Fresh ripe apricots are a boon when they are found since they do not travel well. The majority of ripe apricot crops are dried, with often less than one-fourth of the harvest coming to the market fresh. Harvest season for apricots in the United States is from June to mid-August depending on variety and location, but dried apricots are available year-round.
Most fresh apricots sold to a market are picked when not quite mature and still firm to reduce shipping damage. While they will ripen in color, texture, and juiciness after being picked, the flavor and sweetness will remain at the same level as when they were picked and will not improve.
Apricots range in color from yellow to deep orange, often with red or rosy touches. When selecting fresh apricots, look for fruits with no touch of green whatsoever. The fruits vary in size from about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The flesh should yield to gentle pressure when held in the palm of your hand, and the fruit should have a bright, ripe aroma. Avoid those that are bruised, soft, or mushy.
If you are not blessed with an apricot tree and vine-ripened fruit, apricots will continue to ripen if left at room temperature in a paper bag, away from sunlight. Check the ripening progress often as they will quickly deteriorate. They will never achieve the same full sweet flavor as tree-ripened but will be better than off the shelf. Once ripened, store for no more than a few days in the refrigerator.
To freeze, slice apricots in half and remove the pit, which will impart a bitter flavor. Dip in an ascorbic acid solution to discourage discoloration. Place in airtight baggies in the freezer for up to three months.
With some varieties, the skin will become tough if frozen without blanching first. Simply blanch in boiling water for one minute, plunge into cold water, drain and freeze. Apricots may also be packed in sugar or syrup for freezing and frozen up to 1 year.
Dry vs. Canned
If you are planning to dry or can your apricots, be sure you have chosen a freestone variety. With freestone varieties, the flesh will easily separate from the pit. Most apricots in the market are freestone varieties.
Sun-dried apricots will be a bit tougher than dehydrated. Dried apricots should be stored in the refrigerator. If stored at temperatures above 75 F, the fruit becomes hard, dark in color, and will lose nutrient value. Sealed bags can be stored no more than 1 month at room temperature, but up to 6 months in the refrigerator. If your dried apricots become too brittle, they can be softened by soaking in liquid or by steaming.
Surprisingly, commercially canned apricots often have a much fuller flavor than fresh apricots from the market. This is because the apricots are left on the tree longer to ripen and naturally develop more flavor. The loss of nutrients during the canning process is negligible.