The apricot is a close relative to the plum, as you can see from its Latin name (Prunus armeniaca). It is also in the rose family, and as the Romans believed it came from Armenia, it got the name armeniaca. However it is now thought that the apricot originated in the Himalayan region as well as in China and Armenia. It was taken along the Silk Road by traders in ancient times, which is how it comes to have such a long history of cultivation. The first mention of cultivating apricots was made 3000 years ago, when they were being grown in India. The ancient Greeks thought that their gods drank the juice and pulp of apricots- their nectar, they believed was the juice of this fruit. In Eastern countries, they are known as “moon of the faithful” and in ancient Persia they were called “eggs of the sun”.
The kernels of the apricot may be obtained by cracking the hard case that surrounds them; they taste like bitter almonds, but contain cyanide and shouldn’t be eaten in quantities. For example 15 will kill a child. However, if they are roasted, the cyanide is neutralized. These kernels also contain amygdalin (vit B17) which a few decades ago was believed to be an effective cancer prevention remedy. However, recent studies have proved that this is not the case; or rather there is no sound clinical data to support this idea. They are used to flavour amaretto biscuits and Amaretto di Saronno, and to give an extra bite to apricot jams and preserves. Apricots are rich in minerals, particularly potassium, are low in fat content and cholesterol free. However dried apricots act as a mild laxative and so should not be eaten in too great a quantity.
There are some strange stories about apricots: one is that a kernel placed in a woman’s uterus was a form of contraceptive it was believed. In the Amtrac Platoon eating apricots was considered to be bad luck. This dates back to the Vietnam War, a US soldier was shot by snipers after eating tinned apricots.(He should have stuck with peaches.) Apparently even after the troops went home from Vietnam, they still believed that apricots brought bad luck.
In Pakistan they eat the dried fruit to break the fast during Ramadan, along with the more traditional dried dates. Of course, they eat the fresh fruit too in season, and use it to make pickles and desserts. The recipe below has more of a North African flavour and is one of my favourites.
1 kg lean lamb cut into cubes
10 large red chillies, deseeded and soaked in hot water for 10 mins
1 inch ginger root, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp cumin seeds
3 tbsps oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp gur, (or jaggery) or muscavado sugar as a substitute
2 tbsps malt vinegar
coriander leaves for garnish
Grind the chillies, ginger, garlic and cumin with a little water from the soaking of the apricots and chillies.
Pour half the mixture over the cubes of lamb, and marinate for 1 hour.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion, over a low heat for about 20 mins, stirring occasionally to prevent it burning. It needs to be a translucent golden brown colour.
Add the other half of the spice mixture and all the dry spices. Stir well for a few mins. Add lamb and brown on all sides.
Now add the tomatoes, salt and whole apricots if using them.
Cover and cook on a low heat for an hour, until the meat is almost tender, add water if necessary, with the gur, vinegar and pieces of dried apricots if using these instead of whole ones. Cover again and simmer for 15 mins.
Remove from the heat and garnish with the shredded coriander leaves.
Serve with pilau rice.
This has Taste and is a Treat.