I think I’ve told you before that my friends are the best. They support my silly historical cooking hobby with their enthusiastic comments and their willing stomachs-and sometimes with their gifts!
My friend Jen is to thank for adding three cookbooks to my collection, including two which I used for this recipe. The first is Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. The book was not actually published until 1981 but the recipes are all from the personal, handwritten cookbook of the first First Lady of the United States, which were considered a family heirloom and kept as such long after her death.
Martha compiled a collection of handwritten recipes from 1749-the time of her first marriage to Daniel Custis (she was widowed at age 25)-through her second marriage to George Washington. In 1799, she passed the notebook to her granddaughter, Eleanor Parke Custis, on her wedding day. The book is FANTASTIC and I intend on doing many a recipe for you in the coming months. But the recipes are characteristically difficult of the time period, with incomplete measurements and kitchen instructions and verbiage which needs translation. (see recipe below)
The second cookbook Jen bought for me was The City Tavern Cookbook-Recipes from the Birthplace of American Cuisine. This was published in 2009 but again, it contains many recipes which originate in the kitchens of City Tavern-a Philadelphia restaurant and bar which first opened in December 1773 and was the scene of many a meal by our country’s forefathers as they discussed the formation of the government and its early affairs. It still serves customers today, featuring an eighteenth-century style menu. Again, I plan to do many a recipe from this cookbook too!
The City Tavern cookbook does an excellent job of translating Martha’s recipe for Candied Apricots. Below is Martha’s original version. You’ll note the inclusion of green wheat. Apparently, it was common in Martha’s days to color your candied fruit green whenever possible! You’ll also notice that they spelled “apricot” and several other words quite differently in Martha’s time.
To Candy Green Apricock Chipps
Take your Apricocks, pare them and cut them into chipps, and put them into running water with A good handful of green wheat, before it be eard (before it starts to ear). Then boyle them a little, after take them from the fire, and put them in a silver or earthen dish with a pretty quantity of good white sugar finely beat. Then set them over the fire till they be dry, and they will look clear and green. Then lay then on glas then in a stove A whil, & then box ym.
See why we need a translation?
I came into possession of 15 gloriously ripe apricots thanks to another friend named April, who handed me the bag and said, “I know you’ll make something great with these.” It was a challenge I had to accept!
Apricot trees were a part of George Washington’s estate. But you must remember that preservation techniques in his time required cooks to do what we’d never dream of to these beautiful, healthy fruits-add lots of sugar and liqueur! I served these over vanilla ice cream and it was divine! I gave some to April. She sent me a note later, saying, “Those were not the apricots I brought over!! They were fabulous! Heavenly on my pineapple coconut ice cream I had in the freezer. My kids might actually eat them in this form. Peaches would be good this way, too.”
• 10 apricots
• 4 cups sugar
• ½ cup orange juice
• 2 tablespoons honey (rose honey is apparently preferred but I just used regular)
• 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 1 lemon
• ¼ cup orange liqueur like Cointreau or Triple Sec. I used orange Curacao!
Fill a large stainless steel bowl with ice water. Bring a medium size pot of water to boil.
Using a paring knife, score the bottoms and tops of each fruit with an “X”.
Drop five apricots at a time into the boiling water-cook for 30 seconds. Remove the apricots and submerge them in the ice water. Quickly peel the skins from the fruit. Place the apricots in a bowl and set aside.
In a medium-size pot, add 2 cups of water, the sugar, orange juice and honey and stir to combine. Brush the sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in cool water, making certain no sugar crystals remain. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the apricots, cream of tartar and cinnamon stick to the pot. Return the mixture to medium-high heat and cook until it reaches a temperature of 260 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
Make another ice bath, this time in the your sink, with the water about two-three inches high. Remove the pot from the heat and set it in the ice bath in your sink. Allow the apricots to cool to room temperature.
Transfer to a plastic container. Cut the lemon in half, pick out the seeds, and squeeze the juice over the apricots. Stir to mix. With a wooden spoon, stir in the liqueur.
Cover and refrigerate the whole thing for two days, to let the apricots absorb the syrup. Serve, or store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. It says you can store it at room temperature but I put mine in the refrigerator.