6.05.2010

Here it comes: The Summer Solstice


The first day of summer officially begins on June 21st. As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky, which is what the word solstice means: the sun stands still. The name is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). This is considered the longest day of the year just as the winter solstice is the shortest. It's also called Midsummer because it is roughly the middle of the growing season throughout much of Europe. The day is still celebrated around the world - most notably in England at Stonehenge and Avebury, where thousands gather to welcome the sunrise on the Summer Solstice.


I always think of Druids when I think of Stonehenge and the solstice, but in 1984 Stonehenge was placed under the control of English Heritage. Its first act was to ban the Druids from the site. After years of lobbying the British government for admission to their beloved circle of megaliths once again, the Druids triumphantly returned to celebrate the summer solstice on June 21, 1998.


When I was a kid, we always considered Memorial Day to be the start of summer. We were allowed to go swimming for the first time, even though the water was still ice cold. We all donned bathing suits and did our best not to chicken out.


Another sure sign of summer is the arrival of apricots in the produce section. Here's the thing: I want to like them, I really do. But all too often apricots just don’t taste half as good as they look. It's easy to fall in love with a stack of golden orange fruit only to get one home and discover it has no flavor. Some describe their flavor as almost musky, with a faint tartness that lies somewhere between a peach and a plum.



If you're lucky enough to have a tree, apricots ripened and picked right off the tree are the best; so watch for them at farmer's markets or roadside stands. If not, consider the following when buying at the store:
  • Apricots are not juicy fruits so don't equate softness for juiciness.
  • Choose each apricot carefully, looking for plumpness, and lots of golden orange-red color. Avoid apricots that are green or pale yellow.
  • Finally, smell them. An apricot that has flavor also has a sweet and ready fragrance.
I've been disappointed so many times; either they're too tart or they're mealy. I do keep trying though, ever hopeful and often I'm rewarded. But the main way I eat fresh apricots is in a tart or roasted with honey. Pastry Studio had a marvelous recipe last week, combining two of my favorites: roasted apricots AND a Sour Cream Ice cream. An old issue Gourmet also had a fabulous (and simple) Apricot Galette recipe made with puff pastry; I've made it often.

I'm going to make good use of the short apricot season this year, starting with an idea from a former neighbor who used to make a fabulous apricot sorbet. I lost her recipe long ago, but found a nearly identical one in Gourmet magazine years later and I make it every year right around summer solstice.

Any Druids out there?

Apricot Sorbet
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, June 2002




Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1-1/4 lb firm-ripe apricots (7 large)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon almond extract


Method:
Preheat oven to 350°.
Bring sugar, water, and dried apricots to a boil in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let stand until apricots are softened, about 1 hour.
While dried apricots are standing, place pitted, halved fresh apricots in a small roasting pan, sprinkle with a little sugar and bake in the middle of your oven until soft. It took me about 25 to 30 minutes, but the recipe calls for 1 hour. I have found by that time, the juices have all seeped out into the roasting pan. so watch them carefully. Cool in pan.
Purée dried apricot mixture, roasted apricots, lemon juice, and almond extract in a blender until very smooth, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Force purée through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids and then discarding them. Chill purée, covered, until cold, at least 2 hours.

Freeze in ice cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.
Purée can be chilled up to 8 hours. Sorbet keeps 1 week.



Photo credit: Stonehenge: National Geographic

43 comments:

  1. You do seem to have to get them at just the right time. The ones that I got last week at the farmer's market were so good just to eat. I do love apricot jam though. Your apricots look very good and the sorbet sounds wonderful!

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  2. Clearly, I've never had a good, fresh apricot. Maybe I'll try to pick one out following your advice...

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  3. I know what you mean about apricots. I always think I want them. Then I buy some. And they're never quite as good as they ought to be. This sorbet looks delicious though! I love that it uses both fresh and dried!

