“ According to Wikipedia American tank-driving soldiers will not eat apricots, allow apricots onto their vehicles and often will not even say the word apricot. This superstition stems from Sherman tank breakdowns purportedly happening in the presence of cans of apricots. „
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~~~About the Apricot Tree~~~
Apricot is the fruit of Prunus armeniaca, a tree of the family Rosaceae, closely related to the almond, peach, plum and cherry. Although, native to the Far East it has long been cultivated in Armenia, from where it was introduced into Europe and the USA.
I have never grown an apricot tree in UK but we had several in our garden when we lived in Portugal. The tree is self-fruiting which means that it doesn't need another tree for pollination so you can grow one tree on its own or several. It's not a very big tree, about 8-10 metres in height with a thick canopy of leaves that are oval in shape, have a pointed tip and a fine jagged margin. Our trees were planted on small terraces, and with the Algarve having a good climate all year round we weren't ever worried about frost. In UK it is a different matter; frost can kill the blossom and affect the fruit later on in the summer months. I suggest planting on high ground.
Even though the trees were not in direct sunlight we were told by our Portuguese neighbour, Manel, to protect the tree trunks from the sun and high temperatures. He suggested that we paint the bottom of the trunks with a non-caustic paint, preferably one that dried quickly and didn't contain turpentine or oil. Once painted, the white surface reflects the sun's rays and stops it penetrating the bark.
From June to September the ground in the Algarve can get really dried out and crack. This isn't good for apricot trees so we had to make sure that the soil was nourished on a regular basis. We did this by going down to the local Cooperativa to buy minerals in the form of phosphorus and potassium. In UK I don't think it is necessary to supplement the soil as these minerals will be present.
The blossom of the apricot tree is a very pretty sight in the Algarve in February, blankets of flowers with five petals, varying in colour from snowy white to pale pink. I was always pleased that these trees blossomed early before the March/April winds came. It meant that the flowers stayed on the branches longer before they fell to the ground forming a soft, delicate blanket to walk upon.
To make sure you get a good crop of good sized fruits I suggest that as soon as the fruits are noticeable, start to thin them out. It is important not to let the tree become top heavy with fruit as the sun won't be able to get through. Fruit should sit on the branches 1.5 ins to 2ins apart. If pruned correctly the harvested fruit should be a deeper colour and a better flavour due to the sunlight being able to get to the fruits.
The fruit of the tree is a drupe which means a fleshy fruit with a thin skin and a central stone containing the seed. To look at, it is very much like a small peach (bottom shaped) and the flesh varies from yellow to orange, sometimes red if it has been exposed to the sun too much. To touch, the skin is soft and velvety, with very fine hairs covering the outer skin. When picked from the tree the flesh should be firm and full of juice. Usually the taste is sweet but occasionally can be quite sharp.
~~~Interesting Facts about the fruit - fresh and dried~~~
Apricots are probably not as popular as every day fruits like apples, pears and oranges; this is because they are more expensive per kilogram. However, both fresh and dried apricots are delicious and nutritious. Dried apricots are much higher in carbohydrate than fresh but do have a higher concentration of some vitamins and nutrients.
Both types of apricots have an excellent source of Vitamin A which is essential for healthy vision, eyes, skin and growth. Potassium content is high in apricots, this mineral being an electrolyte, helping to control electricity in our bodies. Along with sodium, it is important in maintaining fluid balance and regulating blood pressure.
Due to the Vitamin A and C content, apricots have antioxidants; these are compounds that help to protect the body's cells against the damaging effects of free radicals.
For people who are carrying out a weight loss programme, apricots are an excellent source of low calorie food and can help if eaten on a regular basis to maintain a healthy body weight.
Apricots are high in fibre which is essential to keep the colon healthy and helps aid digestion.
Apricot oil has been proven to help with skin ailments such as eczema. Rub a few drops gently on the affected areas, this will help soothe the irritated skin and you will notice an improvement after a few days.
Vitamin A (retinol), Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Vitamin B9 (Folate - folic acid)
Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium (t)
~~~Shopping and storing tips~~~
Apricots are a seasonal fruit but if you wish to eat them all year round dried apricots are widely available in health stores and supermarkets. However, fresh apricots when picked off the tree and ripened are succulent and delicious. Since leaving Portugal, I have found apricots bought in supermarkets to be pretty tasteless and dry. This is because they have not been left on the tree to mature. Your best bet is to go to a Farmers Market for your purchase. Fruits should have a strong aroma, soft to touch and have a deep orange colour.
