Making the Best of a Bad Purchase

I love Apricots and so does my 3-year-old son. Last summer he climbed up a ladder into an apricot tree and devoured 3 huge ones, never having tried one before. So in a fit of fear of missing the short apricot season entirely I purchased a case from a source I knew better than to trust in having good fruit. And I should have known better when, having asked the somewhat dumbfounded clerk if I could taste one before I purchased the case, I handed the other half to my son who took one bite and handed it back to me.

 

So I made two LARGE batches of jam, cursing my poor decision along the way. I typically add a bit of orange zest and juice to my apricot jam, something my grandmother always did (though she added pineapple as well) and with a bunch of lemon juice too, the jams are actually quite good. But now I understand why many people are uninspired by apricots.  There must be a lot of bad apricots out there. Apricots that are mealy and flavorless or hard and flavorless not sweet and juicy and musky and heavenly like they can and should be.

 

One of my earliest childhood memories is of driving through the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River to pick apricots and climbing ladders in the hot wind of the Gorge in mid-summer and eating and eating them up in the trees. And then driving home dusty and sticky, the car filled with the sweet warm scent of apricots.  They are really an easy fruit to work with too–a cinch to wash, no need to peel, and they’re free-stone.

 

So a few lessons from this experience. 1) I’ve been lucky to have grown up with good apricots. 2) Good products need much less doctoring and are delicious as is so if you’re after fresh eating, maybe better to skip them if they’re not very good. 3) The practice of breeding fruit (or veggies)  for portability and visual appeal rather than flavor is a shame. 4) I’ll buy my apricots from the farmers’ markets or u-pick in the future, even though I  know that this jam will be welcome in the dead of winter.

So today I decided to turn the final bowl of sorry fruit into a cobbler. This is hands-down my favorite cobbler recipe. It was originally written for Italian Prunes (or plums as most now call them) but is equally good with apricots and peaches or a combination or with the addition of a few handfuls of blackberries.

It calls for a bit of cardamom and crunchy turbinado sugar on the tops of the biscuits and is a perfect combination of juicy fruit and light, creamy biscuits. And the poor apricots, doctored up with lemon juice and zest, and said cardamom cooked up into a very good cobbler.

Apricot, Peach, or Plum Cobbler
–Adapted from Claudia Fleming

 

For the Biscuits:

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (or half all-purpose and half whole wheat pastry flour)

3 tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

For the Filling:

2 1/2 lbs of fruit (apricots, peaches, plums or a combination) to yield 6-7 cups

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar

 

Preheat oven to 375.

 

To make the biscuits, mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the mixture with a pastry cutter until the butter is the size of large peas. Stir the cream in with a fork and gather the dough into a ball. Turn it out onto a floured work surface and shape the dough into 8, about 2-inch balls. Place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly. Refrigerate for  20 minutes or up to 2 hours. If you’re in a hurry you can skip this step. I have had fine results as well.

 

Mix the fruit with the sugar and spices in a 2 quart gratin dish. I used cardamom and 3 teaspoons of lemon juice and the zest of half a lemon in my apricot version today and skipped the cinnamon. I also used a generous 1/4 cup of sugar. Taste the fruit before you bake the cobbler and adjust sugar to taste. Place the flattened balls of dough evenly on the fruit. Brush the remaining cream on the biscuits and sprinkle the turbinado sugar on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the top is lightly browned. Serve warm are at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

 

And apricot cobbler for breakfast is a treat, even with second-rate fruit!

 

 

Food as Gift

This topic warrants at least half-a-dozen posts but to at least start this favorite topic of mind, here’s what I have going on today. I should preface this by explaining that I’m going to NYC for a very quick trip planned just last week for some Slow Food USA board work. This trip has inspired quite the variety of food-as-gift and food-in-trade scenarios.

First of all, I have lots of beautiful lettuce that is going to bolt soon. And I have basil, which did ultimately survive the wet spring and is now prolific. While I’m out-of-town I don’t think my husband will have time to put this to use so I offered it up on Facebook. My neighbors weighed in first so they’re going to get it.

Secondly, I have a limited wardrobe these days. Three-and-a-half years of raising a kid and working from home, in the garden and kitchen, does not make for a New York City meetings and dinners kind of wardrobe.  However, I have a great summery dress that I rarely wear  and I finally figured out that it’s just a bit too long. So, my wonderful neighbor Bev who is an accomplished seamstress fixed this problem for me last night. So she gets Yogurt Panna Cotta with Apricot Compote this evening in exchange.

The third food-as-gift endeavor involves baking a batch of my new favorite cookies which will be split three ways 1) my host and dear friend Gail in Brooklyn, 2) the fabulous Slow Food USA staff, and 3) and my husband and son.

Fourth, today a friend migrated all my data from my ancient and dying computer to my new (refurbished), shiny laptop for me. This will promptly result in a meal plus dessert upon my return.

My first forays into cooking involved giving it as a gift and I got hooked on the pleasure of creating something edible to share or give away. My mother, who as you know, influenced my approach to food and cooking in innumerable ways, always brings a tin of cookies to meetings. So as I finish this post in mid-air, flying past Mount St. Helen’s with two cookie tins at my feet, I am grateful for the gift of food.