Apricot lovers from all over the United States observe National Apricot Day every year on January 9th.
The apricot’s velvety flesh is similar to that of their relative the peach. The texture of the golden-orange fruit is more firm and the flavor more tart than its cousin. This versatile fruit is enjoyed fresh, canned and dried.
Apricots are found the world over, but originated in northeastern China near the Russian border in ancient times and were later introduced to Europe and Armenia.
The apricot tree was domesticated in China some 4,000 years ago. From there, apricots made their way across Asia to the Mediterranean region. The Spanish Conquistadores introduced apricots to the Americas back in the 16th century, planting the trees all over what is now the west coast of the United States.
The apricot found its way to North American when English colonists settled in Virginia. The fruit was brought further west by Spanish explorers and missionaries where the fruit is grown commercially today.
The apricot tree can grow to 45 feet if left unpruned. It produces white, pink or red blossoms and is a winter hardy tree. However, early frosts can damage the fruit.
The word ‘apricot’ in Latin purportedly means “precious”, but further investigation reveals that while this moniker is appropriate, it actually comes from Arabic ‘al barqūq’ (“early ripe”) via French ‘abricot’. “Early ripe” is appropriate because apricots tend to ripen earlier than most summer fruits. Drying apricots has been a common preservation practice for centuries. Most store-bought apricots retain the bright orange colour that the fruits have when ripe. Organic dried apricots would be more brown in colour and the bright orange is a sign that the fruits were treated with sulphur compounds.
- California produces 95 percent of the U.S. apricot supply.
- The fruit is a member of the rosaceae or rose family and is closely related to the similar-looking peach and plum.
- Apricots are available from California from late spring through mid-summer and from Washington from mid-summer through early fall. Chilean fruit is available during the off-season.
- Apricots should be stored at room temperature until ripe. Refrigerating apricots before they reach the desired ripeness will stop the ripening process. Apricots can be placed in a paper bag to speed up ripening.
- Apricot trees generally grow to be 12 to 15 feet tall and will produce fruit for 20 to 25 years.
- To select ripe apricots, look for fruit with a rich, orange color — not pale yellow or green — that’s a little soft to the touch.