Our house and land came with 4 very old fruit trees, a fig, a persimmon, a pear and an apricot. I can only assume they were planted when the house was built, in 1945, or shortly after. My next door neighbor has lived there for over 50 years, and she said she always remembered the apricot being there. So these trees are old, I’m guessing at least 65+ years. At some point, I’m sure there was more, forming a grand orchard. On old homesteads, its common to find apples and pears, as they are long lasting and keep standing when the others have died away, but stone fruits like apricots and peaches are not as long lived. Normally only surviving for maybe 25-40 years, I consider myself blessed to have my antique apricot!
My tree is seriously lopsided, there are visible rot and canker spots, and I can’t reach the highest branches, but she still produces.
This variety is a Blenheim, which I only know because the aforementioned neighbor told me. When we planted our bare root trees this winter, we made sure to include a Blenheim as one of our varieties. This rosy-blushed fruit with a honey-like flavor is great fresh, dried or canned.
Originally grown in Europe nearly 200 years ago, they arrived in California in the 1880s. Grown mainly in Sacramento and the Santa Clara valleys, the 1960’s began a slow decline in production, with Blenheims losing out in sales to more transportable varieties and cheaper imported fruit from Turkey. Today, Blenheims account for less than 2 percent of overall production, and the number is expected to dwindle further as more trees get uprooted. Because these fruits have a historic value and frankly, they are just good, they have been championed by Slow Foods and are listed on their Ark of Taste list.
Growing up in Santa Cruz, our growing climate wasn’t favorable to stone fruits, so we didn’t have any apricots from our own garden. But my uncle’s house, over the hill in Santa Clara, had an huge apricot tree. He would bring us bags and bags of the rosy orange fruit, and my mom would make jam. I’m guessing the variety of those were Blenheim as well.
When the fruit starts falling to the ground, I know they are ready. A few times a day, I check all the fallen fruit and pick up the ones that are still usable. Ones that are badly bruised, or bug or bird eaten go to the chickens. There are only a few days between being ripe and when they fall to the ground, and most seem to be ripe at the same time. Over this past weekend, I’ve harvested all that ones that I could reach from my super wobbly ladder. Matt came though with the fruit picker and got as many as he could from the higher branches. Any that weren’t quite ripe sat on a plate for a day to ripen. Ones on the very top remain for the birds.
My favorite thing to do with my apricots is to quarter them and dry in my dehydrator. I’m also really enjoying them sliced thin over goat cheese and crackers. I make sure to also share some with my neighbors, as they have enjoyed fruit from this tree long before I came along!
What about you, do you have an apricot tree or other ancient fruit trees in your garden? How do you like to use apricots?
If you want to grow Blenheim, they require 400 chilling hours, so this is a good choice for milder climates. They should be spaced about 15 feet apart or from structures, and does best in well-draining soil. As an early bloomer, they are difficult to grow in areas with late frosts.