I bought a punnet of Spanish strawberries a couple of weeks ago. Spain, I thought, that’s not so far away. Maybe they will be nice. They weren’t. Are you surprised? No, I wasn’t either. It’s that time of the year, though, when soft fruit is back on the shelves (the week-end special at the Spar up the road is £1 for a punnet of nectarines or peaches, indistinguishable in their hard scentlessness except for the half-hearted fuzz on the peaches), far, far before it’s even remotely beginning to be nice to eat.
We are lucky enough to live near a good greengrocers and within walking distance of a farmers’ market, but this time of the year makes me long for French markets – the kind you pop to to buy something for lunch, instead coming back laden with armfuls of cherries and doughnut peaches and spending the afternoon in the garden continuing the eternal competition to see who can spit their cherry stones the furthest. Currently, Mum is winning (although she wouldn’t thank me for telling you that); none of the rest of us have quite mastered the technique for the over-the-garden-fence bonus points. Proper class, we are.
If, like me, your desires are a month or so ahead of the seasons (who am I kidding? Mine are always firmly fixed in July, month of the pick-your-own farms and Pimms) and you have picked up a punnet of hard, unyielding stone fruits which are – even as we speak – looking at you accusingly from the kitchen worktop, there is very little better that you can do to them than this. Don’t worry if you have nectarines or peaches rather than apricots; Diana Henry has this recipe on the same page as lime and ginger roasted nectarines, and I use the two sets of flavourings interchangeably. So far I’ve been lucky, and the food police have not yet been round to have a word.
Hard, wooly apricots are transformed by their time in the oven, into – well, you know, something you’d actually want to eat. (Sorry, we finished building the raised beds considerably earlier than expected, so I’m a glass or two of wine down already. Don’t expect any great feats of literacy tonight, will you. As, of course, you normally would. Ahem). They retain their own flavour – without being drowned out by the orange, something I’m always wary of – but gain softness, sweetness and exoticism. What more could you ask for?
As an extra bonus, your newly washed hair will smell like warm apricots (no sarcasm intended. This is A Good Thing, as far as I’m concerned, certainly better than the times I fall asleep in John’s armpit and don’t realise until I’m at work, wondering why on earth he’s been wearing my cardigan because I haven’t realised it’s my hair that smells like him). Also, the kitchen will smell divine.
apricots roasted with cardamom, honey and orange
From Diana Henry’s Food from Plenty. This gives quantities for 30 small apricots, to serve 6; simply scale down as appropriate, but err on the side of generosity with the orange juice-measuring. The amount of time that the apricots need in the oven depends entirely on how ripe they were when they went in – I test them with a knife, like potatoes. Ideally, you should be able to cut them with a spoon.
It’s much easier to get the stones out of the second half of the apricots if you cut them perpendicular to the crease, rather than along it.
around 30 apricots, halved and stoned
seeds from 10 cardamom pods, crushed
4 tbsp runny honey
125ml orange juice
juice of 1/2 lemon
100g soft dark or light brown sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180˚.
Arrange the apricot halves in a roasting tin in a single layer, cut sides up. Drizzle over the honey, pour the orange juice and lemon around the fruits, then sprinkle over the sugar and cardamom. Bake for – usually – around 20 minutes, although mine took closer to an hour today. These are delicious as a dessert or cold, for breakfast, or just spooned out of the bowl in the fridge, Nigella-style, if you get peckish.