maraschino glace (vol. i.) coloured with a little apricot yellow, and dish up round a pile of stiffly-whipped cream sweetened and flavoured with vanilla; serve as a dinner or luncheon sweet, or for any cold collation. These meringues can be kept ready for use if put in a dry place.
Resources
1. National Apricot Day (@ Yum Sugar)
2. The Apricot Hex?
3. Selection & Preparation of Apricots
4. Raiders of the Lost Cocktail: Apricot Brandy
Recipes
1. Home-made Apricot Cinnamon Jam (@ Dhanggit's Kitchen)
2. Caprese Salad & Apricots (@ Kalyn's Kitchen)
3. Sour Cream Panna Cotta & Fresh Apricot & Amaretto Sauce
4. Opera Cake: Intensely Apricot
5. Winter Squash & Apricot Glaze Casserole (Chef Kevin Enright, O.C.C. Culinary Arts Institute)

6 comments:

  1. I envy the bountiful of fresh produce and fruits!
    What beats that?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Tiger,
    Nothings beats a cornucopia of fruits & vegetables except perhaps, a bunch of people to share them with!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wonderful recipes, Louise. Your blog really amazes me. if only your articles can be read by a lot of people(even those w/o internet), I guess they'll think you are the true Bett Crocker.
    Btw, I have never tasted an apricot yet. We don't have apricots here in the Philippines.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It saddens me to think you have never tasted an apricot Dennis:( We will have to figure out a way to remedy that!

    Your words are too kind. At least I am real though, Betty was not.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've always loved apricots and I'm quite happy to find a recipe with apricot as its main ingredient. I don't find a lot of apricot recipes.
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    ReplyDelete
  6. Get ready for another day of Precocious Apricot recipes, Kim. More recipes just around the corner!!!

    ReplyDelete

Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise

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