Ripeness cues can vary slightly between varieties, but you’ll know a ripe, juicy apricot by its fruity fragrance and deep, uniform golden color, especially right around the stem, the portion that’s the last to ripen. “Don’t be taken in by that seductive blush: it’s just the side of the fruit that faced the sun while hanging on the tree,” says Al Courchesne, owner of Frog Hollow Farm in California. A ripe, juicy apricot will be firm, with a slight give when pressed. “Really ripe fruit with a lot of sugar will even wrinkle a bit,” adds Becky Smith, Al’s partner at Frog Hollow Farm. Blenheims, the apricots pictured at right, can freckle as they get ripe. The freckling is purely cosmetic and doesn’t make a difference in flavor or texture.
An apricot’s sweet, rich flavor doesn’t need much to show it off. Try sugar and a little lemon juice; add a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg, if you like. Mix sliced apricots with other stone fruits to bake in a juicy crisp or a rustic tart; sprinkle toasted almonds onto the crisp topping or stir ground almonds into the tart crust. Cook fresh apricots into a simple jam, to smear on your morning toast or spoon over vanilla ice cream.