Sunday, June 8

Bumper Crop 1: Apricot Season. Make Compote!

Every Thursday, I get a small box of fantastic produce from a local organic, sustainably managed farm called Terra Firma Farm delivered to my urban neighborhood. I just pick it up from an apartment building foyer a block from my house. When I lived in Pittsburgh, PA, I did the same thing from a farm called Kretschmann's.

The great thing about the organic fruit and vegetable box delivery is that you get the best and freshest of what's ripe up at that moment in the season while supporting a local organic farmer. The bad part is that you get a lot of what's ripe. Often more than one can reasonably consume. Recently, I had an apricot glut.

Most commercially available fresh apricots are picked early so they're firmer and less likely to get bruised in transport. They ripen in your fruit basket, but they often lack punch. The ones from Terra Firma were picked pretty close to peak with plenty of punch, but I had a pound and a half of very ripe apricots. I decided to make compote because it keeps fairly well in the fridge, freezes well, and I don't know a thing about home canning.

The recipe is simple, and the results can be used to spoon over yogurt, ice cream, a slab of cake or just eaten right out of the bowl. From start to finish, this took me about 45 minutes, but it was not intense at all. There was plenty of time to do other things.

The Recipe
Start with 1 to 2 pounds of ripe fruit, halved and pitted. By following the natural seam along the side of the apricot with a paring knife, you end up with the pit lying flat on one of the halves, making it easy to remove.

Boil a cup of water with about 2/3 cup of white sugar, two tablespoons of Grand Marnier, and a vanilla bean. When the sugar has dissolved completely and thing are bubbling, turn down the heat and add the fruit. Let it simmer gently for about 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to let the fruit go too far, or it will become mush. You want it fork tender but still recognizable as fruit.

When nicely tender, use a spider to fish out the apricots and set them aside in a bowl. Next, halve a washed and scrubbed lemon, squeeze it fully into the syrup, then drop in the squeezed rind and top with a pinch of salt.

While the syrup is simmering, add a tablespoon of raspberry jam into the bowl of a small sieve or one of those mesh tea strainers that opens like jaws. Drop in the tea strainer or arrange the sieve so that syrup engulfs and dissolves the jam into the mix without allowing the seeds to get away. During the cooking, make sure you taste (after serious cooling time in the tasting spoon!) for the acid and sugar balance. It's a bit hard to predict depending on the fruit you started with, so tasting is the only way to go.

Carefully cook down the liquid until it's about half the original volume. Watch it a bit, stirring from time to time. When reduced enough, let it cool on the counter top to room temperature. Remove the rind, strainer and vanilla bean then pour the syrup over the fruit and refrigerate.

The resulting compote yields soft, luscious fruit with a tart, sweet, vanilla scented syrup that's perfect with vanilla ice cream, apple pie, or yogurt. This morning, I put some on top of pancakes.