Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Apricot or Abricot. The Wonderful Fruits of France.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Photograph courtesy of wildexplorer.
Apricots are a cherished part of French cuisine and have been grown in France for thousands of years; today they are considered a native French fruit. However, the apricot's origin is South-Eastern Asia. When you visit France in the apricot season look out for dishes made with fresh apricots; they have become a uniquely French fruit.

Where apricots grow in France
France’s apricot growing regions include Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and the Rhône-Alps. The season is June through August, and at that time dishes fresh apricots will appear on all local menus all well as all over France.  In the regions where apricots are grown, in season, few restaurants have less than two or three dishes made with fresh French apricots on their menus.    
Dining on Apricots 
During one French whole apricot season I was traveling a long way away from France. To make me realize error a friend brought me a copy of a wonderful apricot-centric menu that he and others had enjoyed in the south of France.  I had been traveling to Japan and back at that time and while I do love Japanese cuisine, after seeing this menu I knew that that year I had lost out. In this menu, from Languedoc-Roussillon the chef had really honored that year’s crop. If you wish to see how to order apricots in France during the season read on.
A menu designed around the Apricots of Languedoc-Roussillon.
To begin:
           Vin de Pêche et AbricotA cold peach and apricot wine; the apéritif.     

An aperitif of cold peach and apricot wine.
Photograph courtesy of Dispensa Pani e Vini Franciacorta, from Flickr.
The hors d'œuvré:
Bouchées de Brie aux Abricots Mouth sized bites of apricot stuffed with brie cheese; the hors d'œuvrés.
The entrée:

 Salade de Magrets Fumés, Abricots et Légumes d'ÉtéA salad of smoked ducks’ breast, apricots and spring vegetables

               Fresh apricot juice, a change from a sorbet:
         Jus d'Abricots Frais A small glass of fresh apricot juice.
        Le Plat Principal – The main course 
Médaillon de Veau aux Abricots Round, or oval, cuts of veal. Prepared and served with the apricots in which the veal was cooked; the main course.

The salad course
 Salade – A small mixed green salad.
A sorbet:
Sorbet d’Abricot   
The dessert:
Fine Tarte Sablée aux Abricots et Amandes, Sorbet Framboise An apricot and almond tart made with a shortcake pastry and served with a raspberry sorbet; the dessert.

Apricot tart.
Photograph courtesy of Ruby's Feast
The cheese course:
 Un Plateaux de Fromages du Terroir avec Abricots Secs A plate of local cheeses served with dried apricots; the cheese course.
The fruit course:
 Plateau de Fruits Frais, Abricots, Pêches, Raisins Blanc A fresh fruit plate including apricots, peaches and white grapes; the fruit course.
Coffee or herb tea:
 Coffee ou Tisane de Arômes d'Abricot et de Pêche Coffee or herb tea; the herb tea offered is an apricot and peach tisane; a tisane is often translated as a fruit tea.
The Petit Fours:

Petit Fours aux Abricots Those little pastries often served with your coffee; here they all were made with apricots.

The digestif- The after-dinner drink.
Liqueur d'AbricotAn eau-de-vie d’abricot, an apricot brandy

A Lejay-Lagoute Apricot Eau-de-Vie.
With a once in a lifetime menu like that  who could have chosen anything else? 

According to my friend, who, together with all his fellow diners enjoyed and survived this meal; it was served over a period of three hours. The only wine they drank during this dinner was a dry Cremant de Limoux AOC/AOP, a sparkling white cremant from Languedoc-Roussillon.

Cremant de Limoux .
Photograph courtesy of jamesonf. 
Freshly imported apricots
 Outside of the French apricot season fresh apricots are still available nearly all year round as French citizens are used to having fruits imported out of season.  Most out of season apricots  come from the USA and Turkey; for France importing apricots from the USA is practically an obligation as many of the original cuttings planted in the USA came from France.
Apricot blossom.
Photograph courtesy of maaco.
 Despite the wide availability of freshly imported apricots many French chefs  prefer French apricots; they wait for them to be in season. Many chefs consider, with a degree of certainty that French apricots are better.  Apart from fresh apricots, dried apricots, and, of course, French apricot eau-de- vies, locally made apricot brandies, are available from a quite a number of excellent producers. The whole year-round French apricot conserves, jams, will be on many breakfast menus.   
As usual it was the Romans
The usual suspects, the Romans, brought the apricot tree to France.  In France the Romans brought more than just their usual boring selection of aqueducts, roads, temples and stadiums. They brought many trees, plants, vines as well as the secrets behind farming snails and the unique and oft-criticized method of feeding geese for the preparation of fois gras. Well, you may well ask, apart from all that what did the Romans do for France? Well, they brought the apricot tree.
Dried Apricots.
 Abricot Sec – Dried apricots. The Armenians passed the art of drying apricots to the Greeks and Romans; that was long before refrigeration and the Romans or possibly the Greeks brought that art to France. I was told that, drying apricots removes some of their vitamins. However, dried apricots are still an important addition to the French kitchen.

Dried apricots.
Photograph courtesy of sanjibm.

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                                                    Bryan G. Newman

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