Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Apricots Are Us



Katie Dahlstrom is a journalist with BBC World Service News. Originally from California, she moved to London after university, and fell in love with both England and Europe. After years of rainy summers, she and her husband Ben--a musician--sought out the sun and found it in southern France. They now divide their time between London and the tiny village of Le Barroux in the Vaucluse. Katie's crazy about the seasonal produce in Provence and these days, she's all about apricots. I asked her to share the love. She writes:


Summer is finally in full swing. Although it arrived late, no one's complaining about the heat just yet. The very cold winter and spring made us think we’d never see another summer. But the cherries ripened, albeit slowly this year, and now we’re finally enjoying our beautiful plump apricots here in the Vaucluse.

The most striking thing about the apricots is that they have gained their own equivalent of Appellation d'Origine Controlee--the Label Rouge, a sign of quality food production throughout France. Along with the cherries from the Mont Ventoux, these fruit set the standard for taste and quality anywhere on the continent. Originally from China, the humble apricot came to Provence from Armenia along the silk route. But it’s here in the Haut Vaucluse and the Drome that the tree and its fabulous fruit has truly flourished.

There are loads of varieties of apricots growing around the Vaucluse and Languedoc. But the two big guns are the Bergarouge and Orange de Provence (Orange Rubis). They thrive at an altitude of around 400 m above sea level, and particularly in the valleys around the town of Nyons. So if you head out towards Nyons from Vaison la Romaine you’re right in the heart of Apricot central. Local producers set up their stalls on the side of the road much like they do with the cherries early in the summer. So if you’re travelling around the region, do stop and grab yourself a treat.

In normal years we’d see the Early Blush variety in the supermarkets from the beginning of  June. This year with such long lasting cold weather in spring, everything’s about 2 weeks late. So I was seeing the first apricots in the markets just around the 15th of June. That will of course mean the season for our lovely late fruiting Tardive de Vaucluse  and Fantasme should come in late July/early August.

The Bergarouge and Orange de Provence are widely seen to be the best eating apricots, as well as for making jam. You can tell the Bergarouge from it’s colour: a fat orange skin, with a pinky red hue, bursting at the seams with juicy goodness. The Orange de Provence is slighly smaller, a medium sized apricot, with a light pink blush. And everyone who has the time gets out the pots and makes some lovely home made apricot jam from her mother’s recipe. Here in the upper Vaucluse, the jam you find in the markets is chunky--fat, sweet pieces of fruit in a thick unctuous syrup. Not too sweet, but absolutely delicious. Some people even leave in the apricot seeds which gives the jam a nice little crunch. And if you have the opportunity to go to one of the local markets around Carpentras, you’ll find a special apricot and lavender jam. Sounds slightly weird, I know. But believe me, it’s gorgeous. Put a little bit on the side with a perfectly cooked magret de canard, some mesclun salad leaves, and you’ve got a gourmet dinner in minutes.
  
The season is short, but the fruit is fabulous. So enjoy it while you can.


Katie can be reached at: katie.dahlstrom@blueyonder.co.uk

5 comments:

  1. We were in Provence a few years ago during the late spring, at what seemed like the height of apricot season, although I guess from your description it must have been the beginning. We stopped at a roadside stand after canoeing down the Gard river, under the Pont du Gard. The fruit we bought - well, as an American, I had never tasted apricots like that, even though I now live in southern California where fruit right off the tree is the norm. I pine for those French apricots. Thanks for reminding me that it's time to schedule my next visit.

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  2. Katie, I'm anxious to get out the marmite à confiture and get going. Have you got a good apricot jam recipe? Thanks for the tips. Market day is tomorrow.

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  3. The apricot confiture is one of my favorites. Really enjoyed this post! Hope you are keeping cool in Provence, Paris has been melting...today was better though.
    a bientôt,
    Mimi

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  4. Julie: I've just disovered the Robata apricot here in Southern California. It is the best I've ever tasted. I wonder if this variety is grown in Provence. Just for my own info, I will ask the growers at the local farmers market where they are growing these apricots (frost or frost-free zone?) to see if this fruit could be grown in Provence.

    Amanda Frost
    acfsb@aol.com

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  5. Hey Julie gorgeous picture of those apricots, and lovely post! I can just smell the fragrant apricots simmering in the marmite!

    Kit

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