People generally think of farmers markets as benign places: frolicking children, adults enjoying the fresh air, smiling sunflowers. But twice in the last couple years, my local farmers market has been a place where the worst side of our nature has come out, the innocence of that bucolic beauty marred by ugly violence. Of course I’m referring to the trash-talking that precedes the biannual pie contest.
I will admit to all the world that I am one of the ugly offenders. I have a very specific sort of competitive streak; I’ve never been very good at sports, and I’m certainly not the strongest, fastest, smartest, or even funniest. But I know what I am capable of, and in certain situations I will push myself relentlessly to achieve it. So when I first found out about the summer fruit pie contest back in 2011, I immediately set my mind to winning.
My pie had to be memorable. To stand out from the crowd, a pie needs one of two things, if not both: an outstanding crust, or a creative filling. In this case the filling had to highlight summer fruit at its peak of perfection, but it needed a twist that would make the judges perk up in their seat a little. My first attempt was indeed memorable, but not in a good way. Wanting to play with the pie’s visual aspects and texture, I hit on the unfortunate combination of blueberries and tapioca, in a pie that elicited negative comparisons to fish eggs. One look and I knew it was back to the drawing board.
I mused over other, more radical ideas: what truly constitutes a pie? What are the minimum characteristics needed to qualify for the contest? What about a deconstructed pie–an inverted pie–a mathematical pie (oh the fodder for puns)? Finally I asked myself: is it better to be clever or to be a good baker? Did I want to make the judges laugh, raise an eyebrow, or reach for another slice? And thus this simple apricot filling was born.
Apricots are a natural partner for cardamom, rosewater, orange blossom water, or anything with floral notes. When cooked, their tartness and bright flavor concentrates into the essence of summer. I poured these apricots over a pre-baked tart shell made with whole wheat pastry flour and flaked coconut, topped it with pistachios, and knew I had a winner on my hands.
That’s when I became more or less insufferable whenever someone mentioned the pie contest. I wouldn’t reveal my secrets–wouldn’t even divulge the fruit I was using–but I let everyone know they would have to step up their game. Lest you think of me as a bully, I sure got as good as I gave (you know who you are). And when the dust settled I think we all knew we had acted in ways that were unbefitting a farmers market–but also entirely necessary in such a serious situation.
Lately I’ve found that the recipe works equally as well on its own as it does in a tart shell. We’ve eaten them with vanilla ice cream, ricotta, pound cake–you name it. It’s also suitable for water-bath canning, so it’s a simple way to preserve a large amount of apricots with something more interesting than sugar syrup. This past weekend I canned 10 pints of these lightly-spiced fragrant apricots, and I know that when we open them in the depths of winter, they will taste exactly like summer–and a little like victory as well.
Spiced Apricots with Cardamom and Rosewater
For one 8″ tart:
1 lb. apricots, halved and pitted
1/2 C + 6 T water
6 T honey
1 cardamom pod
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 t rosewater
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until apricots are soft and just falling apart. Remove apricots with a slotted spoon and reduce syrup until it coats the back of a spoon. Remove spices, return apricots to the syrup, and simmer one more minute. Pour into prepared tart crust and top with 1/4 C chopped pistachios.