Dried apricots are treated with sulfur dioxide in order to help preserve their shelf-life and bright orange colouring. You will notice that organic apricots, fruits that haven't been treated, are a much darker orange/brown colour.
Apricots do go off quickly so if you don't want to eat the fruits immediately, I suggest you wrap them in polythene and store in a refrigerator for a couple of days.
As I have already stated above, apricots are delicious eaten fresh. It's best to eat them at room temperature. They are a good ingredient to add to cakes and pies, on top of cereal and served with ice cream, pancakes, jelly. I have added apricots to salads before which makes a refreshing change and apricot jam is one of my favourite jams as the taste is subtle and looks so attractive served on crusty bread or toast.
Dried apricots are widely used in North African cooking in many tagine recipes combined with chicken and lamb. You will see this jolly orange fruit served with rice and couscous too.
I don't live in the Algarve now but still miss my fruit trees. However, it doesn't stop me eating apricots, I love the taste and texture. They are very good for you - go on treat yourself to a kilo!
Have you ever eaten a fresh apricot? Well I'm sure most have us have eaten this fruit at some stage in our life, but I would hazard a guess that most likely It was dried and packaged, with a nice cheery picture of shriveled up fruit on the cover.
I have always loved apricots and recently I befriended a Iranian women, who I met at a trade fair in Frankfurt, she gave me a pack of Iranian dried apricots. They were a completely different fruit then the one that I had been used to in Europe. They were a dark brown color, and my God the flavor was incredible, it turns out that the reason that we have yellow apricots is because it is treated with sulfur dioxide in order to keep the attractive color. But having a yellow apricot isn't worth the compromise in flavor.
Oh but there is so much more to this fruit, then its great taste, there are health benefits as well, but firsts lets take a look at its history.
Apricots originated from Asia, although they are cultivated all around the world now, with groves in Australia, America and the Mediterranean region.
Contrary to what most people assume, Apricots are native to a continental climate, meaning that they can endure winters with temperatures even lower then -30 C The only problem is that since they tend to flower quite early, spring frosts are very damaging.
Apricots are smaller then a peach and are a yellow/orange color, slightly red, depending on how much sun they get. They belong to the subgenus prunus along with the plum.
The seed is encased in a hard shell, but if cracked the seed (depending on where it was cultivated) is quite sweet, and tastes similar to an almond, it even has the same appearance. The Italian liquor Amaretto is made from an extract of apricot kernels, not almonds, although that is what it tastes like.
Apricots possess the highest levels of carotenoids, which are antioxidants that help prevent heart disease, and reduce "bad cholesterol" levels. Dried apricots contain allot of fiber and are great for alleviating constipation besides tasting great.
The kernel is a debatable subject; many health firms claim that due to its high levels of amygdalin it is a powerful combatant against cancer. There are mixed views but if you are interested in reading up more on this then here is a link http://www.regenerativenutrition.com/content.asp?id=79
But do not overdue, apricot kernels as well as bitter almonds contain cyanide, which if consumed on a large amount is dangerous to humans. Side effects include dizziness, nausea, vomiting and headache, and at worst case scenario, can even kill you. (This is in theory no reported cases of apricot kernel deaths have been recorded, although the amount of cyanide contained in a kilo of kernels is a lethal amount, if eaten at one time) Eating 5-6 kernels a day is recommended as a long-term preventative against cancer, by many health specialists.
FAVORITE RECIPE WITH APRICOT.
Yes I know, that they are great in fruit cakes and cookies, but do you want to be adventurous?
One of my all time favorites is Stewed Lamb with Apricots. Originally a Middle Eastern recipe, this is a succulent dish that just hits the spot!
600gr stew lamb, in pieces.
two cloves garlic.
five spoons orange juice.
one hand full coriander leaves, plus some for garnish.
one hand full mint leaves.
one tablespoon ground cumin.
one tablespoon ground coriander.
one teaspoon chilli.
one pinch nutmeg.
one sliced onion.
two cans chopped tomato.
200 gr apricots.
500ml vegetable stock.
50 gr chopped and pitted dates.
(I add more of the spices, but that is because I like my food spicy, if you prefer then experiment with adding more of these spices)
Fry the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil, add the spices and herbs. Stir until soft, then add the lamb and fry until well browned. Add vegetable stock, orange juice and tomato cans, stir and let simmer. Let simmer with lid off till sauce has thickened. Then leave it with lid on till lamb is soft and tender, half an hour before you serve add dates and apricots. Just before serving garnish with chopped fresh coriander.
This is a great sauce that is served with couscous, or if you like pita bread and yogurt