When is a plum not a plum?
When it is the Armenian plum or what we call the modern day apricot. Some say the origin of the humble apricot was in China (is not everything these days!), while others argue that it was first cultivated in India some 3000 years before the birth of Christ.
Whoever wins lays claim to one of the tastiest and juiciest summer fruits and could also lay claim to cancer treatment properties of the apricot kernels (what you find inside the stone when you crack it) which have been used for centuries to treat tumours, swellings and ulcers. Cancer researchers in the UK summed it up with, "if simply eating apricot seeds could cure cancer, no one would be more delighted than us."
The fact that food may be medicine is not new; it is a long-held belief by many cultures that what you eat plays are large role in your health. Although the apricot kernels may be a alternative treatment they can also kill you, containing as it does some 2 per cent hydrogen cyanide.
I can always remember being told when I started my cooking career to discard the kernels just in case I ever swallowed one (yes, this is an old wives' tale). They are commonly used around the world to make serious Italian foods such as amaretto cookies and liqueurs and also in jams and jellies. As with all things in the world it is about moderation; small amounts are often the key, and this goes for old wives tales as well.
Whatever your thoughts and beliefs on the health properties of apricots, there is no denying they are one of the tastiest summer fruits that you can find, I am talking about the tree-ripened, sun-kissed varieties that are soft and squishy and not the unripe rock hard ones that have been sitting in a controlled fridge environment for weeks. Freshly picked from the tree or direct from the grower is certainly the best way to enjoy an apricot. As quoted by Margot Asquith, Countess of Oxford and Asquith: "No one ever pruned me. If you have been sunned through and through like an apricot on a wall from your earliest days, you are oversensitive to any withdrawal of heat."
Nice in a small-bite sizes, these friands make the perfect excuse for morning or afternoon tea.
3 egg whites , whisked to soft peaks
100g butter, melted and cooled
125g icing sugar
40g plain flour
100g ground almonds, sifted with the icing sugar and flour
3 apricots, very ripe, stoned and diced (if you want some on top, keep back a few pieces to add with the almonds)
3 Tbsp flaked almonds
Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Fold the egg whites and butter into the dry ingredients, followed by the apricots. Spoon into eight well-buttered friand or muffin tins. Sprinkle with almonds.
- The Marlborough Express