Hello my dear readers,
And if it’s Tuesday it’s time to discover another ingredient of our kitchens.
This time let’s discover the apricot, or the Armenian apple.
In today’s post we will discover:
- Apricot origins
- The cultivation of apricots
- How to choose and buy apricots
- Consumption and storage
The apricot is, together with cherries, plums, almonds and peaches (moreover all belonging to the Rosaceae family), among the most common and consumed fruit during the summer months.
The history of apricots is not known, but we certainly know that its cultivation has been taking place for over seven millennia: according to some sources, in fact, the first apricot trees appear in China, Russia and Armenia around 5,000 BC.
In reality the fruit with the beautiful complexion, the fruit to which were compared the cheeks of the young girls, comes from Persia, if not from China. In any case, from that fabulous orchard of the world that was the East. A mythical East rather than geographic. An exotic location, a land of a thousand and one nights full of mysteries and rich in first fruits.
It arrived after the conquests of Alexander the Great, on the shores of the Mediterranean, first in Italy and then in Greece. Known in Europe thanks to the Romans at the beginning of the Christian era, it had a period of oblivion during the Middle Ages. It was the Arabs who reintroduced the cultivation of apricot around the tenth century, not only for gastronomic purposes but also for pharmacological purposes.
The tree also grows spontaneously in the Himalayas around 3000 meters in height thanks to the resistance of the stem to the harsh climate.
As for the name, the Romans called it “armeniacum”, that is, an Armenian apple because they thought it came from Armenia.
Primizia originally means the name of the apricot which derives from the Latin praecocum, literally “early”. With this term the Romans initially called all the first fruits. But when this word ends up on the mouth of the Arabs it becomes “al-berquq”. It is the decisive step towards the modern names of the orange fruit, such as the Spanish albaricoque, the French abricot, the German Aprikose and the English apricot.
So by dint of rebounds between East and West, apricot ends up becoming the first fruits par excellence, the embodiment of youth condensed into a fruit.
As proof of the fact that the origin of food, rather than the almost notarial certification of a provenance, is the story of a thousand-year-old ping-pong between cultures, of a mixing of ideas, passions and tastes.
A story of gastronomic migrations, of mixed food. Just as it happens to travelers, the food passing from one land to another always end up resembling the country they visit, in short they take on their moods even without wanting to.
This is what happens to apricots when they arrive in Naples and find their promised land at the foot of Vesuvius, in that black lava like pitch and fertile like a mother.
In that suspended Mediterranean crossroads, as Goethe said, between the beautiful and the terrible, what was once the Armenian apple is charged with the overflowing energy of the volcano. The flush of redness that illuminates the orange velvet of her delicate skin is the characteristic sign that the apricot has become Vesuvian.
Two hundred thirty different minerals distilled from the earth, eruption after eruption, make the difference. Because the slopes of the volcano are not only the most fertile garden in the world but an authentic, unstoppable flow of flavor.
Around the tenth century its cultivation was introduced by the Arabs to southern France, while in America it arrived only after 1700.
The skin of the fruit varies in color from pale yellow to orange red. Its pulp, lively and preciously scented, as well as being rather nutritious, is rich in minerals and vitamins, useful in the treatment of anemias, defects of vision and earache.
In popular cosmetics apricot has always been combined with skin care. The oil obtained from its seeds, enclosed in the core, is very effective both for the treatment of stretch marks and wrinkles.
The cultivation of apricot
The area of greatest diffusion of this fruit is the Mediterranean basin, where about 60% of the entire world production is harvested.
Other important production areas are Asia Minor, California and Eastern Europe.
The main apricot producing countries are, in order, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Italy, the United States, France and Greece.
Apricot is a species sensitive to late frost for early flowering, therefore areas well exposed and sheltered from the prevailing winds should be preferred.
Apricots are only available fresh in a limited period of the year, which coincides with the onset of summer and ends in the heart of it.
Italian cultivation, in fact, is productive in principle from the end of May to late July, while North African production can, due to climatic differences, be anticipated and prolonged for longer.
Dried and canned apricots, on the other hand, are on the market almost all year round.
How to choose and buy apricots
Apricots are generally sold fresh, dried and in syrup. For each method of storage and sale it is worth listing some useful tips to encourage a conscious purchase:
- Fresh apricots: the peel must be compact and uniform, the color bright (the spots of color, if thinned out and orange-red, are not a symbol of deterioration of the fruit) and the general consistency soft but not excessively yielding.
- Dried apricots: must have an intense orange color or turn yellow. They are soft and, by pulling them, slightly elastic. The taste is sweet and sugary.
- Apricots in syrup: they have a light orange color, which turns yellow. They are divided in half, without the core and completely covered by a layer of sugar solution. On the palate they are soft but at the same time compact.
Consumption and storage
In Italy, the average consumption of apricots has stood at around 3 kilograms per capita in recent years. Thanks to the good content of proteins, calcium, potassium and vitamins, this fruit has an appreciable nutritional and dietetic value.
Apricot is indicated in states of nervousness, insomnia and psychophysical fatigue, in convalescence, in hyperuricemia, in cases where an increase in the alkaline reserve is necessary and in the period of growth.
Consumed ripe it is easy to digest.
In cosmetics, the pulp is used to obtain nourishing, velvety and refreshing masks for dull and tired skin.
Particularly digestible, in addition to being eaten fresh, apricot is widely used in the kitchen in the preparation of syrups, juices, jams, jellies, ice creams, candied fruit, fruit salads or in excellent tarts, and also dried; excellent also in mixed fruit tarts together with, for example, peaches and bananas. And as many will know, apricot jam is used to fill the famous Sacher cake, typical of the Viennese confectionery tradition. A truly happy choice, given that the union between the acidulous flavor of this fruit and the dense flavor of chocolate, despite the apparent contrast, has generated one of the greatest delights in the world.
Or remember my Apricots and ricotta cake?
The apricots can be kept in the refrigerator at 8-10 degrees Celsius for 72 hours from the time of harvest. At a temperature of 1-2 ° C, storage can be extended for 5-12 days, depending on the variety and sugar content.
In addition to the fruit, seeds are also used in pastry making, called armelline (or bitter almonds), as an ingredient in syrups, liqueurs and amaretti in combination with sweet almonds; all in limited quantities (only as an aroma) since they contain a derivative of hydrocyanic acid which consumed in high doses would be toxic.