With their velvety, orange-yellow skin, apricots are a stone fruit related to roses. They grow best in warm climates, such as southern Italy but have been known in China since 2500BC and were introduced to England by Henry VIII's gardener. Although the fruits do not travel well, their popularity has spread throughout the world.
There is rarely a choice of apricot varieties on sale at any one time although in general the best English variety is considered to be Moor Park. The colour of the skin is not an indication of their potential flavour.
Moroccan and Persian cuisines use apricots prolifically in stews with lamb and poultry. The fruit also works well in savoury situations with pork, ham, grains, nuts and soft cheeses such as brie. In Sweden apricots are made into a cold soup scented with cinnamon, in Austria they are used to fill dumplings. Good flavour matches include cardamon, ginger, vanilla, rosemary, honey, saffron, rose and orange flower waters, and chocolate. The shape makes them ideal for upside down cakes with sticky caramel, or nestling in frangipane tart. Apricot jam is not only delicious in its own right but a staple of pastry chefs, who use it as a glaze. The stones can be cracked open and added to the pan for a hint of bitter almond flavour.