Most people have never tasted a perfectly ripe, fragrant apricot, or felt juice run as they bit into it or wondered at how the tangy flavor even seems to well on the tongue after swallowing. Resignation is such that most recipes call for dried fruit. A Lebanese saying: bukra fil-mishmish, or “tomorrow in apricot season,"translates roughly as “dream on.”
But we in California know better. We have Blenheim apricots, or, as some people call them, Royal Blenheims. Technically, the variety comes from England, where it likes a sheltering walled garden and royal horticulturist. But it is happiest here. California growing season is perfect for Blenheims to flower in the winter, grow while there is enough but not too much spring rain, and ripen in early July, narrowly beating the fierce heat of summer. The result, now appearing in farmers markets, is a glorious thing: dreamily fragrant, glowing yellow, with a blushing orange cheek where the fruit faced the sun.
But there is no time to waste. The Blenheim signs may have just gone up at farmers markets across L.A., but they will be down before the slowest among us get our eyeglasses out. Andrew Baker’s crew from Cirone Farms in San Luis Obispo gives them another two weeks. They sell Blenheims by the pound, for $2.50, but the people buying them at Santa Monica Farmers Market last week were carrying them off by the case, at $25 for 20 pounds. If you want less fruit, bring a box so as not to bruise them in a bag.
If you can, buy a case. Buy enough for everyone in the house to have, one, two, make that five (they’re not much bigger than a golf ball, at the largest a Hacky Sack).
Then have a plan. Make a tart. Better yet, make jam. If you can’t do it immediately, a friend who makes superb Blenheim jam assures me that until you do, you can simply halve and stone them and freeze them in a Ziploc bag. Save 10 pits for every 5 pounds of fruit, because the kernels inside will be needed as flavoring.
These will impart an all important almond note. Apricots are in the prunus genus, along with plums, peaches and almonds, and they have a special affinity for almonds. The kernels go in the famous Amaretti cookies, which, by the by, are superb with jam. But don’t overdo it. In small amounts the kernels are delicious; in medium amounts, bitter; in absurd amounts, a potentially lethal source of cyanide.
Most apricot jam recipes call for dried fruit, precisely because the fresh fruit is normally so disappointing. But make jam fresh from ripe Blenheims, and you will experience an intensity of flavor, an aroma and brightness so special that it gives meaning to living in Los Angeles. Taste a Blenheim, and the world suddenly divides up into places that have them and places that don’t.