If more country tunes were written by farmers, there would be a song about Apricots: how they love you and leave you with a broken heart and an empty bank account. Then, just when you are getting over them and moving on, they show up again, knowing full well that you still love them and will take them back.
Our apricot crop this year is the kind that makes a farmer fall in love. The trees are heavy with blushing fruit. But it’s the first real crop that our little orchard has produced in 4 years.
Apricots are the pickiest fruit we grow. Half the time we don’t even know why they decided not to produce a crop, but it is generally weather related. And it seems pretty clear that our new, climate-change influenced weather has made them even less reliable than they used to be. Contrast that with our peach orchard, which experiences the same weather every year without missing a crop. The only time we’ve lost peaches is when they were damaged by hail.
Forty years ago, most of the land we now farm — indeed, most of the land around Winters — was apricot orchards. Growing, harvesting, packing, drying and shipping the fruit was the lifeblood of the economy. That era ended when the dams were built that sent water down to irrigate the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, where the weather is more conducive to growing apricots. Our 1-acre orchard is one of the few that remain in our area.
Apricots can be wonderful when eaten raw, if you let them soften before eating to the point where you almost have to slurp them like an oyster. But where they really shine is cooked. Cut them in half, grill them and eat warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Bake them in a tart or pie. Or just make good old apricot preserves: cook them down (no need to peel or add pectin) with just enough sugar to balance their tartness.
I always make a point of making as much apricot jam as I can in the years we have a good crop. It’s one of the easier ones to make. It can take 8-10 hours of cooking to render the fruit down, but you can speed that process by using powdered pectin (or adding a chopped apple). Once the preserves are ready, you just keep them hot while you boil the jars and lids. Fill the jars, tighten the lids down, and voila, you are done.
We’re finishing up apricot harvest this week. Even in a good year, it’s always a short season. If you want to preserve some of 2019’s apricot crop, you may still be able to get a 10 lb. box at the web store for delivery next week. They may have to last you for a few years…queue the honky tonk music.