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  4. What a beautiful thought provoking post. We were just at Stonehenge in March and went before sunrise to be able to be there before it opened to the public on a special tour where we were allowed into the circle. It was a very sacred morning. June 21 is the birthday of my oldest child - and that truly was the longest say of the year that year! I had a Winter Solstice Potluck Dinner for Slow Food Edmonton, and the Summer Solstice will be celebrated at the home of a friend with our Slow Foodie peers. I truly appreciate this recipe. We have home grown apricots here.. well, one province over, and they are incredible. Apricots are one of my favourite fruits and I cannot wait to try this recipe. Up here, in the Canadian prairies, they are not ripe until the end of July... or mid July at the earliest... so, I will wait a bit. But, I will not forget.
    :)
    Valerie

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  5. Not sure I have ever had a fresh apricot. Now I want to see if we have them in the stores. Not sure there's a season for them in the midwest. I love sorbet, this looks so delicious.

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  6. Looks delicious! I need to get an ice cream maker. I have had troubles getting good apricots too thanks for the tips

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  7. Aren't apricots just marvelous these days? My local Publix has some really gorgeous ones. What a wonderful dessert and thank you for the explanation of solstice!

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  8. love the peaches and fresh and warm biscuits..

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  9. This post has just answered all the questions ive ever had about a summer or winter solstice. and about midsummer n midsummer celebrations. tq so much .My curiosity has been satisfied.

    peaches are a beautiful fruit but I never knew they were bland. im sure they are delicious as a sorbet though.

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  10. I can totally relate; I am always disappointed by apricots; even in Lebanon, there is a special variety of apricots, they are very small and so fragrant you would think it is a perfume, but they only last 3 weeks; so people rush to buy them and make jam for the year. I would recommend trying amardeen, an apricot paste found at middle-eastern stores and this is made with good flavorful apricots that come from a region in Syria near Damascus famous for its apricots.
    Love your sorbet how refreshing!

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  11. I agree with you, most apricots I've had were so disappointing, but when you get that perfect one, makes up for all the losers! Your sorbet looks so good!

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  12. The best apricots I had were from Frog Hollow Farms in Northern California. They are sweet, luscious with honey flavored flesh and orange citrus accents. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a good apricot, peach, cherry or fig since I've arrived here on the east coast.

    This looks like quite a refreshing recipe. The use of both dried and fresh apricots is intriguing.

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  13. Marvellously refreshing photos, must try this.

    The first day of Summer is also my birthday, interesting to grow up and find I "share" it with SS.

    As for the Druids, we didn't ban them from Hengie for religious purposes, it's just that they always leave such a mess after...

    ;)

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  14. It's true - apricots are a low percentage fruit, but when you get a good one it's worth it

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  15. What a lovely sorbet to celebrate the coming of summer. Do you know how I celebrate summer? I mow the lawn :P. I adore summer, and the summers in england are particularly beautiful, but mowing the lawn just plain sucks, its the only part of summer I dont like.
    Have a wonderful weekend daaaahling.
    *kisses* HH

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  16. Apricots and peaches... they are the bane of my existence. I love them but, like a bad first date, they are often so disappointing. That mealy quality makes them so unpleasant... drek! I hate that first bite of disappointment! If only there was a magic way to know. I sometimes think there are mad scientists who know how to make the bad ones smell fine and feel fine but... DREK! That diatribe done... lovely apricot recipe... I am getting in that sorbet mood with the humidity and temperature climbing... and I've never made apricot sorbet!!

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  17. I don't like apricots, either. I just cannot get behind a fruit that isn't juicy. I like the dried ones, though, so it's not the flavor I don't like, just the texture. Maybe I'll give this one a whirl! Looks so pretty.

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  18. Interesting post. Living in Miami my sign of the arrival of summer is that I cannot get from my home to the car without melting. Yesterday was out of control.

    I love sorbet. The photo looks great. Intresting addition of almond extract.

    Cheers!

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  19. I love dried apricots- fresh, not so much..

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  20. Apricots are a favorite fruit here and I remember picking them ripe off a tree in the yard when I was a child. So often purchased fruit is less than satisfactory so using dried apricots in a sorbet is a great idea. Can't wait to try this sorbet in my new ice cream freezer and I won't have to wait for apricot season.

