Friday, July 31, 2015

Black Velvet

Give that person a raise! 

Whoever came up with the name "Black Velvet apricots" is a marketing genius. 

The name alone makes me never want to eat a humdrum regular ol' apricot again.

Even the more mundane shortened name of "black apricot" can work some marketing magic on me --  but then again, I am a New Yorker, with the black wardrobe to prove it. "Black velvet apricot" sets the stage for the velvety smooth skin, and a smooth jazz vibe from the fruit, a very different vibe from the sunshiney, "Have a nice day" orange-yellow of regular apricots. Granted BV apricots aren't actually black, but red cabbage isn't red, either. 

It turns out - perhaps even more impressively - black velvet apricots are also not actually apricots. They're a hybrid of apricots and plums. See what I mean about marketing?

Apricots and plums have a long and complicated history of crossing. Luther Burbank, the great 19th century botanist who, like Helen Keller and Florence Nightingale, was a regular star of 5th grade book reports back in my day, developed a 50/50 plum/apricot hybrid, later known as a plumcot.  Plumcots, in turn, have been crossed with plums to give birth to the pluot. (Pluots have become so ubiquitous that according to one account, "Pluots make up the majority of the plum market." And the pluot's place in the national consciousness has been certified with this New Yorker cartoon, which declared the pluot to be "an apricot that self-identifies as a plum.")

But unlike these half-plum and mostly-plum hybrids, black velvet apricots are apriums, an apricot/plum offspring that is mostly apricot.

As we saw with apple hybrids, the goal of breeding programs is to harness the best qualities of each parent - especially those qualities that yielded the holy trinity of a sweeter, juicier and hardier fruit. BV apricots are definitely juicier and sweeter. From what I've experienced, they're also less likely than standard apricots to be mushy or mealy.  I liked these traits, and I could see why shippers and vendors would like them too. I did notice that the the regular apricot had a pit that released much more easily, whereas the black velvet apricot's flesh clung to the pit, just like a plum. 

Not a big deal, but I'm sure a breeder is working on this "problem" right now.

But I'm not ready to write apricots off entirely. A day after buying a bunch of BV apricots, my head was turned by this display of the old-fashioned kind.

Look at that blush, I thought. The apricots were practically glowing with health. We don't need fancy tinkering, they seemed to say. We're fine the way we are.

I bought a couple. The apricot was firm and tasted both sweet and tangy. It wasn't as juicy as the black velvet apricot, but neither are a lot of fruits I enjoy. I enjoyed the indentation left behind when the pit easily slipped away. Liking one fruit doesn't mean forsaking all others, I thought. Sometimes a tweak gives you an appreciation of both the new thing and the original.

Besides, soon enough busy breeding programs will make the pluot old hat. Personally, I'm waiting for a cherry-plum hybrid.

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