THE SWEETNESS OF THE ROSE FAMILY
Apricot tart with toasted almonds.
ARMENIAN PLUM BY ANY OTHER NAME
Prunus Armeniaca, Armenian plum, otherwise known as apricot, acquired many labels throughout its approximately 3, 000 years of cultivation. Ancient Romans called it Mala armeniaca, Armenian apple and praecocia, pre-ripened, from the Latin praecoquus, pre-cooked. Arabs called al-barquq, which means plum, and in some parts of the Spanish speaking world it is known as damasco, which implies that a Syrian origin. Apricock, as it used to be called in English is, arguably, the sweetest fruit of the rose family. So sweet, in fact, that one of its latest varieties is called Candy.
Whatever its label, a basket of apricots is a scrumptious gift and its giver is a person of real generosity. To find such a git at one's doorstep, as I did, recently, fills one's day with all sorts of delightful possibilities. In my case, the first impulse is to take a mental snapshot of the contents of the basket, to fix the moment in my mind. The second is to sketch with the intent of painting a watercolor or making chalk drawing in velvety paper that approximates the texture of the fruit. All this must be done very quickly. Apricots do not keep well and that gives me license to eat one as I try to decide what to do next.
After consulting with the Infanta, who is a competent cook, I decide that we will make an apricot tart. She will be in charge of blending eggs, whole milk, flour, sugar, and vanilla bean paste for the creme patissiere. I will make the crust and blend apricot preserves with a goodly dash of amaretto, which is made from apricot kernels. The latter will be used as a topping for the tart, a process that is as necessary as as gilding a lily, since the fruit needs no enhancement whatsoever. The handful of toasted almonds added at the end adds texture, but it is really not required. If one has access to sweet apricot kernels, one could create an extra layer of apricot flavor of which only the truly decadent or the unreconstructed gourmand could approve. They would not be averse to finishing up with a small glass of Barack Palinka, a Hungarian apricot brandy made from apricots. I did that once, long ago, in a tiny Parisian restaurant in the Rive Gauche and reader, I have been a better person ever since.