Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Alas, Alack

I have probably gone on (at great length: always a safe bet around here) before about my desire to pick ripe apricots from the tree. Preferably in my own back yard, but, really, I'm not that particular, I just want the beautiful apricots. So it was with no inconsiderable glee that I opened last week's email from my favorite orchard (to whom I am currently not linking in a fit of pique) saying that the apricots would be ready for picking. They were to be ready this past Saturday, and the email warned that a) there would not be many, b) they would likely not last until Sunday, and c) I should call before venturing out.

The orchard in question (where I also pick my tart cherries and various other fruits) opens at 9 am, and I'd originally made plans to get there right at 9. Camping out the night before seemed not altogether extreme, but of dubious legality. In any case, I overslept slightly, and after making the call to hear their recorded message (which promised "a few" apricots), I left home, arriving at the orchard before 9:30.

Too late, readers, too late! There were still a very few perfectly ripe apricots available, particularly if I stretched on my tippy toes, but most of the apricots were beautiful on one side but green on the shady side. Oh, the humanity.

I was already in something of a state before I arrived to find such slim pickings. I had in mind taking some beautiful apricots and making the fruits confits from Mireille Johnston's The Cuisine of the Sun. I had planned to take my beautiful apricots, make a slice in them, extract the seeds, and slip in a beautiful Marcona almond (which are now available at Costco) before embarking on the long, painstaking process that results in fruits that are too pretty to eat. But not, one supposes, too pretty to give away. And I was going to do it right. I was, in fact, all set to order a hydrometer one evening last week when I thought that I had better check the book to make sure I was ordering an instrument that measured the right range of specific gravities.

I could not find the book.

Now, in between all the cursing and fuming, I realized that I'd had trouble finding the book before, but I reasoned that I simply must not have looked hard enough. I looked hard. I had nothing. I decided to bite the bullet and buy a second copy. After all, I reasoned, The Cuisine of the Sun is one of the best cookbooks I own, and not owning it is not an option. If I bought a second and found the first, then I'd have two copies to someday bequeath to my daughters. And, after all, I do own two (okay, three) copies of Joy of Cooking, so it's not like I have a philosophical objection to the redundancy of essential texts.

I figured that I would pick up a copy at Borders on Friday night, when I was meeting friends to see a movie. I went directly from work, I arrived early, I walked into Borders, and I picked up a copy. Except I didn't because BORDERS DIDN'T HAVE A COPY OF THE CUISINE OF THE SUN. They didn't have a copy in general cooking, they didn't have a copy in Mediterranean cooking, and they didn't have a copy in French cooking. I assumed this was some sort of horrible mistake or that perhaps there'd just been an unexpected run, but when I went to the terminal that tracks their books, they helpfully told me that I could order the book and have it in eight days or so.

I'm just going to say it: a world where The Cuisine of the Sun is not considered an essential cookbook is a world that needs to be fixed. Borders would have had no trouble providing me with the entire oeuvres of any number of people who have shows on the Food Network, but they don't stock The Cuisine of the Sun as a matter of course.

I was apoplectic. Not only was I angry at this grave injustice (I am not really exaggerating here), but suddenly I was faced with having a large quantity of perfect apricots the next morning and not knowing how to turn them into fruits confits. After a few moments of sheer panic, I decided upon a course of action, and I felt a bit better. When I got home, I would e-mail lindy and ask her to summarize for me the first few days' worth of the fruits confits process. This would give me time to procure a replacement copy of the cookbook. I was worried that lindy might be away or not get the email soon enough, but I reasoned that I could stall the apricots for a day or so. I was sure, given the urgency of the situation, that she would help me out. And that she would know, at any given moment, exactly where to lay her hands on her own copy of The Cuisine of the Sun. Thank God somebody's responsible.

Fortunately, it didn't come to that. As it happens, Amazon (perhaps because I'm a prime member, but perhaps not) has a searchable version of The Cuisine of the Sun on its site, and I was able to look at the .pdf of the book itself and determine what I needed to do. And which sugar hydrometer to order. As it happens, I had to order two to cover the entire range of specific gravities that the recipe calls for, but I figured that surely at some point in time, I would be in a situation where being able to boast that I had two hydrometers would result in either sex or chocolate.

Anyway, all of that sturm und drang was pretty much rendered unnecessary by the state of the apricots.

I still picked some, of course. I mean, I'm standing there in an orchard with a bag in my hand and a bunch of half-ripe apricots, and I'm going to just put the bag down and walk away? I'm only human, people. Now I have about eight pounds of mostly ripe apricots in a brown paper bag next to the kitchen. They don't appear to be in any hurry to ripen, and tossing an overripe banana in the bag didn't seem to do much. At this point, I'm figuring that fruits confits aren't worth the effort if I can't get outrageously perfect fruit, but I'm sure that I'll still get some delicious preserves out of the bargain. I'm looking forward to cracking open a few of the seeds and simmering the kernels with the preserves to give an almond flavor. (You only use a few of the kernels because they contain small amounts of cyanide, and if you eat too many of them, you'll poison yourself. A few won't hurt, though.) It's really not much solace in the face of having to live in such a flawed world, but I reckon it'll just have to do.


Anonymous lindy said...

I feel your pain.
Yet I envy you, because I have never, in my life, eaten a ripe apricot picked from a tree. I love apricot jam, and am devoted to the dried variety- but supermarket apricots- unless cooked up with sugar, have been, in my experience, duds.
I know the real thing has got to be good...maybe next year you should go the night before, and stay nearby. After all, it's only ridiculous if looked at from certain (admittedly common) points of view.

12:42 PM  

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