Apricots: My Golden Globes
by Margaret E. Walker
Apricot comes from the Latin praecox,
or praecoquus, ripened early, coquere, to cook, or ripen; the English
form, formerly apricock and abrecox, comes through the French abricot,
or the Spanish. albaricoque, which was an adaptation of abic ai-burquk.
When I was a small child of four
or five years of age I thought that our small apricot tree had something
magical about it. We lived in the South Australian town of Murray Bridge,
and although my mother did not have a lot of time for gardening she
treasured her apricot tree.
Covered with blossoms, it looked as though
it was covered with tiny little fairies in white dresses, and when the
new leaves appeared they were a soft translucent green tinged with bronze
and I thought they looked as though they could be the wings of elves.
I would just hold my hand, palm up, under the leaves and hope that instead
of just leaves I would see an elf on my hand.
Growing from a child to an adult
is like the slow ripening of fruit, and that is the image that gave
us precocious. The word is based on the Latin verb coquere, meaning
"to ripen" or "to cook," but it comes most directly
from the adjective praecox, which means "ripening early or before
its time." The Latin word was first used to describe plants and
fruits, but later also to describe a child who is unusually mature at
an early age. Precocity can occasionally be annoying; but precocious
children do not come precooked, only "preripened."
How Apricots Grow
Eventually of course the flowers
turned into tiny little green fruit, similar in shape to little almonds,
which is not surprising, since the apricot is from the same genus as
the almond, genus Prunus Armeniaca. The two fruits are similar when
they are in miniature, but when they are fully developed the outer green
coating of the almond, dries and eventually drops to the ground, leaving
the shell to dry, whereas the outer covering of the apricot kernel begins
to round out and the colour turns from a soft green to yellowy green,
to buttery yellow with a pink blush, to golden apricot. The colour transformation
takes about two to three weeks, with the fruit ripening on the top of
the tree first.
Making Apricot Jam
Each summer we would pick the golden
fruit and my mother would make jam to put into the pantry, as well as
apricot pies and stewed apricots to eat with ice cream. I can recall
sitting at the kitchen table, the kitchen window wide open to allow
some cool air to enter the hot kitchen, as we cut each fruit in half
and took out the stone. The fruit was weighed and placed into my mother's
large jam pan, which incidentally I still have, although it has a small
hole in the bottom.
The jam pan would then be placed onto the primus
stove at a very low temperature, and the fruit was stirred constantly
until the juice had begun to run, and to prevent the fruit from sticking
to the base of the pan and burning. When the apricots were cooked down
to a pulp we would add the sugar and raise the heat to a strong simmer,
and using a very long handled wooden spoon, stir constantly to prevent
sticking once again until it had reached the setting point.
would place two saucers into the refrigerator to chill them, and then
to test the jam she would put a small amount of jam onto the cold china.
Fifteen minutes prior to the end of cooking we would add a few blanched
apricot kernels. My brother would have had the job of cracking the apricot
stones to get the little white kernels. He would sit on the stone step
at the back door, and, using my father's hammer, gently tap each stone
to just crack it open, though not so hard that the whole thing was crushed.
When he had obtained enough kernels, mum would pour hot water over them
in a bowl. After a few minutes the brown skin would split and we would
extract the shiny white kernel, which if chewed was extremely bitter,
but added an interesting flavour to the jam. In fact some people use
almonds in Apricot jam instead of the apricot kernels, as they also
have a slightly bitter flavour.
If after a few minutes the jam had
a fine skin on the surface the setting point had been reached, the stove
turned off and the jam filled into sterilized jars. The jars were covered
with clear cellophane covers and fastened with a rubber band. As a contrast,
I can remember my grandmother covering her jam with brown paper that
had been dipped into vinegar. The vinegar acted as a sterilising agent
for the paper, and would also prevent moulds from entering the jam through
the porous paper. As rubber bands were not easy to come by during war-time
she would fasten the paper with white kitchen string and tie it tightly.
Grandma's pantry, on one side of her laundry, was full of colour. She
had carrot jam, apricot jam and tomato jam on her shelves, as well as
preserved apricots and peaches in jars, along with pickled onions.
smell was simply wonderful, as the aromas of the various preserves escaped
through the brown paper covers, and added to the aroma of foods that
assailed the nose of any visitor to her home. With the plastic lined,
metal lids of today, there is no wonderful aroma in my pantry, but I
do know that my preserves are safe from moulds and pests.
Apricots feel wonderfully sensuous
in the hand. The outside of the skin has a soft downy or velvety feel,
and warmed by the sun a good sized fruit will just fill the palm of
my hand when I reach to pick it, being careful not to let it fall to
the ground and bruise. I bite into the fruit and the slightly tart juice
spurts onto my tongue, giving my taste buds a little jolt, then I chew
the delicious fruit and it slips into my throat. I prefer to pick the
fruit before it is fully ripe, thus preventing bruising, and also saving
it from the birds who also love to feast noisily in the higher branches.
Health Benefits of Apricots
There is nothing that gives me more
pleasure than to see my bucket of little golden globes when I have finished
picking the fruit for the day. I can look forward with pleasure to eating
some of this wonderful fruit with a meal. No need to prepare elaborate
desserts when we have these little wonders coming directly from our
own tree, so fresh and full of goodness. Fresh apricots are healthy
because they contain lots of beta carotene, the plant form of vitamin
A, and which is a good anti-oxidant. They are also high in fibre and
low in calories, and make a good snack. Weight for weight, dried apricots
are an even healthier option as the drying process increases the concentration
of the beta carotene and fibre and also the levels of potassium and iron.
Our apricot tree grows in a lawned
area at the side of our house. In winter its bare but majestic limbs
reach for the winter sky, but in spring it is a beautiful thing in a
white filmy dress dancing on my side lawn. In summer the heavily laden
limbs bend low with invitation, and I am able to pick some of the fruit
without climbing a ladder. The leaves are broad and roundish, with pointed
apex; smooth; margin, finely serrated; petiole half an inch to an inch
long, generally tinged with red, and provide shelter for the developing
fruit and in some cases protection from the hungry birds.
At Christmastime the widely spreading
arms of the apricot tree, heavy with promise and just showing a change
in fruit colour, provide shade for a family picnic on the lawn, and
the tree seems to know that it must wait for the family to go home so
that we can give the fruit our full attention. We pick fruit morning
and night, and sometimes in between as we rush out through the door
to clap our hands at marauding birds that have come to feast on the
topmost branches where the Australian sun has touched the fruit first.
Neighbours, family and friends also
share in our bounty, as we have far more than we can use. One could
speculate on the sense of even going to all the trouble of caring for
our garden of fruit trees. We have the apricot, two plums, a laden avocado,
a lemon, a grapefruit, and two apple trees. Although the produce from
these is superfluous to the needs of two people, we enjoy sharing the
bounty so much that the work involved in caring for them is deemed worthwhile.
My freezer is now bulging with frozen
apricot halves that will either be stewed as required or made into jam.
Our children all like a little bit of jam on their toast, and obviously
this will give this retired sauce and jam-maker something to do in the
autumn when precocious winds blow through the valley, tugging the yellowing
leaves from the apricot tree, and the cycle begins all over again.
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