What to do with a basket of apricots
Enchanted by the nostalgia of apricots, Jenny Garing shares some delectable recipes – including one passed down by her mother.
Words: Jenny Garing
When I was 12 or 13, my father took the position of senior house master of a boarding house at a boys’ high school. This meant the family had to move into the school house. The best thing about the property was the private back lawn that had a huge, ancient apricot tree right in the middle of it. So many BBQs and dinners were served under that tree whenever guests came. Warm South Canterbury summers had dinners going on till after 10pm in the shade of the tree, and they usually culminated in an apricot whip dessert made by my mum, Juliet.
Whether fresh, canned or dried, there’s just no beating the apricot for its versatility in cooking and baking. Its kernel is edible and is used to flavour jams, biscuits and Amaretto.
Fresh apricots can be poached in spices and sweet white wine, or even barbequed with some honey and thyme. Turn them into ice cream or a cheesecake, flavoured with ginger or vanilla. They make a spectacular tarte tatin in place of the traditional apples. And, of course, an apricot crumble or shortcake is always a winner.
Make healthy breakfast popsicles for the kids by cooking 300g chopped apricots with a tablespoon of honey or sugar and then mixing with 300g yoghurt. Freeze this mixture in ice-block moulds. Serve with a drizzle of honey over the popsicle end and then dip it into some granola.
I find it strange that canned apricots have a far richer flavour than fresh ones. This is because it can be a bit of a lottery when you bite into a fresh one – it’s often not obvious beforehand whether it has been left on the tree long enough to ripen completely. Fortunately, Juliet’s whip was made with only the ripest of fruit.
Juliet’s Apricot Whip
The tree at the boarding house was old, but produced an abundance of incredibly soft, rich-tasting fruit. There were more apricots on the ground than we could eat. Making the apricot whip was Juliet’s way of using up apricots en masse.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
3 ½ cups fresh apricot halves
2 tbsp sugar or honey
¾ cup cream, whipped
3 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 tbsp rum (optional)
slivered almonds and more whipped cream to serve
Boil the apricots in 1 cup of water with sweetener until soft. Drain thoroughly and blitz the apricots in a food processor or blender. Combine fruit pulp with the beaten egg whites and whipped cream. Fold in rum (if using) and serve in individual dishes topped with whipped cream and slivered almonds or fresh mint. The whip can also be frozen and then eaten straight from the freezer, or defrosted and served cold.
This more modern, lighter version uses yoghurt instead of cream, with the addition of cinnamon and lemon for a twist. As a fool, it looks pretty with the swirling of the fruit through the yoghurt. You can make it posh by adding crumbled amaretti biscuits (flavoured with apricot kernels!).
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
1 lemon, juice and zest
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in two
500g Greek yogurt
Halve and stone the apricots. In a pan with the lid on, cook gently with the lemon juice, sugar and snapped cinnamon stick for about 15 mins, until the apricots are very soft. Remove the cinnamon stick and set the apricots aside to cool. Spoon the yoghurt into a bowl and stir in the lemon zest. Fold in most of the cooled apricots. Spoon into four serving glasses and top with the remaining fruit and any juices. Feel free to swap yoghurt for whipped cream or custard.
Like canned apricots, dried ones often taste better than the fresh fruit. Unfortunately, not many places in New Zealand are warm and dry enough to dry fruit in the sun.
The best dried apricots come from Turkey where they are halved and dried on concrete terraces for a few days. The sight and smell is uplifting. The Turks don’t tend to use the sulphur dioxide often used to retain the bright orange colour of dried apricots. Turkish dried apricots are a much darker orangey-brown colour, but they taste better with no added chemicals. They also retain much of the nutritional properties as the fresh ones.
Make your own dried apricots with a dehydrator or an oven set to 70˚C. Use them in cakes, muffins, slices and biscuits. Or try adding them to a fresh fruit salad for extra punch. Apricots go well with almonds, for example in a Turkish almond custard with dried apricots and orange blossom water. An impressive dish is the traditional Moroccan m’hanncha – filo pastries stuffed with ricotta, dried apricots, rosewater, orange zest, cardamom and pistachios.
If you’re using an oven, halve your apricots and take out the stones. Line a baking tray with baking paper and lay the halves out evenly, making sure they don’t touch each other. If you want, place another oven tray on top of the apricot halves to weigh them down so they don’t curl up when drying – just make sure to put more baking paper on top of the apricots first so the tray doesn’t stick. They will take about 8 to 10 hours in the oven. At the halfway point turn them over to ensure even drying. About 3kg of fresh apricots will make 500g of dried apricots.
This slice is a hit of nostalgia for some people; it has all the hallmarks of a classic nana-made dish.
The nana in question is Juliet, grandmother to Nydia and Edwin. This is her recipe and she was in charge of making trays of it for us to sell in the deli or at the farmers’ market every Saturday.
Makes: 24 pieces
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
2 cups wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
A good pinch of salt.
1 ½ cups raw sugar
2 cups finely shredded coconut
1 cup raisins
16 dried apricots
2 cups milk
Preheat oven to 220°C. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add the sugar, coconut and raisins, and mix well. Chop the dried apricots and stir them in. Add the milk and mix together to form a thick batter. Spread in a shallow oiled baking tray, smoothing it out evenly, and pop it in the oven.
After about 20 minutes, check that it is baking evenly and rotate if needed. Check again after another 20 minutes – finger pressure should bounce back.
Let it cool in the tray for a few minutes then cut into 24 squares. Leave to cool in the tray for another few minutes so it shrinks. Then lift out onto a wire rack to cool completely.