Friends, Crème fraîche hurling and poached apricots.

I have a great friend called Romla. We’ve known each other 15 years now. Since the day she roared into the forecourt of The Drama Center London on monster sports bike in full, skin-tight leathers and pulled off her helmet to reveal a mop of rumpled peroxide-blonde hair. It was my first day and I assumed she was a third year. But then, as all the new students gathered, quietly, nervously for the introductory talk, in strode the blonde on the bike and sat in the circle. I decided I really didn’t like her.

This feeling incubated for the whole of the first term. Then for the second term production, an obsure German play called The Rats by Gerhart Hauptmann, Romla was cast as the formidable Housekeeper – obviously – and I, the lowly maid. Most of our scenes involved her mistreating, berating and generally slapping me around. I assumed this would nudge dislike towards loathing. But ironically the hours of rehearsal and the endless slapping – proper hand to cheek stuff, all very earnest, this was The Drama Center afterall – had the reverse effect. We became great friends.

Romla is very good at lots of things. ‘Shes a bloody polymath!‘ A mutual friend once noted. She is also a mean poker player and a superb cook. While we were studying, I spent far too much time at her house – we were students, we all had motley accommodation, all, except Romla. Most days involved her cooking. I’d play sous chef and our friend Tom would camp up proceedings until the usual suspects arrived for a big dinner. Over one such (particularly boozy) dinner soon after we’d graduated, we hatched a plan to subsidize our precarious acting careers by setting up a catering company. Now, if it had been down to me, this idea would have remained exactly that, an idea. But Rom being Rom, and her father’s daughter, meant Romla and Rachel Catering – R&R catering – was established. I probably shouldn’t go into too much detail about R&R, because although we were actually quite good, and surprisingly successful to boot, it was all incredibly dodgy, we broke several laws and breached just about every health and safety regulation going.

Amid all the cooking and pirate catering, we all went to stay at Rom’s family house in the south of France, a staggeringly beautiful place, perched on the hillside above Monaco. We ate at the house most nights, sitting on the terrace looking past the glittering lights of Villefranche-sur-Mer at the Ligurian sea, drinking wine worth more than our monthly pay cheques. We felt like Grace Kelly, Joan Collins, F Scott Fitzgerald and Norman Douglas all rolled into one.

Even polymath cooks need a night off; so one evening we went out for dinner. I’d been waiting to go to this particular restaurant. Firstly because the food was famously good and secondly, because this was the place, a few years earlier, that Rom’s ex boyfriend had infamously scooped a ladelful of thick, white, crème fraîche from the vast pot and hurled it, clown style, in her face.

The meal was as promised, terrific. Beautifully simple food, prepared with great care but no fuss, from really good local ingredients. First a vast bowl of raw vegetables; radishes, slim carrots, fennel, artichokes, broad beans and whole hard-boiled eggs to be eaten with aioli. There was a terrine, rabbit I think, little dishes of mushrooms cooked in butter and another of tiny preserved onions, sweet, sharp and delicious. For the main course, we choose between chicken, beef or lamb, which was then cooked on the grill over a wood fire in the center of the restaurant and served with baked potatoes and butter. Next a green salad. To finish, a vast jar of poached apricots and another of peaches was set in the middle of the table, and beside them a large metal pail of the most exquisitely thick, unctuous crème fraîche I’ve ever seen. The infamous crème fraîche. Large serving spoons and bowls were passed around so we could help ourselves.

After the first delicious mouthful, I turned to Romla, I wanted to exchange knowing glances about the crème fraîche, I was wondering if she remembered that she’d told me the story?  She had, and in case I hadn’t, she was poised, ladle in hand and in the middle of a rustic but very fashionable restaurant, with the same force that the housekeeper slapped the maid, she splattered the crème fraîche in my face. Silence descended, thud! I don’t think anyone else at the table knew the story. Everyone looked shocked and uncomfortable, someone gasped, someone else handed me a napkin.  Several people jumped to my defence in a ‘Oh my god, poor little Rachel; big, horrid Romla‘ manner. Romla and I proceeded to laugh for the next two days.

I still think the big jar of poached apricots and the pail of crème fraîche is one of the best and most wonderful puddings I have ever been served. So good and simple, so much nicer than a million fussy things. I often stew fruit – I think we’ve established I have a thing for it – Pears in red wine, prunes in spices and my favourite, Quince with black pepper. But apart from the odd little panful, I have never seriously poached apricots.

