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apricots1

My summer pilgrimage to the Okanagan is often oriented around fruit. If I’m there in July, I spend far too much time standing on my parents’ picnic table, eating cherries straight off the tree. If it’s August, then peaches. Lots and lots of fresh peaches, eaten over the sink as the juice drips down my hand and chin.

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This year, I was lucky enough to also get my hands on a couple of boxes of apricots. While my parents’ small espaliered tree didn’t get pollinated this year, my mother’s coworker had a tree laden with fruit and invited us to come and pick as many as we wanted. How can you turn down an offer like that?

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The thing about apricots is, they are immeasurably better cooked than raw. And the beauty of them is you don’t even need a knife for processing – you can just tear them apart with your fingers, and the pit comes right out. Easy and fast, though even at that speed, two boxes full is a lot to deal with.

apricot-compote

I wasn’t in the mood for canning, so one bag of apricot halves went in the freezer, and I filled the dehydrator trays with another batch. Home-dried apricots aren’t soft and bright orange like the store-bought ones – you need additives for that – but if you dry them until they’re hard, they keep well, and are a spectacular addition to oatmeal (throw them in to soften while it’s cooking) in winter months.

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The apricots that had started going mushy – that’s the thing about fresh fruit, it needs to be dealt with so fast – went into a big pot with just a small amount of sugar, to be turned into compote. Halfway between jam and stewed fruit (maybe more on the stewed fruit side), this just-sweetened-enough fruit puree disappeared pretty quickly, mixed in with yogurt, poured onto ice cream, and on the side of a sweet pavlova we had for dessert one night. Many recipes call for the apricot seeds – you can crack the pits open like a nut – to be tossed in with the jam or compote to add an almond-like flavour. I cracked a few open then pinched my hand in the nutcracker and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Almost a month later, there’s still a faint line on my palm.

apricot-cake

A Smitten Kitchen-style apricot crumble – that is, designed for breakfast – was another favourite. Topped with oats and crunchy pecans and served with plain yogurt, it was the perfect start to the hot, sunny days, scooped into a bowl and enjoyed on the front porch. I also threw together an apricot and cherry clafoutis based on the recipe in David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris (Amazon/iTunes/Kobo), and a gorgeous apricot and almond pound-type cake that I didn’t love enough to make again, except for how the apricots are placed on top.

In the end, we had a lot of apricot pits, and a lot of sweets, and a desire to do it all again next year. There are so many more apricot recipes to try.

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And by the way, if you’re a fruit lover, you’ll adore this story about apricots by Montreal writer Adam Leith Gollner, which I originally read in issue 2 of Lucky Peach magazine.

apricots-on-newspaper

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Not Far From the Tree is a Toronto group that organizes volunteer pickings of residential fruit trees when the owners are unwilling or unable to do it themselves – and you wouldn’t believe how many trees there are in this city. This is, I think, my third year volunteer-picking for them – I never do tons of picks, just a few to keep in the loop and get some fruit.

This morning I helped out with a cherry pick at a house near Bloor and Christie. There were seven of us plus two kids helping out. The tree was huge, and we knew when we started we would have to leave some for the birds.

We always start by clearing the ground of branches, windfall and fruit half eaten by birds or squirrels. Then it’s time to pick. This morning involved a lot of reaching:

And climbing:

And sorting:

But we all agreed the result was worth it.

One-third of the cherries picked go to charity, one-third to the homeowner (though they often give that up), and one-third to the volunteers. I ate many cherries today.

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My parents live in BC’s Okanagan valley and have a cherry tree in their yard, which provides pounds and pounds of delicious cherries to be eaten fresh, baked with, dried and canned. (The home-dried cherries, which are quite hard, are perfect added to oatmeal while it cooks.)

The cherries are so delicious that the birds love them, too. This week, as I’ve been visiting, tons of birds have been pecking away at the cherries, which aren’t quite ripe yet (but are getting there fast). So last night, we took preventive measures and performed the annual putting up of the net.

The net doesn’t entirely stop the birds (there are three out there on top of the tree as I type) but it makes it hard for them to land on the tree, as they don’t like standing on the net. So it’s a good compromise – some cherries for them, some for us. (I might have nibbled some not-quite-ripe cherries myself while we were doing the work.)

Putting up the net involves long sticks, finesse and a bit of ladder time. It likes to stick to the tree, you see. But it’s worth it to see the tasty fruit protected.

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