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Colorado Apricots (c)2012

An apricot is not a peach. You won’t be overwhelmed by heady fragrance of an apricot from several feet away. You won’t find your face covered in sticky juice after taking a bite into an apricot’s velvety flesh. If peaches are the blockbuster movie of summer, apricots are the surprise hit indie film at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s quite possible you’ve never tasted a truly ripe apricot. This stone fruit must be allowed to ripen on the tree and quickly picked before it drops to the ground. Ripe apricots do not travel well. Their delicate, velvety flesh bruises easily and quickly begins to deteriorate once picked. The cold supermarket produce isle is an inhospitable place for such a fragile fruit. If you’re looking for sunset-colored apricots with tender, juicy flesh and honeyed, musky flavor, you’ve got to go to the farmer. Road-side stands and farmer’s markets are the place to find apricots worth eating (as opposed to those tasteless, juiceless specimens at the grocery store).

Tasting a truly ripe apricot is a surprise: the flavor begins with a buttery sweetness, transitioning to pleasant tartness, ending in a lingering hint of almond. It’s not wonder the pits are cracked open, kernels removed and used to make almond extract and liqueur. According to The Produce Bible, apricots originated in China and have been cultivated for over 4,000 years. While peaches have an all-american quality, apricots are exotic. They come into season before peaches, peaking from May through July. If you can pick an apricot and eat it straight off the tree, savor the moment, but otherwise a little heat from the oven, stove, or grill is essential to drawing out their best qualities. Apricots collapse into luscious heaps of succulent fruit when cooked, and combine well with aromatic spices like cardamom and vanilla. Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday and I’ve got plenty of ideas for cooking with apricots.

Apricots are best simply prepared with complimentary flavors that enhance their sweet-tart flavor. When selecting apricots, look for plump, unblemished specimens which are mostly firm, with only a slight give in the palm of the hand. In The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, Rachel Saunders advises that the best way to select an apricot is not by aroma or appearance, but by taste. Store apricots at cool room temperature. Don’t stack them in a bowl, rather, place them on a baking sheet in a single layer to keep from bruising their delicate skins. Keep apricots out of the fridge, which dulls their flavor and negatively affects their texture. Don’t delay in enjoying this perishable fruit, apricots should be eaten within a day or two. Once cut the flesh will oxidize and turn brown, so prepare apricots just before cooking.

Don’t let the season pass you by without tasting a ripe apricot straight from the tree. This ancient fruit is worth getting to know before peaches come in and steal the show.

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