I was recently given a copy of Robert Palter’s The Duchess of Malfi’s Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits. It’s a great reference book if you like those moments of clarity when writers unravel the human condition using simple observations of nature, like the blush of an apricot or the fragrant night-flowering of a plum tree. Fruit is part of our being. Its measure and mystery is found in mythologies, religions, and history. Its seed and flesh are both true sustenance and symbols for our existence.
It’s with this spirit in mind that I celebrate the apricot. Apricots are a timid and precocious fruit. They thrive best in areas of mild winters and are described by French writer and gourmet Alexandre Dumas in his own dictionary of cuisine, published in 1873: “Such an early fruit that there are few springs when one does not hear people saying: ‘There will be no apricots this year, they’ve all been caught by the frost.’”
There are hundreds of different apricot varieties, some of which we’ll be seeing in the coming weeks. We know them as pale orange–colored fruits, but there are also white and yellow varieties. Apricots have been hybridized with plums to produce apriums (more apricot than plum), plumcots (a plum/apricot mix), and pluots (more plum than apricot).
In her poem The Consolation of Apricots, Diane Ackerman writes:
Somewhere between a peach and a prayer,
they taste of well water
and butterscotch and dried apples
and desert simooms and lust.
Sweet with a twang of spice…
The apricot is a species of the genus Prunus, along with its stone fruit sisters—plum, peach, and cherry—and its cousin almond. Apricots found their way to the Western world through history and geography, emigrating from Asia Minor. The word “apricot” is thought to derive from the Arabic al-birquq. They are a tantalizing fruit, admired for their beauty and sensual shape. Apricots are a good source of vitamins A and C. When ready to eat, they have the juiciness and smooth texture of a perfectly ripened peach, but with a unique and indelible lightness.
Enjoy and Be Fruitful!
Chris Mittelstaedt is the founder and CEO of The FruitGuys. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, their three kids, and their two dogs.