Welcome to this week’s post where Carol Taylor and I combine forces and share not just the health benefits of foods but some recipes to showcase them in all their glory. I appreciate that these posts are longer than the average but we hope that you feel that you are getting value for your time…I am going to share the health benefits of this amazing fruit before Carol includes them in some fabulous recipes for all the family to enjoy.
The apricot season opens at the beginning of May and goes through to the end of August or early September, which gives us five months to enjoy this highly nutritious and healing food.
First though a little history about this luscious golden yellow fruit. In China over 4000 years ago a bride will have not only had something borrowed and something blue but would have also been nibbling on an apricot. It was prized for its ability to increase fertility, which is not surprising, as it is high in nutrients necessary for the production of sex hormones.
The Latin name for the apricot is “praecocia” which means precocious or early ripening. It is part of the rose family and is a cousin to the peach, plum, cherry and the almond. In China it first grew wild in the mountains before being introduced to Arab traders who took it with them along the trade routes to Babylon and Persia where they were called the “eggs of the sun”. Over the following centuries the fruit continued its travels reaching Greece where the juice was known as “nectar of the Gods, then onto Spain, Mexico and North America. It is now cultivated in all warm climates around the world and used as a sweet and savoury addition to a healthy diet.
The health benefits of apricots
As with any fresh fruit the apricot is packed with fibre and nutrients including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamins B1, B2, B6, Vitamin E, Potassium and Iron. Of particular interest from a therapeutic viewpoint are its high levels of carotenoids.
Carotenoids are responsible for the wonderfully rich reds, oranges and yellow colouring of plant leaves, fruits, flowers and some birds, insects and fish such as salmon. There are around 600 carotenoids that occur naturally and the apricot has two in particular that benefit us, Beta-carotene and lycopene.
Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy sight especially at night. As with any part of the body the sensitive components of the eye are as vulnerable to oxidative damage as any other and Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to degenerative eye disease in many research programmes. It has also shown that eating just three portions a day of yellow and orange fruit and vegetables such as apricots and carrots would lower the risk of poor eyesight as we age.
As an anti-oxidant, beta-carotene protects the LDL or harmful cholesterol from free radical damage that can cause plaque to form in the arteries. A build up of plaque can lead to both heart disease and a higher risk of stroke.
Lycopene is usually associated with bright red fruits such as tomatoes but it is also present in apricots. As well as helping protect the eyes from degenerative disease, lycopene is associated with a reduction in damage to LDL cholesterol and a much lower risk of developing a number of cancers including bladder, breast, cervix, prostate and skin.
There has been considerable interest in the medicinal properties of the apricot kernel for the last 40 years. There has been some controversial claims made about cancer curing abilities that has not been well received by the medical profession or pharmaceutical companies. Hopefully ongoing research will prove that this is a natural alternative to the highly invasive treatments currently available such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Modern scientists are not the first researchers in history to explore the possibilities of the apricot kernel.
The medicinal properties of apricots.
In ancient China over 4,000 years ago, healers used a medicine made from the kernels to prolong life. Additionally the oils from the kernels were used as a sedative, muscle relaxant, in wound healing and as an anti-parasitic.
The apricot’s fibre makes it a gentle laxative; aids weight loss and reduces cholesterol in the blood. Its alkaline properties aid digestion if eaten before a meal and due to the high content of iron it is excellent for anyone suffering from anaemia. Apricots also contain a small but essential amount of copper, which may increase the production of haemoglobin in the blood providing more oxygen and therefore energy for the body.
Over the centuries the juice of apricots mixed with honey has been used to treat fevers and the juice from the leaves appears to reduce the inflammation caused by eczema and sunburn.
So this small fruit has a large reputation and certainly in the fight against the most common modern diseases such as elevated cholesterol, heart disease and cancers it would definitely be worth including in your diet on a daily basis.
Apricots are best eaten when still a little firm. If they are not fully ripe when you buy them keep them in a fruit bowl for two to three days and then store in paper or plastic bag in the fridge for up to three days.
Apart from eating them fresh you can use them in cooking by stewing, grilling, baking or roasting and they are delicious as an accompaniment to meat and poultry dishes or in desserts. As a pre dinner snack they are delicious halved and stuffed with a cream cheese and chopped nuts. For a main course serve in a fresh spinach and walnut salad with roast salmon.
If you want to use dried apricots out of season then do buy guaranteed sulphite free brands as there are many people who react to this preservative. Asthma sufferers in particular should avoid any food containing sulphites including inexpensive wine, baked goods, soup mixes, jams, snacks and most dried fruit.
Now it is time to hand over a bag of apricots to Carol Taylor to turn into fabulous recipes for you to indulge in.
I call it the amazing Apricot as it virtually alongside the doctors saved my life…No kidding about 20 years ago I was very, very anaemic so much so that I was whisked into hospital at a moment’s notice and operated on…Amongst other factors my iron levels were practically nonexistent and apart from medical intervention I was advised to eat dried apricots…They have always been one of my favourite fruits so although I had little appetite I was happy to nibble on those little golden pieces of heaven.
It took a few weeks before I was even close to being human again but I do credit those little apricots with contributing to helping to increase my iron levels.
Anyway, enough about me and…..
Apricots are a versatile little fruit which make a lovely jam and the recipe which I am going to start with as it is the basis for much more than just putting on your toast…
Apricot and Orange Blossom Jam.
- 1 kg apricots stoned and halved….If the apricots are large then cut into quarters.
