The apricot has long played apart in European culinary history. Originating in China, the fruit’s popularity gradually spread westwards. It is referred to in Ancient Greek texts as melon armeniakon (Armenian apple), suggesting that it was introduced to the Mediterranean region via Armenia.
The Romans also enjoyed these peach-like fruits, and the modern English word ‘apricot’ has its roots in their term for it, praecocium (the early fruit). But it also bears the influence of Arabic, via the Portuguese (albricoque) and Spanish (albaricoque).
In this recipe, we meet the word part way through its etymological evolution, as ‘apricock’. Later the suffix ‘cot’ would be borrowed from the French and become the norm in English spelling.
How to preserve ripe apricocks
Take ye fairest & largest apricocks gatherd in a dry day, weigh them with down weight of double refind sugar, then pare them nicily with a small knife & take out the stone at one end with a bodkin & take greate care of bruising them. Cover them in the sugar as you do them, but crack ye stone of every one of them. Do them with a hammer, carefully lest you break ye kernall. Peel the kernal & put it in where you took it out ye stone. Then take all ye parings & two other apricock that was not weighd, bruise these two apricocks & boyle them & ye parings in four spoonfuls of water till it is half consumed. Then strain it to the apricocks, sugar & boyle them till they are rich, skiming ye sirrup when it is melted. Let thim boyle very fast. Keep them down with ye back of a spoon. Take care of breaking them. Take ye preserving pan off the fire now & then. Lit ye heat fall, then set them on again. Keep them in glasses. Put brandy papers over when cold. If you have many, you must mark more apricocks & put more water but this will do for a pound. Pound your sugar & cover them in ye presirving pan with a plate whilst ye water is boyling. Take care of boyling them slowly or burning ye sirrup.
The instruction to ‘take ye fairest & largest apricocks gatherd in a dry day‘ suggests that our unknown ladies were growing these fruits themselves. It is unlikely that they would have had access to expensive glasshouses, and the mention given to ‘a dry day’ corroborates this. However, they may well have kept a walled garden, where delicate fruit trees such as the apricot could be cultivated in a sunny but sheltered spot.
It’s another clue on the way to discovering more about our unknown cookbook compilers and the way they might have lived…