They may be prima donnas, but apricots deserve the fuss

July 10, 1996|By Rob Kasper

I am not sure how to pronounce them, but I do love to eat them. I am talking about apricots, the fruit that looks like orange golf balls and can taste like nectar.

Some folks stress the solo sound of the "a" in their pronunciation of apricots, so that the first syllable sounds like "ape." Others emphasize the marriage of the "a" and "p," so that the first syllable sounds something like "lap."

I tend to be more of a "lap" than an "ape" kind of guy, at least when it comes to apricots.

Whatever the fruits are called, they were in abundance Sunday morning at the Farmers' Market in downtown Baltimore. Boxes of them dotted the produce stands set up in the parking lots running underneath the Jones Falls Expressway north from Saratoga Street. They had even spilled north into an expanded section of the market, a parking lot north of Pleasant street.

After listening to a few farmers talk about what is involved in growing apricots around here, apricots sound to me like big stars playing gigs in small towns. They are only on the scene for a short time, a few weeks in July. They are very sensitive. They bruise easily. They demand to be handled by hand.

They may be the prima donna of tree fruit, but like many prima donnas they can deliver so much pleasure, they are worth the trouble.

When shopping I looked for apricots that had "high color." That meant no green spots and plenty of bright orange and gold tones.

The juice of a truly ripe apricot can curl your toes with delight. I remember having some nectar experiences many years ago when I lived in western Kansas, and my family bought two bushel baskets of apricots trucked in from the nearby orchards of Colorado. Since then I have come to the reluctant conclusion that semi-arid climes, like eastern Colorado, have a leg up in the apricot nectar department over fruit grown in places like Maryland and Pennsylvania.

But I continue my quest for the nectar-filled apricot east of the Mississippi. The other day, after I brought my apricots home and washed them off, I popped a few in my mouth. One was very juicy. One was pretty pulpy. Nonetheless, I enjoyed eating them. Apricots offer more fun for your mouth than most fruits. The skin is soft, with no annoying fuzz. The juice can be a sweet surprise.

I am even fond of the seed, it is so smooth and symmetrical. As a kid I saved seeds of the apricots I had eaten and planted them in our back yard. None sprouted. The back yard bare spot where I planted them also ended up doing double duty as second base in summer baseball games. It was probably too tough at second base for apricots.

Sunday morning I popped a few more apricots into my mouth and began thumbing through cook books, looking for things I could make with the fruit. A chutney, made with apricots, onions and sugars, looked inviting. It was supposed to go on grilled fish.

I also saw a recipe for a compote made with fresh apricots and fresh raspberries. I had bought some raspberries at the market as well. The compote was something you could put on top of some pound cake, or simply serve topped with some cream, as a dessert.

Faced with using the apricots for a main course or for a dessert, I naturally chose dessert.

I may be unsure how to pronounce the first syllable of apricots, but I know what you are supposed to say when you have finished eating them. You are supposed to say "AHHH."

This recipe is from "A Feast of Fruits" by Elizabeth Riley (Macmillan $25).

Fresh apricot berry compote

Serves 6

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 strip of lemon zest, 2 inches long

2 pounds fresh apricots

3 tablespoons rum, brandy or other liquor

1 cup raspberries

1/2 cup currants

Put sugar in saucepan with water and lemon zest. Boil until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Add apricots and rum, cover and poach over low heat until apricots are barely tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn apricots once but do not break them. Let them cool in the liquid. When cool, cut each in half along the xTC natural line. Discard the pits and the lemon zest from liquid. Just before serving, stir raspberries and currants into apricot mixture. To serve, spoon over a slice of pound cake, or in bowls with a dab of cream.

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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