Of Apricots, Arks & "Proustian Moments"
Updated: Mar 8, 2020
The apricot is an intense memory trigger for me. On the rare occasion when I can find a fresh orchard apricot, before even taking that first bite, the fragrant, lightly blushed orb brings me back to California, 1974. My family and I are on a vacation to visit vineyards and do some general sightseeing. There's a farmstead in Sunnyvale and my mother insists that we stop. That's where I taste my first apricot, a Blenheim still warm from the sunshine, dripping with nectar, sweet and tart juices yielding in harmonic convergence on my tastebuds.
The origin of the apricot is disputed but is widely believed to have been cultivated in China and Central Asia, then migrating by way of traders traveling the Silk Road, a series of trade routes linking East to West from the time of the Han dynasty to the fall of Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey's largest city and the largest producer of apricots in the world.
One of my favorite breakfasts is a croissant with a spoonful of apricot jam and one of my favorite desserts is my Mom's semi-sweet/semi-tart apricot pie. But, it's the memory of my mother allowing me a sip of an Apricot Sour that takes me back almost 5 decades. Flashbacks of our visits to Cranford to visit our cousin Ollie and her husband Nicky, Navy-era tattoo on his forearm, rocking a cocktail shaker over one shoulder, ice cubes rattling in maraca-like rhythm. This was an era when a lot of houses, including ours, had bars in the basement. Nicky's bar, complete with a fishing net and ornamental glass bubble backdrop was reminiscent of Jersey shore seafood restaurants and also the nautical, seafaring set of a favorite tv show of mine—Captain Noah and His Magical Ark, broadcast on WPVI in the Philadelphia listening region from 1967-1994.
Of course the episode of Captain Noah I remember most featured The Nut Kettle in Peddler's Village, right up the road from us. It was a quaint shop redolent with the toasty aroma of roasting cashews, pecans, and peanuts. A fragrance so cozy and homespun I felt like I was breathing the air in a chapter of a Little House on The Prairie book.
If you want to read the adult version of a Little House book, check out the classic My Ántonia. Willa Cather captures another food-inspired moment in her lovely prose. Ántonia’s frontier kitchen is filled with "rich coffee thick with cream, hot coffee cakes, and apricot kolache." A "Proustian moment" like no other and, for me, the kolache a far more delicious trigger to my brain's hippocampus and amygdala than a Madeleine (is this my Slovak heart and heritage at play?)
Apricots and kolache are really a perfect partnership, analogous to the perfection of say, peanut butter and chocolate. If you haven't had a kolache and just as importantly, if you have, you might like this: