June 7, 2016
What is in the VEGGIE BOX?
Red Onions, Chard, Apricots, Garlic, Basil, Potatoes and Sting Beans
What is in the FRUIT BOX? Royal Blenheim Apricots, Peaches, and Plums
This Week on the Farm
It’s all about apricots. This time of year so much revolves around how the apricot harvest is going. The words about apricots, handed down over so many years from the old timers, revolve around what it takes to grow and harvest apricots successfully. “Once you start picking, it doesn’t matter what is happening, pick some every day…do not stop.” “When you start harvesting apricots, everything else is second.” “If you want to grow something easy, grow peaches, not apricots.”
Of course, they were talking about the Royal Blenheim apricot, the apricot that made the Santa Clara Valley and the Suisun Valley and Winters famous. It is a famously sensitive and unforgiving fruit. Unwilling to set fruit in less than perfect conditions, notorious for blooming in the wet, fungus ridden last days of February, prone to breakdown in temperatures above 95, ripening unevenly in cooler conditions, the list is endless. To coin a phrase, “Ya gotta love ‘em”. But what else can you do but love them? The fruit of legends, it was born in the mysterious Himalayas, graced the courts and royal gardens of both France and England where the same fruit acquired two names. Trees were brought here during the Gold Rush and though again indistinguishable they still retained both the French and English names, the Royal of Winters and the Blenheim of Santa Clara. But what is not to love about the perfect harmonizing of the complementary golden and green worlds in the colors of the ripe, perfect globe fruit hanging in clusters among the thin delicate leaves fluttering in the least breeze? The height of experience is to first pick the fruit slightly soft, perfectly and completely ripened, fully colored with a rosy glow on the sunward side, and then to bite into real sweetness, real flavor, have real juice escape your bite, and to stop and experience that flavor that it has at no other moment. Just slightly green and there is the tartness that has not yet turned to sugar and full flavor. A little overripe and the sugar and first breakdown of the flesh intensifies and overwhelms the delicate nature of perfection. But to be in love with the apricot is to be in love with a princess, and she gives and holds her favors with equal disdain for your wishes.
What this princess requires most of all is climate, climate, climate. Annie and I have some trees from the Himalayas, here by way of pits brought around the world, and marooned in this fertile and luscious world a few short miles north of Winters, they grow and grow and produce a few fruit in occasional years. The same is true of the Royal Blenheim. Take it out of its zone of comfort stretching no more than 50 miles in any direction from the Golden Gate, and it bears fruit and ripens to perfection more occasionally, only when some unknown confluence of mysterious factors is deemed favorable. Not that we cannot grow gorgeous and mouthwatering fruit here 75 miles north of the Golden Gate, but we take our chances , yes we take our chances.
This year we have run into a few glitches in that perfect scenario, which is all to the good, because that’s why they call it perfection…it doesn’t get any better than perfection and you need to spend your life dreaming about it, not getting it. Right?? So, a few glitches. One untimely rain while the extremely tender twigs were just enjoying their first flush of leaf growth. Brown Rot spores are in love with apricot buds. Fruit buds, leaf buds, their tender combination of ingredients is like a good root beer float. So brown rot infects the twigs, destroys the growth for a little time until the drier weather and maturing of the growth reduces their infection rate and they wait. Hmm…what do they wait for? Aha! Ripening fruit! Glitch number one, but a beautiful natural process in its own right, from the perspective of a fungus. Glitch number two is (wow!) a really early heat wave. One of the sweet little characteristics of the Royal Blenheim is its propensity for pitburn. Because, peculiar to this fruit, it ripens from the inside out, sugars build up inside, next to the pit, before the fruit is fully ripened. During a medium hot spell, if it doesn’t cool off at night, the heat literally cooks the soft, sweet fruit. It is especially common in the larger fruit. So we have had to abandon a portion of the orchard for this year for fresh fruit. We are still picking in our younger trees, and they look good so far. Who knows why, it just works out that way. And the promise of cool weather means we have an outside chance of picking through to the end of the season. But this serves as a warning to us, and to all associated with this fruit. Global warming and unseasonable hot spells and any other little quirk of nature are not kind to princesses.
In closing, I would like to say that there are several things that have been a real pleasure to be associated with in my lifetime. The little princess Royal Blenheim apricot is one of those. Have a great week~Jeff
Sorting apricots out in the orchard, Cuca and Elvira are checking for damaged fruit-that will end up on the drying trays later in the day.