My column for July 2021, in the Christian Courier.
Words are more than their definitions and letters. They are not limited to their pixelated representations on a screen. Words overflow, pouring and flowing in all directions according to the gravitational pull of history and of our experiences.
This May I planted two apricot trees purchased from a local pépinière – more with a view to their Spring blossoms than any fruit they might bear. When the trees were delivered to our home, though, they were mature enough that they already bore a few hard, green apricots. I visit the trees every few days, soaking the soil and worrying over that handful of apricots. I wonder if they will ripen into the rich orange/yellow/rose colour evoked by the name, though I confess I am not entirely confident. I half expect to find green-yellow fruit lying beneath the trees any day now.
A well-travelled fruitIn a sidewalk conversation with a neighbour, Elaine speaks of the lush and flavourful apricots picked fresh in her native Hungary. She says “ā-pricots”, I say “aa-pricots.” She tends her ordered and haphazard flower gardens with care, concerned more for blossoms than for fruits and vegetables. Nevertheless, a wayward and insolent plum tree has rooted itself in Elaine’s front garden, almost daring her to uproot it. Yet her own Jewish tradition (owing in part to such texts as Deut. 20-19-20) resists the cutting down of any fruit tree. So Elaine watches her plum tree and I watch my apricots.
In the story of the apricot, Hungary is one of many waystations on its migration from China and Central Asia, where it was first cultivated in 2000 BCE, to the rest of the world. As Joel Deker points out (The Carrot Purple and Other Curious Stories of the Food We Eat), from Central Asia the apricot journeyed to become zardaloo (yellow plum, Persian), praecocum (precocious one, Latin), al-barqouq (apricot, Arabic), and Prunus armeniaca (its botanical name). Today apricots are grown and picked also in the Okanagan Valley and on the Niagara Peninsula – and, we hope, in Montreal.
For most of us the apricot is a fruit to be eaten in one of its many forms or transformations: as a yellow-orange globe plucked from a tree – biting through its soft flesh to its hard, brown stone. Or it is a jam spread on baguette, an ingredient in the stuffing of a pork roast, or combined with white chocolate in a cheesecake. Precocious perhaps, but culinarily prolific for certain!
But the designation “apricot” is not only to fruit, but also to a colour, and as such “apricot’” holds its own fruity, prunus identity at a distance. For my family, this has become particularly important since our new pandemic puppy, a Labradoodle, has the following formal designation: Markings: apricot. Her mature coat hasn’t come in yet but Juneau’s hair is blond/beige, something approaching the yellowish-orangish colour of apricot.
The colour apricot is hard to pin down. We may know an apricot when we see one, but the colour of apricot carries a degree of ambiguity. It’s a colour, but what colour is it? Well, I can say that it is the colour of the puppy we are learning to love.
As a kid, I confess that I didn’t like apricots, either their texture or their taste. And while my journey certainly hasn’t been as long or far as the one from ancient, Central Asia, I’ve come to like both apricots and “apricot.” The word evokes memories, emotions, tastes, a sense of possibilities and an unfolding story. As with everything in God’s creation, it is not one definable thing. “Apricot,” rather, is always more than we could imagine, which is part of its beauty.