x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

There's an old Arabic proverb: You can have apricots tomorrow

An unpexpected bounty of apricots means trying to find something, anything, to do with them. Which is difficult when they spoil practically overnight, and I have little in the way of baking prowess.

"Annual Apricot Glut" reads a headline from a December 1931 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald. A December 1928 issue of Melbourne's The Argus had read similarly: "Apricot Glut: Thousands of Cases Unsold." This time, the cultivar had been cold-shouldered: "Owing to lack of flavour, the Oullin apricot is of little use for canning or jam-making, and if small, of even less use to the suburban retailer."

Ouch. I don't know how to identify an Oullin apricot, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was stubborn enough to have sown its unwanted oats as far as New Mexico. I have just had an apricot crisis that rivalled Australia's windfall of 80 years ago, and I wasn't the only one. This year was the first in many during which late frosts didn't kill the apricot blossoms, so most of the town's thousands of trees grew fruit.

Some trees had spotty yields and others had fruit that ripened gradually and could be harvested over a period of weeks. The five gargantuan apricot trees in my garden had their own uniquely moronic plan and the overnight arrival of approximately seven million ripe apricots, give or take a few, is a drearier prospect than it sounds.

Apricots aren't my favourite fruit for snacking and a glut of avocados or raspberries would have been a more welcome sight. Nevertheless, I felt the need to get creative and l learnt quickly that in the heat of July, the novelty of creative ventures (such as canning, preserving and pulverising apricot kernels for making almond extract) starts to feel like homework. So I threw an apricot-picking party and invited the neighbourhood. I picked apricots and laid them on trays outside the house with a sign saying "FREE FRUIT!". When that didn't work, I shoehorned in the word "ORGANIC!!" I handed paper bags of washed apricots to the neighbourhood folk who sell newspapers in the baking sun. Still I ended up with countless windfallen apricots rotting across my property faster than I could discard them - and ended up with a raccoon and skunk infestation as a result.

There is an Arabic proverb that almost perfectly describes this frustrating situation: "Bukra fil mish-mish", meaning "[you can have] apricots tomorrow". The logic is that apricots are only delicious right after picking as they become grainy and mushy by the next day. It's basically a nice way of saying "it's impossible, so let it go". As we all know, nothing good is ever an exact science. Although, if it were, there would be less excess, less waste and less opportunity to marvel at unexpected catastrophes.

This is also why I'm not a baker by nature. Some people just weren't cut out to enjoy measuring out exact quantities. After making the necessary high-altitude adjustments for where I live (increasing the moisture content and oven temperature and decreasing the leavening, sugar and cooking time), resisting the urge to tinker further is not easy.

And besides, humans were built to tinker, with our agile opposable thumbs. What I can rally for is empirical evidence. Does it work for you? How do you know it doesn't? For someone who's practically allergic to doing what I'm told until I've considered the alternative, it's the only way to be.

At any rate, I prefer to think of it as customisation rather than tinkering. Ultimately, there are always issues of compatibility at play. Someone fanatical about fermentation - or just more resourceful than me - might have done something smart with all those apricots, besides wasting them.