The kitchen was scorching with the late July air. Dinners in the south of France consisted of summer salads like couscous, tuna, tomatoes, and corn. Anything to keep from turning on the oven. An exception was made for Uncle Robert’s birthday–he was coming over to celebrate and mama Liliane had made a special dessert for the occasion.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” I asked, inquiring about the delicacy on the counter in front of me.
“Une tarte aux abricots,” Liliane responded. “Tu aimes les abricots?”
I had never had an apricot—fresh, baked, dried or otherwise, so I honestly couldn’t tell her whether I liked them or not. Fruit at my house growing up was your run of the mill apples, bananas, and oranges, with the occasional peach thrown in. That summer in France I was introduced to cerises (cherries—with the pits in them), prunes (plums, not prunes as we know them), and now les abricots.
Liliane took one of the remaining apricots that she hadn’t used out of the bowl and split it neatly down the middle with her hands. She handed it to me and told me to try it. I took it willingly and put the fruit to my mouth, feeling its downy skin upon my lips. Kind of like a peach, but different. I sunk my teeth into the flesh and was immediately rewarded with the sweet, slightly acidic taste that only a fresh, ripe apricot has, a taste that made the roof of my mouth tingle and made my tongue keep running across my palate as my mouth tried to figure out what exactly I was experiencing. Since that moment, I have been a fan.
Even today, when May rolls around and the first crops start appearing in stores, I seek out the freshest apricots. Less messy than a peach, softer than a plum, the unique taste of a fresh apricot immediately transports me back to the summers I spent in France in high school. We are an ocean apart and I haven’t talked to Liliane in 20+ years, but I learned more than to speak French those summers ago. I was introduced to a whole new world of gustatory delights that I still appreciate today.