Apricot Season

Professor Google tells me that the apricot season in Mexico runs from June through early August, but I’ve only just begun to see fresh apricots on offer in the markets here in San Miguel de Allende. So regardless of what Prof. Google says, or where these apricots are from, apricot season for me personally has begun.

And that’s a good thing, too, because after my first fruit-love – MANGOES — I love apricots best; and I’ve been anxious to see them here for some months now. Such sweet-yet-tart little stone-hearted things – soft when ripe, somewhat peach-fuzzy, golf ball-size, golden in color, and tenderly fragile. English writer, poet, philosopher, and artist John Ruskin (1819-1900) aptly described apricots’ beauty as “shining in a sweet brightness of golden velvet.”

Apricots, known as chabacanos here in Mexico, taste best when grown locally and eaten fresh out of hand or used to create memorable desserts:

By some magic — or alchemy — I managed to turn these fresh apricots…
…  into this apricot tart last week

The thing is, fresh, ripe apricots don’t travel all that well. So, since the beginning of their recorded history — thousands of years ago — clever humans have found ways to keep their sweet-tart deliciousness around – by drying them in the sun until leathery or making syrupy preserves of them. Then came canning.

Today, when growers are forced to pick their apricots while still firm and green to withstand long transport to distant markets, consumers are too often left with wooly, tasteless fruit.

And here’s what Prof. Google taught me about apricots’ storied history:

The apricot was cultivated in China and Central Asia as early as 2000 BC, then migrated with the country’s traders, who traveled the Great Silk Road. These Chinese merchants probably introduced the fruit to the Persians. It then spread throughout the Eurasian steppe by nomadic, horseback-riding tribesman.

The Romans, who learned of the apricot in the first century AD, dubbed it praecocum, the ‘precocious one,’ likely because they noticed that the fruit bloomed early in the summer. Apricots flourished throughout the Islamic dominions. The Moors, who conquered Spain, planted apricot trees in Granada. Syria was another bastion of the fruit.

(For the full, rich story, go to: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/06/14/481932829/moon-of-the-faith-a-history-of-the-apricot-and-its-many-pleasures .)

Closer to home, apricot trees became popular in the Americas after being cultivated by Spanish missionaries in the late 1700s.

It’s possible, I learned from all-knowing YouTube, to grow your own apricot trees and have fresh, ripe, juicy apricots at your fingertips every apricot season – provided you live in a place where the conditions are right, such as USDA hardiness zones 5 – 9.

Apricot trees thrive in climates where winters are cold enough to induce a dormancy period and summers are warm but not swelteringly hot. Apricot trees are sensitive, easily injured by early frost or strong winds.

All of which brings back memories for me of apricots in Taos, New Mexico, where I used to live. This true story is from my collection of essays with recipes, SWEET TARTS FOR MY SWEETHEARTS:

An Abundance of Apricots

In the dead of summer 2012, when heat and drought were devastating over half the country and mainstay crops such as corn were withering on their stalks, sending warnings of dire ripple-effects throughout the economy, my then-new hometown, Taos, New Mexico, was enjoying the unusual blessings of rain and an overabundance of at least one crop: apricots. There are many years, I was told, when spring frosts kill the prospect of summer apricots. That year was not one.

Wherever I walked, I passed apricot trees by the side of the road that were heavily laden, dripping as if with raindrops, with fat, nearly ripe fruit. My first thought was to find the owners of these properties and give them my recipe for apricot jam. My second thought was, Why didn’t I bring my bucket on this walk?

That summer I edited a community fundraising cookbook titled Storied Recipes for Taos’s literary nonprofit organization, SOMOS (the Society of the Muse of the Southwest). Among that cookbook’s 84 stories-with-recipes was one for Apricot-Ginger Jam.

Armed with this recipe and a big blue bucket, I visited a generous friend’s two apricot trees and gleefully helped myself. In one compulsive week I managed to make four batches of this over-the-top-delicious jam. Then I gave the golden jars as gifts.

Apricot-Ginger Jam

For each batch of apricot jam I used 2 quarts of washed, pitted, fresh Taos apricots; 5 cups sugar; ¼ cup minced fresh ginger; the zest and juice of one lemon; ¼ teaspoon almond extract; and half of a pouch of liquid pectin. I cooked all but the pectin in a large, heavy-bottom pot, stirring frequently, for 40-50 minutes, adding the pectin in the last few minutes. This amount makes about six half-pint jars of what your recipients will tell you is “the best jam in the world!”

(Of course, in SWEET TARTS there’s also a recipe for an apricot tart.)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So the next time you eat a fresh, ripe, juicy, delicious apricot in season and you’re left with the pit, don’t toss it away. Just follow this 5-minute video showing the simple steps to growing your own apricot tree in your garden: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJd_8113Q_o

18 thoughts on “Apricot Season”

    1. Thank you, querida! Hope you find some good ones. I went to the big mercado today, and they didn’t have any. Gil’s had some — imported from the U.S. The ones I bought for making my tart (pictured) were from La Comer.

  1. The photo of your tart made me wish we hadn’t given away all our apricots—the ones we didn’t eat right off the tree, that is! Loved your and Ruskin’s descriptions of the little beauties. And your paragraph about the Spanish missionaries explains why apricot trees are so abundant in Taos! Gracias, BonnieDear!

  2. And then there is apricot brandy which is delicious and I have not been able to find in San Miguel. But I’m ever hopeful.

    1. Yes, apricot brandy! I forgot about that one, Toni. I have a vague memory of actually making it for Christmas gifts one year — with dried apricots and vodka. But I’ve forgotten the recipe. We must ask Prof. Google for it! 🙂

  3. Connoisseur of yummy food, historian, storyteller and gardener. You’ve got all your bases covered, Bonnie. What delightful imagery. Thank you.

    1. How nice to know, querida Te!!! I wish I could take credit for originating the recipe, but I can’t. It was one of the submissions for the Storied Recipes cookbook I edited for SOMOS. I’ve forgotten who, though. Is it apricot season now where you live in NM? — xx

  4. What a lovely blog post. I agree with others that you cover all the bases. I’m pleased that I ordered a dozen of your recipe book about tarts, as it’s a favorite whenever gifted. When the Phoenix temperatures are cool enough for baking, I look forward to any of the tarts. Thank you.

  5. Dear Bon,
    I learned so much this morning. I live in Hardiness Zone 6a or 6b. It’s hard to tell which, but I can grow apricots. I also watched the video, which made it seem easy. Still, I doubt I’m precocious enough to grow a tree.
    I don’t eat many fresh apricots, but I often eat them dried in oatmeal. I’m actually eating a few now as I write this. The next time I go shopping I’m going to buy some fresh apricots.
    Thank for this fruit tribute. I really enjoyed reading it.

    1. Oh, Paul dear — try growing an apricot tree from your not-discarded pit! What a fun project to start your retirement! So happy you liked this apricot post. — LU, BB xx

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