Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Easy Apricot Pie and more...

Cook’s Corner
July 23, 2008
Betty Kaiser

Fresh, fragrant and delectable apricots are here! They are the first so-called “stone fruits” to arrive at local farmer’s markets and they are available now. The summer growing season in Oregon is short and you don’t want to miss these delectable treats.

Personally, I have never met an apricot that I didn’t like. However, in this area, the Tilton apricot is the leading all-purpose variety for freezing, drying and canning. Different varieties thrive in different climates. When I lived in California near the Santa Clara Valley region, the Blenheim variety was the all-purpose king. So wherever you live, there’s a regional favorite to enjoy.

The Tilton is one of the most flavorful of all apricots. A close cousin to the peach, the medium sized fruit has a light golden orange skin with a red blush. It is somewhat heart shaped with a clear line that goes halfway around the fruit, making it easy to split.

But the real test of any fruit is in the tasting and the Tilton is delicious. It is both tender and juicy, a combination of tart and sweet. Plus, it’s good for you! Apricots are low in fat, calories and sodium. They provide vitamins A and C; are a good source of potassium and fiber. These little powerhouses even contribute iron, calcium and phosphorus to your diet.

Apricots are fairly fragile and bruise easily but picking a tasty fruit is not rocket science. Choose fruit that is fairly firm with good color and a delicate aroma. They ripen from the inside out so be sure and refrigerate ripe fruit or you’ll find yourself making jam.

Canning apricots is a snap: wash, pit, put in jars, cover with hot syrup and process. No peeling necessary and minimal oxidation. Now here’s a secret: if you want them to be extra tasty you can leave the seeds in. Or, you can split the fruit and remove the seeds. Put just three seeds in the bottom of each jar. After processing, the fruit has a delicate almond taste. Delicious!

The California Apricot Council is the source for today’s recipes. California grows more apricots than any other state in the nation and they have great ideas for serving them from breakfast to dinner. We’ll start with a simple appetizer and then head straight for dessert.

The pie recipe is fabulous. It makes two pies. You can bake one for dinner tonight and freeze the other. Another option is to freeze the extra filling by itself. The second recipe is a light ice cream with apricot nectar added for extra flavor. Finally, there’s an all-purpose topping for ice cream, shortcake or anything else that suits your fancy. Oh, yum. Let’s head to the farmer’s markets and get cooking.

Savory Fresh Apricot Bites

4 oz cream cheese, softened
12 fresh apricots, halved
1/2 cup pistachios, finely chopped

Stir cream cheese until smooth then pipe or spoon into apricot halves.
Sprinkle tops with pistachios. Serve as an appetizer, snack, or dessert. Makes 6-12 servings.
Note: I prefer to mix the pistachios with the cream cheese.

Fresh Apricot Pies
Makes 2 nine-inch pies, 8 servings each

 2 tablespoons lemon juice
10 cups sliced fresh apricots (4 pounds)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Double crust pastry for 9-inch pie(s)

2 tablespoons butter
Cream or beaten egg

Sprinkle lemon juice over apricots. Blend in sugar, tapioca, and cinnamon; mix lightly. Let stand 15 minutes.

Pour half of apricot filling into unbaked 9-inch pie shell; dot with 1 tablespoon butter. Add top pastry; flute edge of crust. Brush top pastry with beaten egg. Bake at 425°F 40 minutes or until fruit in center of pie is cooked.

Place half of filling in large freezer bag; dot with 1 tbsp butter.
Squeeze out air and seal. Place in 9-inch pie pan; shape to fit pan and freeze. Once frozen, remove pan.

Unwrap and place frozen filling in unbaked 9-inch pie shell.
Add top pastry; flute edge of crust.
Bake at 425°F 60 to 70 minutes.

Fresh Apricot Dessert Topping

2 cups sliced fresh apricots (about 12 oz)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar         
2 tablespoons apricot nectar OR
2 tablespoons orange Muscat dessert wine

Mix together apricots, sugar and nectar; cover and set aside.
Makes a delicious topping for shortcake, pound cake, ice cream, frozen yogurt, etc. Makes 6 servings

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. Contact her at 942-1317 or email bchatty@bettykaiser.com

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