It wouldn’t be right to say that I went to California last week to look for apricots—I had a lot to take care of—but that definitely played a part. Since some time around 15 years ago, when David Karp—not the Tumblr one, the fruit-whisperer one—met me at the Santa Monica farmers’ market and introduced me to real apricots, I have been, well, interested. (NOT obsessed.)
The short version of my own investigations is that the shelf-life of a good apricot is less than 48 hours, which means that you: a) pick them yourself, b) get someone to pick them and give/sell them to you FAST, or c) eat dried apricots, which are themselves awesome (especially if you get the Blenheim variety, which ship just fine).
So I went to visit friends near Hollister last week, with a couple of goals, among them to find apricots. They kindly found a friend whose wife had worked in an orchard when she was in high school, and the orchard owners in turn kindly let us stroll through and pick a few pounds. There were 20 or 30 trees there, each with widely differing numbers of apricots of varying ripeness. I have no idea what variety they were, nor did anyone else. I just know that eating them was, like, over the moon.
Some of the best were on the ground—warm, soft, jammy. They made my teeth hurt, but the intense sweetness was balanced by acidity. I’m not big on describing tastes (mostly because I’m not good at it), but I definitely smelled roses and tasted coconut; the experience was tropical.
On the tree, much of the fruit was unripe. After gently squeezing about 200 apricots, with an exceedingly low return on investment, I discovered that one way to find fruit that’s ready is to gently shake a branch, then investigate what falls down; most of that fruit was B+ or better, though a few were unripe.
Some of the fruit on the ground was damaged; you couldn’t sell it in a market. However, often it was still half-edible: One side was rotten, the other side delicious. We ate our way through a fair amount of that.
Of the four of us, three ate ourselves sick. (The fourth mostly picked a box for friends.) I packed some to bring to Kate’s house for Father’s Day. I transported them in egg cartons (with one plum, for variety), and we devoured them. Of special interest were two that had semi-dried on the tree: Fantastic.
Anyway, the bottom line is this: Like many berries, apricots have got to be ripe and fresh when you buy them. Those sold in supermarkets aren’t worth the plastic bags you put them in.
– Mark Bittman