The Able and Abundant Apricot
erving as the liaison between the conclusion of spring and commencement of summer, the month of May not only yields the vibrantly colored chrysanthemums and camellias of the post-rainy season, but the succulent, soft-textured, fragile yet fleshy apricot, as well. The golden-orange stone fruit is composed of a smooth, velvety skin, often sun-stained with smudges of red that conglomerate near the stem. The fleshy inside boasts a sweet and tangy flavor while the meat exhibits firmness and a rough texture unlike the exterior of the fruit.
The apricot, first grown in ancient China, was eventually relayed to the Middle East and Mediterranean via nomadic pastoralists who thrived off trading the peculiar delicacy. The fruit quickly grew in popularity among the Arab community and was incorporated into many traditional dishes, both sweet and savory, still practiced today. In mishmishiya, one such recipe, lamb was laid in a pot and slowly cooked over many hours adding additional ingredients hourly. The apricots, or al-barquoq, were integrated into the mixture last, adding a subtle tart tang in contrast to the rich and more dominant flavor of the lamb. The widely desired fruit also is present in a variety of established desserts existent in the traditional Arab cuisine. Although there are a plethora of variations, an apricot is usually stuffed with a diverse assortment of sweetened nuts, and topped with a fresh dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
“At the most difficult moments of my life, when it seemed that every door was closed to me, the taste of those apricots comes back to comfort me with the notion that abundance is always within reach, if only one knows how to find it.” — Isabel Allende
Apricots have not only inveigled themselves into the culinary customs of the Arab community but also hold a reputable presence in the cuisine of European civilizations. The Romans were captivated by the beauty, symmetry, and vulnerability of the fruit. As the apricots bloomed in early summer, the Romans became aware of the fruit’s fragility and sensitivity to the hot breeze. Because of their rarity, pleasing appearance, and unique taste, apricots were appealing to the nobility and aristocracy of Roman society. Centuries later, after entering the mainstream, both the aristocracy and peasantry were inspired by the beauty of the fruit. John Ruskin, the English poet and art critic, was one of many who was enticed by its allure, and described the apricot as, “shining in a sweet brightness of golden velvet.”
In addition to their vivid hues and distinctive flavor, apricots offer a profusion of health benefits. Apricots serve as an excellent source of both Vitamin A and C, dietary fiber, as well as potassium, replenishing and revitalizing the immune system and eliminating harmful toxins from the body. Furthermore, apricot consumption is positively correlated with reducing cholesterol, vision improvement, and treating respiratory conditions effectively.
Dried or raw, savory or sweet, the apricot maintains its visually appealing appearance and robust yet tangy flavor when included in any recipe, adapting smoothly to either its dominant or subtle role within the dish. I can say with confidence that beauty is only skin deep and doesn’t reflect a person’s true nature or character. But when I come to reflect on the aesthetically satisfying and intensely flavorful apricot, I must reconsider my convictions and postulate. For some things, inner beauty and outer beauty go hand in hand — and make for one tasty fruit.
Fun Fact: California produces 95 percent of the U.S. apricot supply. Needless to say, we enjoy the freshest apricots in the country.
Historical Note: Apricots arrived in the northeastern United States in the 17th century, when French explorers aspired to have a monopoly in the apricot market.
Insider Tip: Never put an apricot in the refrigerator before it is ripe. Freezing an apricot pre-ripening can damage the fruit leaving it dry and less flavorful.
Recipe: Apricot Stuffed Chicken
Recipe Courtesy of California Fresh Apricots.
Makes 4 servings
- 2 whole chicken breasts, boned, skin on
- 1/2 cup dry stuffing mix
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 4 fresh apricots (1/2 lb), halved
- 1/2 cup apricot jam
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- Place chicken skin side down and pound with a mallet to flatten slightly.
- Combine stuffing mix, onion, butter, and 1/4 teaspoon ginger.
- Spoon stuffing mixture in a strip along the center of each breast.
- Place apricot halved on top of stuffing.
- Wrap chicken around filling; tie each chicken roll with a string every 2 inches.
- Barbecue on a rack about 5-1/2 inches above medium-hot coals 15 minutes, turning once or twice.
- Mix apricot jam, vinegar and remaining 1/4 teaspoon ginger.
- Brush jam mixture over chicken rolls; continue cooking until done, about 5 to 10 minutes.