There were earlier recipes called Apricot Chicken, but the first I can find for the 1970s classic with the standard three ingredients – chicken, apricot nectar and dried French onion soup mix – is in 1976. It was not an exclusively Australian phenomenon: The Arizona Sun in the USA ran an identical recipe in 1975.
Perhaps the stage was set for this recipe as far back as the 1930s when fruit growers in California invented the term “whole fruit nectar” to describe their new range of fruit drinks. The “nectars” were made from liquefied whole fruits (duh!) sweetened with “pure cane sugar”. American newspapers ran a number of feature articles in 1939 offering a range of recipes using the canned fruit nectars, which came in apricot, plum, peach-nectarine, pear and peach varieties.
It took a while for an Australian manufacturer to follow the Americans, perhaps distracted by a little event called World War II. In the late 1940s, though, the Berri Co-operative Packing Union began to produce apricot nectar. In 1949 The Chronicle in Adelaide reported that in the previous season 5000 cases of the canned product had been produced, most of which was exported to the UK.
Apricot Chicken was still a long way off. Initially, the fruit nectars were used in sweet recipes such as sauces, ice creams and puddings, as well as for drinks. There is a suggestion that the Apricot Chicken recipe we know so well originated at the Lipton company as another use for its dried soup mix, introduced in America in 1952. Around the same time, the Maggi and Continental brands of dried soups arrived in Australia.
The recipe became a 1970s classic, up there with quiche, carrot cake and cheese fondue, and has been absorbed into Australian culinary culture. Maggi still produces a soup mix pack labelled “Ideal for Apricot Chicken”, although their version suggests adding chopped onion to the recipe. There are other variations: a Masterfoods recipe base, a frozen apricot chicken meal and even a pureed chicken and apricot baby food. Looks like, in one form or another, it’s here to stay.