Until last weekend. Inspired by Robin at Codfish and Caviar – one of my favouries and one of the first food blogs I ever read – and with advice from Elizabeth David, I put apricots in jars. Apricots are lovely at the moment, they have been for a while, soft, downy, peachy-orange orbs, some of them flushed with pink. We have been eating them just so, splitting them in two at the seam, pulling away the stone and biting into the soft, tender, flesh. Then on Saturday my fruttivendolo, my other Vincenzo, gave me a cracking deal on 3 kilos.

You make a simple sugar syrup by dissolving 450g of fine sugar with 6 cups of water, you add strips of lemon zest, vanilla, whole black peppercorn, cloves and a stick of cinnamon. You poach halved apricots for a few minutes until they are tender but still holding their shape. Finally you divide the apricots between your preserving jars and then reduce the syrup a little before pouring it over the fruit.

As with pears and quinces, a gentle, brief poaching – brief being the operative word, just a few minutes or they will collapse and become mushy – does something wonderful to the flesh of apricots, the texture changes, becoming both firm and tender. After a few days macerating in the light lemon syrup, along with the cloves, vanilla, black peppercorns and the cinnamon, the become heavy and infused with the warm, spicy flavours.

We have been having poached apricots for breakfast this week, 6 or 7 halves each with a big blob of Greek yogurt. Even Vincenzo – who is usually resentful of fruit for breakfast, especially if it the only option – approves. Last night. after supper, we had some with mascarpone which is another thing altogether, indulgent and quite delicious. But, I know crème fraîche is the best partner for poached apricots, the thick, rich, weight of it, the slight sourness. On Saturday when I plonk the nicer of the two big jars in the middle of the table, it will be alongside a big bowl of crème fraîche. Crème fraîche hurling will be optional.

On a practical note, I’d cut some of the larger apricots in quarters. It was a mistake, they don’t hold their shape as well. Halves are best. When buying fresh apricots, look for fruit that is plump, fragrant, and gives a little when squeezed. Poaching time depends on the ripeness of the fruit. My ripe, but firm, apricots took 4 minutes.

Poached apricots in spiced syrup

Adapted from Robin and Gourmet. Advice from Elizabeth David

Fills 2 1.5 litre or preserving jars.

  • 6 cups /1.5 litres filtered water
  • 2 generous cups /450g caster sugar
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 15 thick strips of unwaxed lemon rind (you will need 2 or 3 lemons)
  • 8 cloves
  • vanilla pod
  • 65 ripe but firm apricots

Wash and then cut the apricots in two and remove the stone.

Scrape seeds from vanilla bean with tip of a sharp knife into large heavy based saucepan and add pod, water, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns.

Very gently bring the contents of the pan to the boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Now you are going to cook the apricots in two or three batches depending on the size of your pan. Add the first batch of the apricot halves and simmer, stirring once or twice, until tender, 2 to 6 minutes (depending on ripeness).

Using a slotted spoon lift the apricots out of the syrup and into very clean preserving jars. Put the next batch in the syrup, poach and lift into the jars, Repeat, if necessary with the third batch.

Then scoop out the lemon, peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon and divide them between the jars. Now bring the syrup to a fast rolling boil and leave it rolling energetically until the syrup has reduced by about a third. Divide the syrup between the jars.

Keep the jars for a few days in the fridge before serving the apricots cold or a room temperature with a dollop of crème fraîche, fresh unsalted cream cheese (homemade or Isigny) mascarpone or thick greek yogurt.

109 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, preserves and conserves, Rachel's Diary, recipes, summer food

109 responses to “Friends, Crème fraîche hurling and poached apricots.

  1. That looks amazingly yummy! This is one to try at home, for sure!

  2. Please don’t be offended when I say that you make me sick. It is the highest of compliments. Yes, praise, indeed.

    • rachel

      I don’t think I’m offended! I didn’t realise that hurl meant vomit in the US, oh dear. Feel free to throw creme fraiche at me when we meet.

  3. You know, I was just thinking of canning apricots in syrup…Maybe I’ll use this recipe! I have the jars and aromatics, now I just need to buy some apricots.

    I’m guessing I’ll cold pack the apricots into jars, make the syrup and then process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. :/ Hopefully they won’t break apart.

    • rachel

      Christine, Sounds good – I’ll be really interested to hear how it goes. I suppose if they are packed carefully in the jars (which will be easier when they are cold) they should keep their shape.

  4. My mom and aunt always canned. I may try it now.

  5. Um…sounds wonderful. I’ve never eaten an apricot, but your recipe is tempting me! Your blog is most entertaining. :)

    • rachel

      Never eaten an apricot! I want to send you one right now. which is probably not the best idea.
      here’s hoping you eat one soon.