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  21. I'd love to see Stonehenge...

    Your sorbet looks sooooo good! I am a big fan of apricots. Drool drool...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  22. I've always kind-of thought of Memorial Day as the unofficial start to summer too. :) (And Labor Day as the unofficial end to it...but we won't talk about that yet. ;) ) In general I love apricots but I completely agree with you -- you have to get them just right. (There is nothing worse than mealy, tasteless apricots!) Sorbet sounds like the perfect use for apricots!

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  23. Finding great apricots is such a treat, because, as you said, it's not so easy. But when they are great, they are really great. This sorbet looks wonderful. My mom has a summer solstace party every year - maybe I'll make this sorbet to bring for the party!

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  24. What an eloquent way to lead into a tantalizing sorbet recipe.
    I love summers...early morning on my balcony...the fountain, the birdie tweets and my puppy by my feet. Alright, doesn't last long...reality does set in...back to work I go.
    Apricots are a fruit that I have been terribly picky about. I was incredibly spoiled with some of the best fruit right off the tree while in Italy. We'll have to adjust our expectations...n'est ce pas ;o)
    Thanks for the lovely recipe.
    Flavourful wishes, Claudia

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  25. Hey Barbara!
    I love apricots, but I agree with you that it is often difficult to find good apricots here. In Europe, they are often really wonderful. Maybe they are not indigenous to the U.S.??? I don't know, but I'm curious now...
    This sorbet sound really fresh. I might try it actually. I keep telling myself I'm going to make ice cream, but don't do to fat content. This is the answer to that I think!

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  26. I love how the nights are so much longer since the sun is up til almost nine! This apricot sorbet looks divine!

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  27. Hmmm, nope, no Druids here. Too bad.

    Walking through the produce section last week, I was overcome by the fragrance of the peaches and apricots. My parents had an apricot tree, and they certainly were delicious right off the tree. I may have to give that sorbet a whirl. :D

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  28. I always get so disappointed with the apricots I buy, too. Too soggy or mealy. And not too sweet. I've just about given up! Thanks for the tutorial! I'll give them another try.

    I once wrote an entire story about the Stonehenge and how it's a portal to an alternate universe. lol!

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  29. Mmmm This is what I need right now!

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  30. I love summer AND apricots!

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  31. Beautiful photos Barbara! I really need to get my ice cream maker out and plugged in! I made so many delicious sorbet's and ice cream's last year. So very good. I'm bookmarking this one. Thanks for sending it along.

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  32. Oh, I've just picked up a bunch of apricots in the store! A sorbet sounds so nice and refreshing! I should definitely make it now!

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  33. I also have this recipe on my radar and am glad to hear you enjoyed it. I'll have to try it soon! Your photo of apricots make me swoon. They are my favorite fruit so I wait for this season every year.

    Thanks so much for your mention of my blog. I appreciate your gracious support!

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  34. Wor, I would like to have some of this in our hot weather here, simply cool and refreshing!

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  35. Barbara,
    Bully for the Druids! I'm glad they have their Stonehenge back.
    I have a friend in Southern California who has an abundance of apricot trees. She makes the most divine jam!
    The sorbet looks wonderful, I am off to the Farmer's Market for some apricots!
    Pam

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  36. I've always loved druids. They're so mysterious. Madeline L'Engle wrote a book that focused around them and I've always adored it.

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  37. Dallas Jean isn't political! Don't worry!

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  38. Lovely recipe for the apricot lovers out there like myself!

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  39. This looks wonderful! Barbara, I'm the same as you, I'm often quite disappointed by fresh apricots. The best apricots I ever had were in Finland. They were so unbelievably sweet they were like those plump dried Turkish apricots! :D

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  40. I love apricots but finding a good one is indeed a difficult pursuit! I usually settle for apricot preserves or dried apricots to get my fix but the description of oven roasting apricots in this delightful sorbet sounds so good.

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  41. This looks awesome. Apricots are my favorite fruit and good ones are so difficult to buy, so I planted two new trees. Sadly the crop will be very small this year, but next year...
    Mimi

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