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Friday, 8 July 2011

Our apricot tree (Η βερυκοκιά μας)

While I'm preparing my contribution for the First Symposium of Greek Gastronomy on Cretan Cuisine, here's an idea of what I have also been preparing food-wise at home.

apricot treeapricot treeOver the years, we've had many fruit trees in our garden. We used to have peach and nectarine, which both did well, but attracted too many pests, orange (we got tired of it, since we also own orange orchards), loquat (which didn't really do well) and plum, which dried up and died after serving us well for a number of years. Now we have a young lemon, a budding pomegranate and a shrubby lychee tree, while in the same position as the plum tree, there is now an apricot tree.

Most years, the apricot tree produced a very abundant crop, but about a third of the fruit was often lost to infestations of various pests, mainly little white worms. This year's crop - magically - managed to avoid such infestations, so the crop from that one tree was enormous.

 apricot harvest
This represents about a third of this year's harvest, from just one tree...

Apart from eating the fruit just as it was or giving it away, I found (through readers' suggestions on my facebook page) a range of delicious transformations for it. Some of the recipes are for eating right away, while other were for preserving; what's more, they don't need refrigeration, which means I'm saving on energy too.

JUST ONE TREE...

apricot jam
Apricot jam: Fruit jam, made when the fruit is ripe and full of seasonal flavour, never fails to remind you of summer and the more bountiful seasons.

apricot upside down cake
Apricot cake: I love fruit-filled desserts, and they go very well with ice-cream in the summer season. This upside-down apricot cake can also be made with fresh pears (which will be in season soon after the apricot season ends). Apricot crumble also comes to mind, as I remember making with plums, as does apricot clafoutis.

drying apricots drying apricots
Dried apricots: Drying fruit and vegetables was once very common in rural Crete. It's still popular for tomatoes, figs and raisins. This is going to make a nice addition to breakfast cereal. I dipped these apricot halves in orange juice, then let them dry partially in the oven and in the sun. These didn't last till winter - they were too tasty: 'Mmmm, they taste like jelly fruit, don't they Mum?!'

apricot ice cream sorbet
Apricot ice-cream sorbet: This idea was born from a series of kitchen mistakes that came about from my kids: my daughter wanted to make a creme caramel dessert, but when I poured the hot caramel onto a beautiful ceramic dish - the only one in my house that wasn't chipped - it cracked!; I had already made the custard, so I made another batch of caramel and poured it onto another tin with a removable base (but the mixture leaked out of the dish!; then I decided to make a pavlova with the egg whites that had remained from the custard making (but the day was hot and the pavlova meringue fell flat!; I had bought some cream to whip up and give the pavlova more body (but the cream, being 'lite', didn't whip thick enough! Having been instructed on making ice-cream by another blog reader, I had some idea of how to make ice-cream!

apricot chutney apricot chutney
Apricot chutney: Chutney is like a sweet-and-sour jam, something that comes between making marmalade and tomato sauce. the original recipe used peaches; I also changed some of the spices to suit Cretan tastes (I added some dried bay leaves). Chutney is generally not well-known in Cretan cooking - and I don't really know how it's going to be received when I begin to serve it; I'm looking forward to having it with pork steak and roast chicken.

'canned' apricots
And last, but not least, my daughter's invention, fruit salad: Apricots, like peaches, are often sold canned in syrup. This is the beast way to preserve peaches, because peach is bruise-prone and highly susceptible to post-harvest damage. After trying some peaches in syrup as a store-bought treat, my daughter 'recreated' the recipe at home, using apricots (which she thought looked like peaches), chopped and placed in a cup of orange juice. Processed food makes a great impression on all of us, because it's often very tasty!

JUST ONE TREE!

Some of these recipes are very new for my family, and it will no doubt take a little while to get used to eating in new ways. But I look forward to eating the preserves during the less fruitful colder months to come, when the garden won't be so productive, and Greece will find herself in the midst of a difficult period of austerity. The preserving looks like a lot of work, but don't be afraid of it. You just need to plan ahead; I prepared all this food in the space of one week, while I was taking part of my annual leave from work, necessitated partly by Greek unionised state sector strike action, and partly by the very long school Greek summer holiday period, primary schools close in mid-June and re-open in mid-September, which simply creates havoc for most working mothers.

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