Santa Clara Valley Lives: 'Superior fruit' – apricot sales reap reward

Courtesy of Frank White
Frank White stands in front of his father’s Packard automobile near the apricot orchard that surrounded the family’s home on Covington Road in Los Altos, circa 1946.

Frank White and his parents moved to Los Altos in 1945. His father had been a fruit broker in San Francisco and had spent a lot of time in the Santa Clara Valley meeting the growers.

Frank’s father loved the sunny landscape. When World War II ended and he changed jobs, he made another change as well. He found a house for his family on Covington Road in Los Altos, between El Monte Avenue and what is now Campbell Avenue. Built in 1928 as part of an enterprise called Costello Acres, the home sat on half an acre landscaped with 22 apricot trees.

Twenty-two mature apricot trees can produce nearly a ton of fruit, and Frank’s father knew that fruit had value. When the apricots ripened that first summer, Frank, 11, and his father rolled up their sleeves and picked, packing the scented, peachy-colored Blenheim apricots into small wooden boxes, or “lugs.” Blenheims are one of the sweetest varieties of apricots, but they are also especially delicate. To keep them from getting damaged, they sealed the tops of the lugs with thin pieces of wood. They wrote their contact information on the top of each box.

Then, they removed the back seat from the old family Packard, piled the lugs of fruit into the back of the car, drove to the Mountain View train station and sent the fruit by train to the produce market in San Francisco. The message came back: “Superior fruit. Will buy all you have.”

The apricot season is short, and the Whites worked hard, picking the fruit and making many trips to the Mountain View train station in the next few weeks. When July came to an end and the harvest was through, they had earned a check for $101 on the sale of their apricots. The Whites had a home they loved and the apricot trees on their land had rewarded them for their labor.

“The property taxes that year were $98,” recalled Frank, who still lives in Los Altos today. “And our apricots paid the taxes.”

Robin Chapman is a local writer and the author of “California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley.” Her new book, “Historic Bay Area Visionaries,” will be published by History Press in October.

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