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Speakeasy apricots

For several years, I have regularly ordered dried fruit from apricotking.com. I discovered them when looking for a source for dried pears, which were so good that I tried their other products. At the time, their site included pit-in dried apricots and slip-pits. In the latter case, the pit is removed after drying.. Apparentlly the typical dried apricot is halved and the pit removed before drying. I found that the pit-ins were spectacular, imbued with a stronger oaky, amaretto flavor than the slip-pits.

The slippies are available only sporadically, and the pit-ins are now not on the website at all. But the owner knows I like them, and e-mailed me last week to say they had some. I gleefully jumped on the opportunity, feeling like I knew the password to gain entry to a speakeasy. The order arrived looking different than I remembered. They were darker and a bit smaller, and when I tasted them, not as moist, though still with great flavor. Then I saw the note from the grower, which said these were made with very little sulphur so they needed to be refrigerated/frozen, and soaked in hot water for an hour, then drained, and kept in the fridge. I mistakenly soaked a bag for closer to 2 hours yesterday, and found the ones I took out of the fridge this morning to be a little TOO soft.

What's the science behind sulphuring, and why do they need to have cold storage even before soaking? Not knowing all this, I bought four 1.5# bags, and the owner very kindly included a fifth as a freebie. I am currently very short of fridge/freezer space, and this is enough fruit to last me at least through the end of the year. Not sure whether to follow that statement with a :-D or a :-(

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  1. From my days of cutting cots inthe Almaden Valley, as a teen:

    the cut and pitted cot halves were held and sun- (nowdays oven-? )dried on long wooden trays, then the trays were stacked in a sulphur shed and the suphur is burned, creating fumes that surrounded the trays of fruit. The sulphur acted as a preservative killing any surface bacteria or mold spores.

    So unsulphured fruit with any perceptible amount of residual moisture would be suseptible to mold. That's why they advised freezing. If pits remained in the cots, the area under the pit would not dry as well, and could harbor mold spores which would develop at room temp.

    2 Replies
    1. re: toodie jane

      They enclosed a card with photos showing a vast field full of large wooden trays of Blenheim apricots being sun-dried . The angles may have been deceptive, but judging by the people in the pictures, it looked like the the trays measure at least 2x4 feet.

      The owner told me that the pit-ins were initially a mistake. Someone forgot to remove the pits - I'm guessing she meant that this normally happens after drying and before sulphuring. I read recently - maybe on CH - mention of cherries dried with pits still in tasting of amaretto. Sounds like this may hold true for all the Prunus stone fruits. I suggested to the owner that they experiment with some of their cherries, prunes, peaches, and nectarines.

      1. re: greygarious

        When I cut cots as a girl, the trays were 4x8 feet. It took a long time to fill them up with apricot halves.
        The filled trays were stacked vertically on a rack that held them a few inches apart. The racks were put in a shed and sulfur burned for about 6 hours, Then they were taken out in the sun to dry out.
        Another mail order source for great dried fruit is Olsen's Cherries in Sunnyvale, CA.

    2. The mother of a good friend of mine made "tipsy fruits;" brandied dry fruits just sitting on the counter in a covered jar (the alcohol could kill *everything*). Maybe you want to invest some of your apricots in something like this. It's a great treat to have around when you're serving ice cream...

      2 Replies
      1. re: shaogo

        If only - but alcohol is prohibited by the heart and pain meds I take. In one of the current Jacques Pepin shows, he put whole dark cherries, stems and pits intact (there was something about this keeping them from getting mushy), in a jar and covered them with - I think - vodka. Then lidded and stored at room temp for a month. He said this was a cherished childhood taste memory.

        1. re: shaogo

          We called that stuff "Happy Fruit".

        2. I goofed in my OP - I correctly soaked in cold, but typed hot. I appreciate the info on what sulphur does, although toodie jane and 512window have contradictory descriptions of the order in which the drying and sulphuring are done. I still don't know why I am supposed to soak them. These are lower-sulphur. Ordinary sulphured dried fruit does not require soaking as far as I know. I would also think that soaking makes them MORE prone to growing mold in the fridge.

          2 Replies
          1. re: greygarious

            Well, I was intrigued, so I emailed your vendor to ask if they still had any. She said yes and that they were rather dry and required soaking. Maybe it's just a texture-preference thing?

            I love the flavor from pits. I still have a whole bag of apricot pits in my freezer from last summer -- I was going to make ice cream with them. I better get on that!

            1. re: Vetter

              Yeah, I was thinking that they may have erred and overdried them. As I mentioned, I oversoaked the bag I opened, though now that they've been in the fridge a few days, the moisture has equalized more so the taste is better. Right out of the bag, they WERE on the leathery side. I'm now trying this: I opened a second bag and filled a third of a pint-sized glass jar with them, then topped up the jar with the already-soaked ones, in hopes that some moisture will migrate down into the drier ones.

              I kept the soaking water, thinking it might taste good, but it didn't have a good apricot flavor. It might in fact be very dilute sulphuric acid, though it didn't taste or smell sulphurous.

              Is your homemade ice cream almond-flavor? Do you crack the pits and use the insides like nuts? They do sell the pits on that site, but with a caveat emptor about the cyanide the kernels contain. Obviously, I now have plenty of pits but have never cracked and tasted them. Does the pit need to dry before cracking, or any roasting of the pit or kernels?

          2. A "funny" memory. In Vietnam, during the war, it was considered bad luck to carry the c-ration canned apricots into battle. I now wonder why?

            1 Reply
            1. re: Passadumkeg

              From Wikipedia entry on apricots: "Among American tank-driving soldiers, apricots are taboo, by superstition. Tankers will not eat apricots, allow apricots onto their vehicles, and often will not even say the word "apricot". This superstition stems from Sherman tank breakdowns purportedly happening in the presence of cans of apricots."

            2. AFAIK dried fruits are sulphured to prevent enzymatic browning by reacting with phenolic compounds. It helps them retain the flavour as well as colour.

              Storing cut fruit / veg in cold water or in the fridge also reduces browing, as does covering in acids such as lemon juice. All of the above reduce enzyme activity.