Thursday, May 26, 2016

Baked Apricots with Honey and Orange Blossom Water, and a Language Lesson.

Aywa, aywa, fil mishmish, I would hear the adults say, with a grin and a shrug, when discussing a time frame for when the city would fix the road, when the plumber would fix the toilet, when peace would come to Jerusalem.  

Yes, yes, in the apricot?  I could translate the phrase literally.  I knew what the word mishmish meant: apricots.  It was an Arabic word that my English tongue found playful and satisfying to say. What do apricots have to do with the road?  With the toilet?  With the peace process?  I never knew, and I never asked, because really, how many times a week, a day, an hour, can you ask your mother, but what do you mean? before you both grow weary of the question.

Growing up in my half-Arab half-American home meant living on the shore of understanding, but never venturing into deep waters.  My Arabic was spotty.  I could understand words, phrases, simple sentences.  My exposure to the language began in earnest when I was nine, when we moved to the West Bank.  Even though Arabic was my mother's mother tongue, she did not pass it on to me, and our years in and out of America, in France, where I became fluent in French, and then in Cario, where I become fluent in a British accent (from British schools!), meant that I was nine before I had a serious encounter with my mother's mother tongue.  

I learned Arabic by listening to my mother speak on the phone, or to the taxi driver, to my aunt and cousins.  I learned it by sitting through family dinners that I could not fully understand, by listening to song lyrics that I couldn't follow, by listening to living room small talk, over pistachios and mint tea.  

My mother usually spoke to my sister and to me in English, or in partial English, enough so that we understood.  We were used to sentences that began in one language and ended in another, and when my grandmother lived with us, we became used to the musical layering of English into Arabic, switching halfway, switching with each breath.  

But there were some things that eluded translation:  insults, proverbs, food.

Recently, I have stumbled upon the answer to this long-forgotten apricot mystery.  In Palestine, apricots are one of the first fruits to ripen in late spring, and its season is brief, lasting mere weeks. The briefness of the apricot season has become legendary - you can wait all year for the apricot season, and then find, in astonishment that it has passed and you did not manage to get your hands on any of them.

Mama, when can we go to Disneyland?

Oh sure, honey, we'll go during apricot season.  

Dad, when can we go look for a car for me?

Oh sure, honey, fil mishmish.  


You know, in the spring, fil mishmish.


The apricot season has become a shorthand, humorous, honorable way to indicate an impossible time frame for accomplishing anything.  In other words:  it ain't gonna happen.  

Fresh Apricot Season

The beauty of apricots is that even though its season is short, its flavor intensifies and shines when cooked down.  Most Arab homes have a jar of apricot jam or compote, to top rice puddings or to drizzle over a semolina cake.  Tart-sweet, these juicy stone fruits make delicious fruit leather, and when dried, they are as sweet as candy.   In Palestine, the apricot season may be short, but our love for apricots is long.

Today's dish, baked apricots, is a simple, easy fruit dish that highlights the sweet-tart flavor of apricot. The scent of  the orange blossom and apricots wafts from the oven, and the gently baked apricots wilt and soften into slumped bowls with pools of honey in their centers.  Apricot juices seep out of the roast fruit and mingle with the honey, butter, and orange blossom water, making a sauce at the bottom of the baking dish, which may actually be my favorite part of the dish.

If your apricots are very ripe, shave a little cooking time off of the recipe, and if you prefer a sweeter fruit, add a little more honey to the recipe, or serve with extra honey drizzled over the baked apricots.  Very ripe fruit, though, will sometimes make for tough skins on the baked fruit, so keep that in mind.

There are so many ways to enjoy this baked fruit: serve the apricot halves warm or cold, in a bowl of yogurt, or ice cream, or over a slice of cake, and spoon the fragrant honey-apricot-orange blossom syrup over top, to make a beautiful start to summer.

Because after all, mishmish season only last so long.  In no time at all it will be over, and when you're sighing over your desk at your long to-do list, you can just say:  Sure, I'll get it done. Next apricot season.  

Baked Apricots with Honey and Orange Blossom Water

8 small apricots, cut in halves, pits removed
2 tbsp local honey (or more, if your apricots are very tart)
1 tbsp grassfed butter, melted
1/4 tsp orange blossom water

1.  In a small bowl, mix together melted butter, honey, and orange blossom water.

2.  Place apricot halves into a small rimmed baking dish, cut side up, and brush with honey mixture, filling each half with a little honey.

3.  Bake apricots at 350 F for 15 minutes, and then flip each apricot half so that apricots are cut side down, and so that the honey spills out.   Bake an additional 5-10 minutes until apricots are tender, and the juices have cooked out, forming a sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.



  1. Ah! that was a good read! I knew aywa aywa but fil mishmish is a learning! yay! Language is such a beautiful thing but when your born into a family that speaks more than one, it is hard to master. Even in my case I know the language of the land I was brought up better than my mother tongue! and till today we siblings chat away in the foreign language! :-P The Apricot baked with honey and OBW is something I will surely love to have. I just got my hands on apricot leather and made some amardeen. It is so refreshing! Thank you for the language lesson! :-p

  2. Dear Jessica,
    I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago (I was searching for another arabic recipe withe apricots ;)) and fell in love with this simple & wonderful recipe. I blogged about it and your blog in german language (I am a german foodblogger with arabic roots, living in Berlin):

    Best wishes from germany


    1. Thank you so much for your note, Shermin! I took a peak at your site and was tickled to see that you had made my recipe. I am so glad that you enjoyed it, and relished your beautiful photography. Thank you for sharing your post with me!


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