These fragile peachlike fruits, with their perfumy aroma and ultra-sweet flavour, contain impressive amounts of beta-carotene. They are also a fair source of potassium, and supply a good amount of fibre. Fresh apricots are fragile and do not travel well. But dried apricots, concentrated sources of the same nutrients, are widely available. Apricots, both fresh and dried, contain natural salicylate (an aspirin like compound), which may cause an allergic response in sensitive people.

Fully ripe apricots travel poorly, so unless you live near an apricot-growing region, you may have a difficult time finding ripe ones—fruits that are soft to the touch and brimming with juice. If you find apricots that are plump, firm, and orange-gold in color, they'll be ready to eat after about two days of ripening at room temperature. Don't buy hard fruits that are tinged with green—they will never develop full flavour.

Even when not fully ripe, apricots should yield to gentle pressure and exude a perfumy fragrance; their skin should be smooth and velvety. Avoid any that have shriveled skin or bruises; however, minor blemishes that do not break the skin will not affect the flavour.

Dried apricots come in a number of different forms. The most common are the bright orange apricot halves; their rich color is the result of the apricots being treated with sulfur dioxide ( see E220). If you are allergic to sulfites, you can look for unsulfured apricots in health food stores. Because they're untreated, they're brown rather than orange. You may also find small, whole apricots called Turkish apricots. These are a much paler orange and are considerably sweeter than ordinairy apricot halves.

Canned apricots are sold packed in heavy syrup, light syrup, or fruit juice. The sugary syrups add a lot of empty calories, and the fruit is so naturally sweet that it really doesn't need the extra sugar.

If you buy fresh apricots that are not quite ripe, store them in a paper bag at room temperature, away from heat or direct sunlight, for two to three days. Once ripe, they may be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, where they will keep a day or two at most. Don't wash the fruits until you're ready to eat them.

Rinse fresh apricots under cold running water before using them. Ripe apricots are soft and delicate, so if you need to peel them for a recipe, do so carefully. Drop the fruits in boiling water leave them for just 15 to 20 seconds, then remove them and cool them under cold water. Use a knife to pull away their skin; it should slip right off. To halve apricots, cut down to the pit around the longitudinal seam and twist the two halves to separate them. Dip peeled or cut-up apricots into diluted lemon juice to keep them from browning.

Grilling: Apricots prepared by this method make a delicious accompaniment to chicken cooked on the grill; they can also be served as a dessert at a barbecue or picnic. Thread whole or halved fresh apricots on skewers, brush with honey, and grill until tender. Cooking time: 3 to 5 minutes.

Poaching: Place apricots—peeled or unpeeled, whole or halved—in barely simmering fruit juice, cover, and cook until tender. Add whole cloves or a cinnamon stick to the liquid for extra flavour. Once the apricots are poached, the liquid can be cooked down to produce a sauce. Cooking time: 5 to 7 minutes.

Reconstituting dried apricots: Serve dried apricots for breakfast or dessert, at any time of year. Simmer them in a small amount of water, white wine, or fruit juice until tender. Cooking time: 15 minutes.