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Apricots and the False Spring

Apricot The time to worry about apricots is in February. Every farmer in the central valley dreads the series of warm days and moderate nights that awaken their trees from their winter dormancy. Being the first to put out a bloom anyway, the apricot is particularly susceptible to early signs of spring and as the delicate white flowers emerge the apricot farmer knows his crop is in trouble. Joining the late variety citrus grower, the apricot farmer must now endure the last of the winter's weather - with a fragile blossom's survival deciding the fate of the season. Apricot Tree Such was the case in the early spring of 2009. While we were celebrating Valentine's Day, the first chapter of summer was being written. More than a week of moderate springtime weather followed heavy rain and nighttime temperatures below freezing took more than 70% of the apricot crop for the season before a single leaf was on the tree - the later springtime thinning of the crop was done before the fruit had even set courtesy of Mother Nature. Growers and shippers (and apricot fans like me) endured the weather, assessed the damage and prepared for what is sure to be a short, early season. Apricot Further into the spring, the same drama will play out in the Pacific Northwest as spring comes to the growing areas in central/eastern Washington, another large producer of apricots. There is also east coast production but the reason we see few regional or local apricot growers can be summed up by how often a crop is lost to weather. Apricot TreesApricots and cherries make up the earliest (and riskiest) harvest offerings of the summer. The immensely popular cherry generally takes center stage at the same time, eclipsing apricots from both a farm production and customer demand standpoint, but it is the uncertainty of the crop and the contribution apricots have made to other types of fruit that hold a special place for them with me every year. Like most classes of stone fruit (fruit with a hard stone-like seed in the center), apricots have several varieties that make up their short season. Some of the more common varieties are the Patterson, Castle bright, and the Poppy cot but there are literally dozens of old and new varieties that appear between late April and July. Among these is the Royal Blenheim, a very old canning variety that when tree ripened, is widely considered the best variety to eat out of hand. What makes it good also makes it a treacherous variety for retailers as the delicate texture of the Blenheim makes them susceptible to bruising. PlumcotsRed Velvet Plumcots- Central Valley California Experiments involving the grafting of trees on plum rootstock (or vice versa) have given apricots a shared parentage in a whole new class of fruit varieties. Each of the three broad classes has interesting and sometimes unique properties:
  • Aprium: early cross that is a 75-25 blend of apricot and plum. Has the look and taste of an apricot but the texture of a plum.
  • Plumcots: a 50/50 blend, the Plumcot can have characteristics associated with both classes of fruit. Can be low producing so availability is sporadic.
  • Pluot: largest class by far with more than 50 varieties produced in California alone. This 25-75 blend of Apricot and plum has produced some remarkably successful varieties that produce throughout the summer.
ApriumAprium- Central Valley California Selecting apricots is the same as with most types of stone fruit: it best to buy them firm and finish ripening at home. Most apricots have a reddish blush but the important color is the yellow/orange that dominates the surface of the fruit. There can be a little green on the stem side but it is best to select fruit that is uniformly yellow/orange. It is important to note that many varieties of apricot ripen from the inside out, softening around the stone in the center of the fruit outwards. You should eat apricots slightly firm for this reason. There are also many uses for apricots in cooking: as part of a sauce for pork or fish, blended into smoothies or grilled and served warm over ice cream. One of my favorites is a simple pairing with another piece of fruit that is excellent at the same time - apricots and blackberries with a soft cheese to hold them together is one of my early summer snacks. ApricotsJames' Favorite Early Summer Snack One positive part of a season with a false spring is that smaller crops tend to size larger and ripen more evenly. Also, with the smaller fruit load, the tree is under less stress (particularly in drought years). Being a fan of apricots has also taught me to be an optimist - every year I look at the bright side of whatever weather situation arises and enjoy what time we have with the first great fruit of summer. Dream CotsDream Cots- Central Valley California Many thanks to Adam Morrison for contributing to this post.

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Diana Khan says …

Wish this tree was in my backyard...yummmmmmm

terrie says …

That was quite an interesting read, and the yummy apricot slices topped with a dab of heavy whipped cream and a berry looks like something I will definitely be making this season!

chef andre says …

Love the info. Ripe sun sweetened apricots are one of my favs. Also an apricot wine that a friend made a few years back (but thats another story). Do U have any recipes that I can share on kathyireland.com? Please let me know. Stir it UP baby! chef andre

raquel says …

thank you for the article! it's great to explain a bit of agriculture and its difficulties to customers, as then they will understand why apricots, pears, tomatoes, etc, are nature. good idea to give value as well to the produces that had, example, an ice rain in some moment of their maturation - reason why the parsimon is looking not perfect, but still healthy and tasty. if consumers only give value to the perfect ones, it can put away many small producers, family that live based on the land - against then, the so often called 'organic' concept.

Kimberly says …

Any sense of how long we can expect to see apricots for sale at CA Farmer's Markets given the "short crop?"

ThePodgineer says …

Well, sorry to say all my blossoms got toasted here in Utah! Bummer to say the least. I was sooooo looking forward to getting a nice crop from my 5 year old semi-dwarf tree too. Oh well, my Rio Oso peach tree has made up for it with a splendid profusion of blossoms. The entire tree is bursting at the seams with fruit nodes. Thinning will be a real hard thing! MY heirloom apples came on heavy this year as well - looking forward to sampling Spitzenburg :)

says …

Hi Kimberly: The answer to your question will vary from market to market. From what we’ve gathered the growers in the central valley were affected the most – and mainly with the early varieties (the late bloomers were not hit as hard). The growers closer to the coast did not see as much damage so farmers markets that are served by coastal growers will see close to a normal season. My best guess is the length of the California season as a whole will be the same as most years with some gaps in supply Late May/ Early June but with fruit into July. Another factor I neglected to mention is the lack of available water for irrigation in California as a result of a prolonged drought we are experiencing. This may also impact the crop.

johnw says …

Nice article, except your explanation of from where these hybrid fruit come is a little off. Hybrids are created by cross pollination between in this instance a plum and an apricot. A pluot is generally a second generation or more cross of say a plumcot (first generation hybrid) with a plum. Most pluots today are from numerous crosses and don't necessarily have a specific genetic history (like 75% plum/25% apricot). Grafting an apricot on a plum tree will only result in a two variety tree, as any wood grafted on another type of tree will grow true to type above the point it was grafted.