On August 7, 1953 apricot growers and their supporters besieged the small town of Saxon in the Swiss Valais canton to protest about the huge amount of Italian imports they claimed inhibited the sale of their produce. Freight trains carrying the Italian imports were looted and burned. The railway line and main road through the Rhône valley were blocked for several days. Consequently an agreement was made to restrict the foreign imports to aid the sale of the domestic produce.
Eight years later the growers faced another challenge when hazardous emissions from a factory in Martigny began to damage their crops. An 18-year campaign finally brought sanctions against the factory owners and in 1982 the Swiss Federal Court issued an order for compensation to be paid to the growers.
Of the 176 apricot growers in the Valais today most develop the luizet variety, supplying two-thirds of the one million kilos needed to make approximately 120,000 bottles of 70 centilitres Abricotine at the distillery in Martigny.
Two hundreds years after they were first cultivated in the Rhøne valley, apricots (and apricot brandy) are now established in the food culture of the region, the warm, dry Valais climate perfect for the sensitive luizet. Planted on the south-facing embankments of the valley, apricot trees thrive in alluvial soil.
Despite the success of this Swiss apricot story, the best apricots in Europe still come from Anatolia, where the climate and soil has always been conducive to consistently high quality production.
While the Austrians of Wachau and the Swiss of the Valais / Wallis turn their delicate fruit into apricot brandy (and liqueur), the Turks treat the apricot like a fruit from the gods and produce a quarter of the world crop to prove it. They eat apricots fresh, dry them in the sun and extend their usefulness in various ways, because they have always known the health benefits.
beta carotene to thwart cancer
fibre to aid digestion
iron to prevent anaemia
potassium to boost the heart and kidneys
and vitamins A, C and E to keep the body functioning
Nine tenths of the dried apricot market arise from Anatolia and are shipped around the world, where they are appreciated for their nutritional value – 100 grams of dried apricot contains 24 grams of dietary fibre, one gram less than an adult’s daily requirement.
Apricots make their way into a range of baked, cooked and processed foods in Turkey. They preserve their shelf life and consequently their health benefits by making them into jam and paste, starters for countless products.
Turkish apricots are of a higher quality, primarily because they are original cultivars (native species, not cross-cultivated) and have the best growing conditions in Anatolia.
The native roxana is being developed because it is early (July), has a large fruit (80-120 grams) and is resistant to cold. Red with orange flesh, the kernel is sweet.
Armenian, Austrian, Greek and Hungarian apricots are also old species varieties.
The European season is May to July and through to September in some regions.
Breeders are constantly working to produce sweeter apricots by identifying the original cultivars.
Kayısı Reçeli (apricot jam)
- 1 kg apricots, fresh unblemished
- 1 kg / 800 g sugar
- 400 ml water (optional)
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Apricot kernels
There are two distinct methods of making apricot jam.
Halve the apricots (retaining the stones) and steep overnight in the juice of one lemon and one kilo of sugar.
Crack open the stones to extract the kernels, which should be blanched to remove the skins.
Put the apricot-lemon-sugar mixture in a heavy-bottomed pan. Bring gradually and slowly to the boil until the sugar crystals have dissolved, about 15 minutes. Add the kernels for the last 10-15 minutes, testing the mixture for solidity.
This done by placing a plate in the refrigerator, spooning some mixture onto the plate. If it forms a skin and begins to set it is ready to go immediately into hot sterilised jars.
The second method calls for less sugar, which should be dissolved in the water before the apricots are added. Boil them in the sugar mixture for 10-15 minutes, add the lemon juice and kernels, reduce and test.
The first method retains the shape of each apricot half, the second produces the consistency of jam and is almost like a paste, which brings us to the next popular apricot product in Turkey.
Kayısı Pestili (apricot paste)
- 1 kg apricots
- 100 ml water
Halve the apricots, discarding the stones, and simmer in the water until they are soft, about 20 minutes.
