During a recent trip to New Mexico to visit my parents, I was excited to discover that their apricot trees were packed with fruit. (They only produce larger amounts of fruit every few years, because it uses up so much of their energy). I enjoy fresh apricots—they’re absolutely delicious picked right off the tree—but it was my mom’s apricot puree that I was really looking forward to. The ingredients in her puree, or apricot sauce as we call it, are simply fresh apricots and lemon juice (to help keep the fruit fresh and colorful). The simplicity of this apricot puree is its greatest asset; you get true, potent apricot flavor in each bite. That’s probably why it has been showing up in almost every one of my meals and snacks for the past couple weeks. My mom also sent my friend/business partner a few jars and she has been eating it daily, too.
No apricot trees in your backyard? No worries! You can puree almost any fruit (whether you grow it yourself, get it at a farmers market or buy it at a grocery store). All you have to do is cook it with a bit of water and a squeeze of lemon juice and then run it through a food mill (a gadget sold at home stores that squeezes the fruit through a fine mesh) or toss it in the blender. Or, if you don’t want to make your own, consider buying 100-percent-fruit baby food. It might sound odd, but if you choose a brand that uses only fruit in their product, then you’re actually buying pureed fruit. In fact, some of the baby food brands that offer frozen pureed fruit are especially delicious because their flash freezing process helps retain the fruit’s flavor!
It’s this flavor that makes it such a healthy choice—because it offers a sweetness and powerful fruity flavor, you can use it in place of sugar in some of your favorite foods. Yes, fruit and fruit puree have sugar in it, but it’s naturally occurring, and this sugar usually comes with other healthful nutrients and fiber that are found in the fruit. Not to mention, fruit puree packs in a lot of flavor, so a little bit goes a long way. All you usually need is a tablespoon or two, depending on what you’re using it for. A single tablespoon of most fruit purees contains around 10 calories (this varies slightly depending on what fruit you’re using).
Here are my favorite ways to use fruit puree:
1. Spread 1 tablespoon onto toast or a peanut butter sandwich instead of jam.
2. Stir 2 tablespoons into nonfat plain yogurt.
3. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze for a fruity summertime treat.
4. Mix with vinegar and olive oil to make a fruit-infused salad dressing.
5. Spoon on top of salmon or chicken, along with any herbs and spices you like, before baking.
6. Serve as a sauce with lean red meat.
7. Stir ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) into oatmeal.
8. Baked into certain goodies to replace some of the fat and sugar. You’ll have to experiment to see which recipes you’ll be able to make this substitution; I’ve found it works well in banana bread, muffins, and brownies. A good guideline to start with is to use 3/4 as much puree as oil (if a recipe calls for a cup of oil, use 3/4 cup fruit puree instead) or 1/2 as much butter (if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup butter, use 1/4 cup fruit puree). If the batter or dough looks dry, add a bit more puree.You can also cut the sugar by 1/4 (in some recipes, I’ve cut sugar by 1/2 with very good results).