- 750 gm preserving sugar
- The juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp of Orange blossom water
- A few knobs of butter (optional). The butter helps dissolve the scum on the top of the jam if there is any.
- Mix the apricots and the sugar together, cover and leave to stand overnight. I have to stand mine in a tray of water otherwise the pesky ants get into the sugar they don’t like swimming the moat however.
- Put a saucer in the freezer.
- When ready to cook put the apricots into a preserving pan which is flatter, wider and better for cooking preserves, add the lemon juice and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
- Once the sugar had dissolved then bring the apricots to a rolling boil for about 15 minutes.
- Remove the saucer from the freezer and the pan from the heat and spoon a little jam on to the cold saucer, if the mixture wrinkles when it cools then the jam has reached its setting point.
- If it is too runny then return the pan to the heat and bring to a rolling boil for 2-3 minutes then add another spoonful of jam to the saucer, repeat until the jam reaches its setting point.
- Then skim the surface of the jam to remove any scum which has formed and stir in the orange blossom and the butter if using. The butter helps dissolve any remaining scum.
- Leave the jam to cool for 15 minutes before transferring to sterilised jars.
- This jam will keep in the fridge for about 6 weeks.
Apricots wrapped in bacon make a lovely accompaniment to roast turkey instead of sausages.
A lovely apricot glaze for your baked ham.
- 2/3 cup of brown sugar
- 1/3 cup Apricot jam
- 1 tsp of mustard powder.
- Mix the ingredients together then brush your ham before you bake it with the glaze and then brush with the remainder of the glaze about 20 minutes from the end of the cooking time.
- It makes a lovely ham taste even better.
Dipping sauce for coconut prawns or chicken.
- ½ cup of apricot jam
- 2 tsp of Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp horseradish
Just combine the ingredients and you have a lovely dipping sauce.
Pork Loin is a wonderful thing stuffed with a beautiful homemade stuffing.
Ingredients for Apricot stuffing:
- 2 tbsp of minced or finely chopped garlic
- 16 whole cloves of garlic
- 3 tbsp of minced fresh rosemary or snip with scissors
- 16 dried apricots
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries
- Oil to cook garlic cloves
- Salt and pepper to season
- Cook the garlic cloves in oil until soft and lightly coloured, remove from the oil and retain the oil.
- Take your piece of pork loin and slit through the middle length wise so making a long pocket do not take it right to the end.
- With a brush coat the insides of the pocket with oil from the cooked garlic. Now the original recipe stated add everything in layers I found this humanely impossible so on my second attempt I mixed all the ingredients together using only 1 tbsp of the rosemary and stuffed the loin..my piece was about 1.5 kilos and I used the end of a plastic sauce bottle to push the stuffing to the end of the pork.
- Hubby then tied the pork loin together with kitchen string. I then brushed the outside with the remaining garlic oil and seasoned with salt and black pepper before roasting.
My mum used to make apple dumplings and they were really lovely and I have happy thoughts when I think of those ….These Apricot ones now take first place as they are awesome… A recipe given to me by my Swiss friend who calls them Wachauer Aprikosennodel and they truly are delicious.
- 1 pound of cold cooked potatoes
- 3 ¾ cups of all purpose flour
- 3/8ths cup of butter
- 1 egg yolk
- 12 whole apricots
- 12 lumps of sugar
- 1 ¼ cups of bread crumbs
- ¼ cup castor sugar
- 3 tbsp brandy
- Cinnamon powder
- Pinch of salt
- 10 apricot halves
- ¼ cup of apricot juice
- ¼ cup of brandy
- Grate the potatoes. Measure and sift flour. Measure the butter. Soak sugar lumps in brandy.
- Remove stone of whole apricots. Measure the breadcrumbs, sugar and brandy. Measure the ingredients for sauce. Mix flour with grated potato, add salt and egg yolk. Rub in butter and then turn dough out onto a floured board and knead.
- Press out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Place a lump of brandied sugar in each half apricot, cover with another apricot half. Cut dough into 4-inch squares. Place apricot in the centre and wrap dough around, squeezing edges of dough together.
- Trim off outside. Roll dumpling between palms of hands. Drop dumplings into a large saucepan of salted boiling water. Boil gently for 12 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
- Fry the bread crumbs with the sugar and 3 tablespoons fresh butter until crisp. Roll the dumplings in the bread crumbs and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place onto a heated serving dish.
To make the sauce:
- Place apricot halves with brandy and apricot juice into a blender and puree. Heat the sauce gently in a saucepan.
- Coat the dumplings with the apricot sauce. Serve the remaining sauce separately.
Lastly some little macaroons…
- 3 cups of sliced almonds
- 2/3 cup of sugar
- 2 large egg whites
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp vanilla essence
- ¼ cup of apricot jam
- Pre heat oven to 350 F.
- In a food processor grind almond, sugar and salt (I leave mine a little coarse) add egg whites and vanilla then pulse until the mixture forms a ball.
- With wet hands as the mix is very sticky shape a level tbsp of the mix into balls and then make an indent in the centre of each ball with a moist finger.
- Bake until crackly and light golden approx 15 – 20 mins depending on your oven.
- Cool for 5 mins and then transfer to a cooling rack.
- Warm the jam over a low heat and then put a tsp of jam in the centre of each cookie. Leave to cool.
As you can see in the hands of an expert, even the humble apricot acheives great things.. thank to Carol for all her efforts.
You can find out more about Carol and catch up with her Food and Cookery Column HERE
Connect to Carol via her blog: https://carolcooks2.com/