California’s favorite fruit, the Blenheim apricot, will arrive in local markets by mid-July. The Blenheim has the power to enchant adults and children alike with its gorgeous color, sweet perfume and perfectly balanced sweet/tart flavor. Jams, nectar, syrup, pies and pastry reach perfection with this variety of apricot, which is uniquely adapted to the Bay Area’s moderate coastal climate.
The Blenheim apricot and its heirloom cousins, the Moorpark and Alameda-Hemskirke, shared international fame with the French prune for nearly 100 years, when the Santa Clara Valley was known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Back then, orchards spread across the valley in every direction. In springtime, visitors from around the Bay Area, across California and even distant parts of the world came to see the blossom spectacle celebrated at the Saratoga Blossom Festival, which ran from 1900 to 1942.
These varieties made up the entire apricot marketplace, which meant that their short season, approximately three to four weeks beginning July 4, sent the entire region into a frenzy of picking, drying, preserving, jam making and baking. Traditions passed down through generations can be seen with the jars of homemade apricot jam that still fill the shelves at local county fairs.
In the post-war decades, as urban sprawl swept over the Santa Clara Valley, new apricot varieties such as the Patterson and Tilton were developed to grow in the Central Valley’s more extreme heat. Over time, eastern Washington State expanded its apricot production and contributed other fine varieties. Many of these apricots ripen earlier and later than the Blenheim.
Today, you can find apricots in the market from May to August. But a taste test will show that the peak of flavor comes right at midsummer with the Santa Clara Valley Blenheim. Fortunately, much of the crop is dried, so their bright, tangy flavor can be enjoyed throughout the year in a wide variety of dishes, both sweet and savory.
It is no surprise to Bay Area residents that new farmland is not being created. On the contrary, the number of orchard acres in Santa Clara and San Benito counties, particularly planted in apricots, is diminishing each year. The farm families who continue to produce this extraordinary fruit within our region are becoming as rare as the Blenheim variety itself.
Look for Blenheim apricots at the farm shops listed below, local farmers’ markets and better grocery stores. Ask for them beginning in July to be sure you get the quantity you need. Plan to attend special events when the fruit is at its peak to support the local orchardists who continue to produce this world-class fruit.
You’ll find more than 60 sweet and savory recipes using apricots in all forms – fresh, dried, preserved and liqueurs – in my book “For the Love of Apricots: Recipes and Memories of the Santa Clara Valley,” available at the Los Altos History Museum and online at fortheloveofapricots.com.
Newman shared her recipe for Apricot Blackberry Kuchen with the Town Crier this week – find it here: https://www.losaltosonline.com/special-sections2/sections/food-a-wine/60394-apricot-blackberry-kuchen
Local orchards selling apricots this month
• Novakovich Orchards, 14251 Fruitvale Ave., Saratoga. (408) 741-5144. Open every day except Saturday.
• Sunnyvale Heritage Orchard, 570 E. Remington Drive, Sunnyvale. (408) 749-0220. Purchase apricots and cherries in season.
• ApricotKing, 890 Westside Road, Hollister. (831) 801-5275. Find the orchard’s apricots and products at the Mountain View and Los Altos farmers’ markets.