  6. I love your header :)
    The apricots look delicious too!

    • rachel

      You like the header – horray, nobody has ever said they like the header before, you are the first. I drew it,

  7. Pingback: The Apricot Love Affair « The Good Stuff

  8. This looks lovely, and definitely something I want to try.
    -Noor

  9. Mia

    Mmm…sounds delish. And I would love to try creme fraishe hurling.

  10. Yum :)

    Cheers, Niconica

  11. If you put creme fraiche on it, I’ll eat it, so that’s my kind of dessert.

    The Codger

  12. buytupperwarebangalore

    hey it was a treat to read your blog. I was initially drawn to yr mention of creme fraiche. You gave
    me an idea of stewing peaches as they are in season
    now. I too make lightly sweet fruit jams, jellies and
    marmalades at home. My favourites are strawberry,
    plums and cherries.

    http://rodas-recipes.blogspot.com

    is where i write

  13. TD

    Loved your account of your friend. Anyone who hurls food at friends is really fun in my books! I don’t recommend wasting food, but it is just so much fun. Like pillow fight with things that stick to your skin.
    The apricots are good too. But they are only the supporting cast here.
    How long do you think you can store a jar of poached apricots?

    • rachel

      After a week the apricots are even better. With all the syrup, I think another week, 10 days in the fridge. I have frozen some too. I will make a note on the blog. Yes occasional food throwing is good.

  14. such a beautiful story and scrummy pudding (brekkie). x shayma

  15. I’m with Tracy – you make me sick … with envy! Such a well-written, entertaining post. Love that cream slapping.

  16. I’m no foodie — I just happened to click your blog from Freshly Pressed, and so glad I did!

    You’re a heck of a writer! You make me miss France.

    I’ll be checking back later, that’s for sure.

  17. Wow, that looks really delicious! I’m going to see if I can convince my mom to part with her bag of nectarines to try this with my greek yogurt. Thanks for the recipe!

  18. i’m pretty sure i need a new keyboard now. i just drooled all over it. i can bill it to you, right?

  19. oh my god………yamiiiiiiiii….

  20. well, having been a law-breaking clandestine caterer back-in-the-day, you know how I love reading about the R&R enterprise…
    It reminded me of this:
    I once catered my friends special birthday, with her favorite Key Lime Pie, a pie she always said that she loved so much, that she could put her whole face in it…..

    beware what you wish for!!!

    • rachel

      I did think of you Nancy, not sure we were quite in your league.
      Ha, fantastic, I’d like a full post and recipe for this one please.

  21. Nice post and the recipe too..
    Congratulations..

  22. Looks tasty, I love your photos too, especially the one with the apricots in jars and on the cutting board. I can’t live without my Global knives as well — looks like you’re putting yours to good use!

  23. Karli

    Looks delicious, how long do the jars last if you don’t pressure cook them?

    • rachel

      A week on and they are getting tastier everyday, I think with all the syrup at least another 10 days in the fridge. I have frozen a small portion too.

  24. Those apricots look amazing, so ripe and warm and full of sunshine! In the middle of a Southern hemisphere winter it’s hard to remember what summer fruit looks and tastes like… but this is a great reminder

    • rachel

      But despite the waether I have been thining about winter veg like pumpkin – must be the orange.
      sending you a waft of Roman Summer

  25. Rachel, I am speechless as you slowly reveal the layers of your life to us. How fabulous that time at drama school must have been–all the while illegally catering and making a friend for life. Of course, enjoying that home in Monaco and the high jinx with the creme fraiche are not so shabby! Great post.

    • rachel

      Hello Michele
      Your right, ha, not shabby at all, we did feel like the jet set. The catering was less romantic but fun.

  26. This beautifully got across the feel of some interesting times in the blogger’s history. I’m just sort of surprised that no one has mentioned the obvious: that in American slang, “hurling” means “vomiting,” which makes that term a bit distracting for those of us on the left side of the Atlantic. But, that aside, this was a lovely piece.

    • rachel

      Hello Jenny

      Thank you and Oh dear, I had no idea, sorry this rather changes the idea of the title – not very charming. The problem is throwing and chucking (two other verbs I could use) also mean vomiting in English. I thought about changing the title but i think I will just make a note. thank you again for telling me this

      Rachel

  27. I love how genuine this post is, about your friend Romla and your exploits with the catering business… So much cooler than just plopping down a recipe and saying, here try this, it’s good.

    You gave everyone a warm story to associate this recipe with. It’s excellent… those apricots with the Creme Fraiche (although I’m an american and have no idea what the latter is) sounds delicious.

    I’ll have to look it up.

