Wednesday, July 11, 2012

#345 English Apricot Pie


Flowers and Apricots by Joseph Bidlingmeyer, 1850


I have been eyeing this recipe for a good while, but fresh apricots are so pricey I have always put it off. However, Soulard Farmers’ market came to save me from my apricot fast by selling them for just over a dollar a pound! They were delicious too.

The reason apricots are so expensive is manifold: they flower very early and suffer poorly from bad weather – they will die even if there’s a light frost or a high wind; they don’t take to grafting well; they are very particular about the soil they grow in, to the point where the amount of fertiliser dug into the soil needs to be calculated; they also do not travel well. They are delicate things and much prefer Eastern climbes as they originated in China, coming to Europe via India and the Middle East. It is for all these reasons that you usually find apricots dried rather than fresh.


As an aside, the reason the apricot doesn’t take to grafting is because they were mis-classified as a member of the plum family, Prunus, and were grafted onto other Prunus species, cherry is usually the grafters’ favourite. It is actually part of the rose family. Everyday’s a school day.


So what are the benefits of eating this temperamental and pricey fruit, other than that they are quite delicious? Well there is quite a long list of benefits to eating apricots. The 18th century French writer Bernard le Bovier Fontenelle, who was a member of the Royal Society, lived to 100 years old and the secret to his longevity was apricots, a tip he got from his grandma. ‘A royal fruit, she called it, saying that the scatterbrained folk of our days ought to make more use of it.’ Quite.

Fontenelle

As it happens, apricots are high in phosphorus and magnesium and can significantly increase mental ability. They are super-rich in beta-carotene (which gives the fruit its yellow colour); 4 ounces of apricots will give you 50% of your daily allowance. They are also good for the blood – they can even alleviate anaemia better than liver! They are also a significant source of fluoride. Amazing.


This pie was invented by the great chef Carême. He is very particular about the type of pie dish you should use; it must be very shallow, not much deeper than a plate.


Halve 1 ½ pounds of fresh apricots and take out the stones. Next, melt 2 ounces of unsalted butter in a frying pan and stir in 8 ounces of caster sugar; this might seem alot but they really do need it. Over a moderate heat stir the sugar into the butter. After a few minutes it should start to melt. Add the apricots and coat in the butter-sugar mixture. Stir for a minute or two – you don’t want to cook the fruit, just get the apricot halves well covered.
Pile the fruit and butter and sugar, which should be toffee-like at this point, into a shallow pie dish.
Roll out some puff pastry. Cut strips around half and inch a glue them around the edge of the plate with beaten egg so that the strips ‘extend partway down the dish itself. This will create a good seal, preventing the apricots from escaping. Brush the strips with egg and cover.


Use a fork to seal the pastry lid then make a central hole so that any steam generated during cooking can escape. Brush with more egg and sprinkle some more caster sugar. Start the pie off in a hot oven – 230°C (450°F) – for 15 to 20 minutes so that the pastry can turn golden brown, then continue cooking at a lower heat of 160-180°C (325-375°F) for 15 minutes. ‘Serve hot or warm with plenty of cream.’

Sorry about the terrible pic.
I'm normally drunk by dessert...

#345 English Apricot Pie. What a delicious fruit pie! It occurred to me whilst I was eating it that I have never eaten apricots this way. Well it certainly won’t be the last time I do it; the sugar and butter became a deliciously sweet sauce and the cooked apricots softened and turned very tart. That Carême chap knew what he was talking about.

2 comments:

Lauren said...

I didn't know any of that about apricots. Every day is a school day! The pie looks amazing, too. Although, when I first read the title I got "chicken and apricot" in there somewhere and got to the recipe and thought, "where's the damn chicken?!" I think I need some coffee to clear my brain fog...

Neil B said...

Thanks Lauren!

I reckon chicken and apricot might work, you know like turkey and cranberry sauce work well because the fruit is sweet but still tart... you might be on to a new taste sensation!