It’s apricot time again. I’ve been buying expensive Spanish ones to eat straight away and supermarket apricots you’re supposed to ‘ripen at home’.
I don’t ripen them at home, though. I bake them – as I do every year – in a chipped cast-iron dish with white wine and vanilla, and sugar dusted on top. In blue-skied summers you’re tasting holidays when you eat these; in rainy summers – there was a depressingly rainy one a few years ago – you hold on to them as a sign of something better.
I pile those hard supermarket apricots in bowls for the kitchen table because they look beautiful, no matter what their flesh is like. I eat the baked ones for breakfast with yogurt, or sneak a spoonful from the fridge when I fancy it.
Beyond that I could make apricot dishes every day: tarts, both simple and elaborate, upside-down cakes, ice cream, poached apricots to serve with chai-flavoured creams, jellies in which halves are suspended in muscat wine. And we’re not even on to preserves yet.
Apricots are, hands down, my favourite summer fruit (though tart Scottish raspberries run a close second). I like the weight of them in my hand, a perfect round that you can conceal if you want to (I don’t want to share ripe apricots with anyone).
They’re less celebrated than other stone fruits. It was peaches that Renoir painted obsessively – peaches with almonds, on linen, in a white bowl. In fact he thought every artist should paint peaches because it was good practice for conveying the tones and softness of skin.
Because of their size I feel apricots make fewer demands than peaches; they’re not hungry for attention. But look at that blush skin. It burns red in some parts, and is often dotted with tiny freckles. I tend to go for the reddest ones though I know, from experience, that it doesn’t make a difference to the flavour. You usually can’t tell what you’re getting into when you bite an apricot.
In this country, we rarely get to taste them as they should be tasted – ripe, warm and straight off the tree – though if you’re willing to spend the money, you can buy the best available here (some years the most intensely flavoured come from France, sometimes from Spain).
Most of the run-of-the-mill sort are blighted by a woolly texture and insipid flavour. But they hide a secret. The blandest, most ordinary apricots are transformed by heat.
When I bake them, I think, looking at a particularly unpromising load, that it’s not going to work this time. It always does. The application of heat brings out flavours even the sun can’t. The flesh becomes intensely honeyed with a shot of tartness.
Baked apricots can be almost difficult to eat at times as they hold this sweet-tart balance as if teasing you. Will the next bite make me shudder? With an apricot and almond tart I’m always chasing the pastry or the frangipane, an antidote to the fruit’s intensity.
I chase apricots that aren’t even in the fruit bowl. Wines made from the viognier grape are most often described as having apricot tones. Some scorn this – they think the grape produces wines that are blousy – but I love them. They’re big and fat and honeyed and have a whiff of violets.
You can sometimes detect apricots in a riesling too, and – a heady pleasure – in Sauternes and Hungarian Tokay. The latter is like drinking the very essence of apricots.
Austrian apricot slices
I’ve been making this recipe – I got it from Café Sperl in Vienna – with plums for years. This summer I tried it with apricots. It’s so good that my children had to take it away and distribute it among their friends.
I’m telling you, these are delicious, and you don’t even have to roll out any pastry.
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This notice was published: 2022-08-09 10:32:58