    Thanks
    -Riles Aka Aspiringtobesomeone

    • rachel

      Hello Riles
      I should have noted this – creme fraiche is a soured cream containing about 28% butterfat It is soured with bacterial culture, but is thicker, and less sour than sour cream. Originally a French product, it is available in many countries. It is traditional to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.

  28. You make me hungry. I suddenly am thinking of the wonderful dried cherries and blueberries which go so well with sunflower seeds and yogurt.

    The apricots sound wonderful.

    bon appetite

  29. I liked reading about what you did with your apricots and the story of your friend Romla was interesting. Your photos were a storybook. This recipe seems simple enough for me to try.

    • rachel

      It’s lovely and simple, the only slightly tricky part is getting the poaching time right – I suggest three small batches and lots of tasting.

  30. I love apricots! Your photographs remind me of Donna Hay spreads. Gorgeous.

  31. Well written post and the recipe looks fantastic.

  32. Congratulations, Rachel !!!

    The apricots are verry good for the blood, was known in Armenia during ancient times, and has been cultivated there for so long it is often thought to be native there.

    P.S. … & I love Crème Fraîcheeee !!! :lol:

    • rachel

      My blood will be pleased, I have eaten at least 2 kilos in the last couple of weeks. I think have a recipe for Armenian apricot cake somewhere – will hunt it down.

  33. Sounds like a lot of work. Thanks for sharing.

    • rachel

      Actually it wasn’t that much work, bit of cutting, stoning, boiling, bit of poaching. The real work, the real nice work is the eating? I am very good at that.

  34. I’ve never had an apricot, but after reading this I think I may give it a shot. Nice read!

  35. Pingback: Friends, Crème fraîche hurling and poached apricots. « My Buddy

  36. Rachel, you are an awesome writer and I love your pictures. You must be a professional writer. I’m hoping that my writing skills improve as I continue to develop my blogs: ofyroo.wordpress.com and eatinfood.wordpress.com.

    Poached apricots, huh? I’ll have to try that one day. I am a bit more partial to peaches than apricots, though.

  37. سیـــار

    I <3 fruit.

  38. sayitinasong

    Oh we all have a friend like Romla don’t we? Or if not- there’s Nigella…. lol… seriously deliscious looking pud! Speaking of puds and fruit, I like this old recipe from Austria (dont know if it actually an Austrian recipe… but it was given to me by my cousin who lives in Austria…) Take your favorite fruits (e.g. plums) or berries (e.g. cherries) soak them in liquor (your choice) for about 2 months… then spoon on vanilla ice-cream… more voltage than straight vodka and so much more delish…

  39. Your photographs are absolutely wonderful. Can’t stop looking at them!

    Best wishes,

    geradinemcc

  40. Pingback: 5 Things of Interest « Ms. Read's Almanac of Fortuitous Occurrences

  41. I just love reading your posts. For what it’s worth, I am one American that thinks of something being thrown forcefully when I see the word ‘hurling’ used in the context of your post title.

  42. Pingback: Argumentul ”Foame” « World of Solitaire's Blog

  43. I got a quote on Rachel’s blog! I’m Tom, the gay friend of Rach and Rom, usually camping up proceedings with a Kylie song or a mince through the kitchen while Rach was chopping and Rom sweating over the Aga. Loved the story! As for crème fraiche, it really does go with anything in my books. Thanks Rach for this delicious recipe; I will try it because it might help me to “get” apricots.

  44. You’re making me frantic that I haven’t put up any apricots yet, or gotten nearly close enough to having eaten my fill this summer yet. I’m going to Italy on Friday and plan to eat nothing but apricots. Um, and peaches. Oh, and watermelon.

  45. Dorothee

    ooooo, how lovely! I just brought home some apricots, but nowhere close to 65… Do you happen to remember how many grams they equaled up to, so that I can do the math and maybe soon have my own helping for breakfast?

    • rachel

      ok I think the apricots were about 35g (just over 1 oz) a peice. So 65 apricots is about 2.3kgs. Is that helpful?

  46. cj

    Holy Jesus! When I read that title, “Friends,Creme fraiche hurling and poached apricots” I almost had a canary! Here I am living in Ireland (land of Hurling) and I’m thinking, how in the name of god did someone manage to combine that mad game with apricots and creme fraiche? So, now I know, and fair play to you. Great blog.

  47. Pingback: Toast and a Summer Break « Catering Directory

  48. If you love poaching stone fruit…..you will ♥ herb poaching. Try basil and peaches, or a trio of minty and lemony herbs (melisse & verbena) with nectarines. Heaven

  49. Wonderful post, I like your impressive blog, found you on FP.

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  51. Pingback: Recipes to Try | Live and Learn

  52. Pingback: Cheesecake met abrikozen en aardbeien | FancySchmancy

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