Liquidise, pass through a sieve and place the pulp on a buttered baking dish. Cover with cheesecloth and leave to dry in the sun until dry and leathery.
Alternatively, placed the tray in a low preheated oven, around 90°C, and bake for about two hours.
This apricot leather can be cut and reconstituted in warm water for various uses, in soups and stews, and in cakes and pastries.
One such is the Viennese Sachertorte, arguably Europe’s favourite aristocratic chocolate cake.
Sachertorte (chocolate and apricot cake)
The smooth consistency of the chocolate icing gives this cake its celebrated Viennese appearance but it is the inner apricot glaze that makes it iconic. The recipe for the original Sachertorte, made by 16 year old apprentice chef Franz Sacher at the court of Prince Metternich in 1832, remains a secret.
There are now many versions of the cake. Among the best are found in Bologna at the Neri Pasticceria beyond the gate on via Saragozza and at the Caffe la Serra near the Arsenal in Venice.
Only the Italians!
This is an adaptation of the version provided by Austrian Tourism.
- 7 eggs, separated
- 200 g apricot jam or paste, smooth for spreading
- 200 g dark chocolate (70%)
- 150 g butter, softened
- 150 g flour
- 100 g icing sugar
- 75 g almonds, ground
- 50 g vanilla sugar
- 50 g sugar
- Salt, pinch
- Butter and flour for cake tin / mould
- Icing (200 g dark (70% cocoa) chocolate / 250 g sugar / 100 ml water / 50 g butter)
Melt chocolate slowly in a bain-marie. Cream the butter with the icing and vanilla sugars, stirring in the egg yolks one by one.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Grease a cake tin with butter and sprinkle with flour.
Vigourously beat egg whites with sugar to form a stiff peak when lifted. Stir the melted chocolate into the butter-egg paste and carefully fold in the whipped egg whites alternately with the flour and salt, and the ground almonds if preferred.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 55-60 minutes.
Turn the cake onto a board and allow to cool, turn again after 25 minutes. This will give the cake a flat surface on each side.
Reconstitute apricot paste in warm water to make 200 grams of soft jam.
Divide the cake into two equal bases. Smooth jam over each base and place one on the top of the other, coating the edges with the remaining jam. Leave to set.
Dissolve the sugar in the water gradually over a medium heat until it begins to boil. Cook for five minutes, turn off heat and allow to cool.
Break chocolate into small pieces, add a few at a time stirring until the glaze is smooth. In a single movement pour the chocolate glaze over the cake, and with a broad-bladed knife smooth out until the surface and edges are coated.
Apply decorations and leave to cool at room temperature.
Traditional Apricot Dishes
Amaretti ITALY almond, apricot kernels and honey macaroons
Aprikosen-Brötli SWITZERLAND milk bread rolls with apricots
Aprikosenkuchen mit Streuseln SWITZERLAND apricot crumb cake
Aprikosentörtli SWITZERLAND apricot tart
Birnbrot SWITZERLAND fruit bread
Brac de Gitano ANDORRA apricot cream roll
Hutzelbrot GERMANY festive fruit cake
Marillenknödel AUSTRIA apricot potato dumplings
Marillenkuchen AUSTRIA apricot cake
Oie Rôtie aux Fruits FRANCE roast goose with apple, pear, dried apricot, prune
Plov, Shirin EUROPE basmati rice with apricot, date, plum, raisin, saffron
Plov, Shirin AZERBAIJAN basmati rice with apricot, date, plum, raisin, saffron, fried meat
Tarte Tatin FRANCE apricot tart
Yaini ARMENIA AZERBAIJAN GEORGIA RUSSIA beef soup with dried apricots
Aprikoz TURKEY (700,000 tonnes)
Bebeco GREECE (41,000)
Bergarouge FRANCE (160,000)
Búlida SPAIN (83,000)
Klosterneuburger / Kegelmarille AUSTRIA
Red Galta SPAIN
Rouge du Roussillon FRANCE
Adapted from Fruits of Europe.