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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Apricots

Apricots:

The apricot with the peach, plum, and nectarine is what is called a stone fruit.  It's single seed is enclosed in a hard stony shell.  The apricot appears similar to a small peach which is from yellow to orange in color, often with a red tinge on the side most exposed to the sun.   Its surface flesh can be smooth or velvety with very short hairs.  The flesh is usually firm and not very juicy.  Its taste is almost musky and can range from sweet to tart with dried fruit tending to have a more pronounced tartness.

Apricots originated in China where they have been cultivated for 4000 years.   They arrived in Europe via Armenia.   The apricot tree came to Virginia in 1720 and then appeared in the Spanish missions of California around 1792.  Apricots in the U.S. are grown primarily in California.  Turkey is the world's leading producer of apricots though.   Other leading producers of apricots are Italy, Russia, Spain, U.S., and France. 

Apricot season in the U.S. is from May through August.  In the winter apricots are imported from South America.  Dried and canned apricots are of course available year round.   Apricots are eaten fresh, dried, cooked into pastry, and eaten as jam.  The fruit is also distilled into brandy and liqueur. 

When I was growing up, my little sister was very young and had never seen an apricot before.  One day she opened the refrigerator to find one sitting there with its peach like appearance and its distinctive ridge that runs from top to bottom of the fruit.  She looked at it and announced, "Look, Mommy.  This peach has a 'hiney' on it."  So, that's what I remember when I think about apricots.

Apricots are  an excellent source of vitamin A, a very good source of vitamin C, and a good source of tryptophan, iron, fiber, and potassium.   Nutrients in apricots can help protect the heart and eyes.  The apricot is high in beta-carotene which helps protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation which may help prevent heart disease.  The vitamin A promotes good vision and is a powerful antioxidant which quenches free radical damage to cells and tissue.   Sulfur containing compounds are often added to dried foods like apricots as a preservative.  They can cause reactions in sulfite sensitive people.

Choose apricots with a rich orange color. Avoid those that are pale and yellow.   The fruit should be slightly soft.   Add sliced apricots to hot or cold cereal.  Add chopped apricots to pancake batter.  For a Middle Eastern flavor add diced dried apricots to chicken or vegetable stews.  Serve sliced fresh apricots in a green salad.

So......... Eat up!   Enjoy!  I'll show you how.