My abuelo was a master farmer. He really could grow just about anything, and that included trees. We’d be eating a meal or a snack, and he’d say, “That was a very good peach/plum/apricot.” And then he’d take the pit and go plant it. A few years later, it would be producing delicious fruit for us. Of these, my favorite by far was the apricots, possibly because they ripen before nearly every other tree fruit (I think the sugar pears ripened first, but I could be wrong).
My abuela, faced with the challenge of all this abundance, became a master baker. She made cakes and cookies and pies and preserves and so much more. Of all these, my absolute favorite was her apricot bar recipe. Simple and delicious, they taste to me like early summer and New Mexico sunshine, even when made in the middle of winter.
Today, sadly, all those apricot trees have died due to drought, along with the plums, peaches, most of the apples, and many of the pears. When I visited the farm last August, I was shocked by the number of stumps now lining the fields. The banana apple tree, an heirloom planted by my great-grandfather, had died off and was awaiting my brother’s ax. The persistent drought in the American Southwest was the inspiration for my short story, “Weeds,” now available in the 2017 Young Explorers’ Adventure Guide.
But I can bring back the memory of those trees in Abuela’s apricot bars, and so can you.
1-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cup quick oats
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup apricot preserves
Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Lightly grease a 9×11″ pan with butter. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the quick oats and brown sugar. Add the melted butter and mix thoroughly. Press half the oat mixture into the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and spoon the apricot preserves on top, smoothing them out into a thin layer that does not quite touch the sides of the pan. Cover with the remaining oat mixture. Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Serve warm with ice cream.
This recipe is very easy to make gluten-free. Just substitute your favorite all-purpose gluten-free flour (I prefer Bob’s Red Mill) and make sure to use gluten-free oats.
Wanna know a secret? You don’t have to stick with apricots for this. Any preserves will do. I often make this recipe with raspberry rhubarb preserves, especially when the raspberries start producing like mad in early summer, but also in late spring when the rhubarb is first available – a great use for the last of the frozen raspberries from last year. You’ll find in Millie’s Recipes as Raspberry Rhubarb Crumble. (In fact, I totally cheated and used the raspberry rhubarb crumble photo above.)