When Lisa Prince Newman demonstrated apricot recipes at the Los Altos History Museum’s Apricot STEM Fair June 30, she pulled fruit from a lug just harvested down the road in the Sunnyvale Heritage Orchard.
Since her book “For the Love of Apricots: Recipes and Memories of the Santa Clara Valley” came out last year, Newman has become an informal expert on when and where to find the heritage fruit of the region.
In addition to sharing information about apricots, she answered questions from the Town Crier about where and when to score fruit this year.
Q: Why did you develop this focus on apricots of the Santa Clara Valley?
A: I live in San Rafael, but I grew up down in Saratoga and went to Stanford. We grew every kind of fruit on our property in Saratoga; we had a remnant French prune orchard, which was the predominant fruit in the valley when it was agricultural, and one tree of just about every other kind of fruit as well.
But apricots were just the most wonderful – they’re so beautiful, they fit right in your hand, they are so delicious, they just have that wonderful sweet/tart complex flavor that’s so satisfying. Because most of the crop is dried, you can use apricots throughout the year in all kinds of different dishes.
Q: Why is such a large fraction of the apricot crop dried each year?
A: They’re very fragile, so they don’t have a lot of shelf life. It is a brief season, especially traditionally – it’s like a three- or four-week sprint and then it’s done, so you can’t really consume them all in that period of time.
There was a huge canning industry that sprung up. There used to be a huge appetite for canned fruits, and people really enjoyed eating their fruit that way because they couldn’t get it any other way. If you lived in New York and wanted to enjoy an apricot from California, you were probably going to get it in a can.
Drying apricots is very cost effective in California especially, because solar energy is free. One thing that’s unique about my cookbook is it uses apricots in all forms – fresh, dried, jam, liqueurs – it covers the whole gamut.
Q: Where can we find truly local apricots?
A: Los Altos is unique because you have to contact the city and get on a list (for civic center fruit) – and if they’re not sold out from the list, their excess apricots are sold at DeMartini’s.
Sunnyvale has a bigger orchard – it’s 10 acres – and they set up a little farm stand alongside the orchard. Charlie Olson, who manages the Heritage Orchard for Sunnyvale, donated a couple lugs of apricots to the STEM Fair and they were good. I was using them in my cooking demonstration. In Saratoga, the Novakovich family manages the city orchard and sells fruit from their farm shop.