Ask Chef Boy Ari
I've been raiding the apricot tree behind a house in my neighborhood that's clearly vacant (looking through the window, the house is empty and the fridge is wide open). The apricots are big, blemish-free and absolutely gorgeous, with dark orange flesh that's almost red, and they taste great. So I was over there the other day, picking the fruit off the branches, when I decided to try one that was lying on the ground, figuring it would be even more ripe than the ones still clinging to the tree. And, my god, that was a tasty apricot; I decided to wait a few days and come back later, when they're all that ripe.
So here are my questions: Is it wrong/illegal to pillage this neglected tree? Do the apricots have less nutritional value when not quite ripe? What's the best method to preserve them?
A: It's illegal to pick those apricots without permission, SP, because somebody owns the land you're trespassing on, as well as the fruit you're stealing. Maybe the owner is a bank that foreclosed on the house, or maybe it's owned by the offspring of deceased former homeowners, whatever. But the illegality of your endeavor matters only if you get caught, which I don't think is likely. So I say go for it—just don't break too many laws at once, don't get hurt and don't tell anyone I told you to.
Nutritionally speaking, unripe fruit generally has a nutritional profile similar to its ripe counterpart, though there are some differences: Unripe fruit has been shown to have less iron but more calcium, while overripe fruit can contain higher levels of disease-fighting antioxidants called nonfluorescing chlorophyll catabolites, according to a study from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
The best way to preserve them, hands down, is to cut or break them in half and dehydrate them. It's really quick and easy, and dried apricots are an awesome product. Unripe fruit will ripen a bit in the dehydrator, but starting with perfectly ripe specimens will yield the sweetest product.
And by the way, pretty much everything I said here can apply equally to peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, pears, etc. So get your dehydration on!
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