Wednesday, July 9, 2008
The apricots are ripening, hanging in the orchard of 70+ year old trees like great rosy-golden bunches of grapes; no problems with pollination in this orchard. During this time of year, following a slowly warming spring, I have too many apricots.
Apricots flower very early, and once the fruit is set, are vulnerable to late freezing. This year's crop, when pea sized, was snowed upon. It was a warm snow, and no fruit was lost. (A not-so-warm snow or mild frost can take out a third of the crop overnight, and a second cold night can take a third of the remaining fruit, and so on. A hard frost will take it all. As late as Memorial Day we can get a hard freeze, making the question of thinning a real puzzle. If I thin, and successive frosts thin the remains, then where will I be?)
The fruit is late ripening, and coming on fast. The newspaper ran a story about apricot ripening dates this century: the last week in June five times, and the first week in July three times. Of course, the paper says the fruit is ready to begin picking now, which is not true in my orchard, but it does give an idea of the range of dates ripening occurs. I have also had ripe apricots the first half of June. There are years when we lose it all to a late freeze. I wish I knew when to plan on apricots. In the years I spent away, I used to plan on late June, and traveled just to preserve apricots, only to have green fruit. I started planing for the 4th of July, and if I had been traveling this year I would have again been stuck with green fruit. It is a hit-or-miss thing. I think I would still go with July 4th, because this year is very unusual.
I have eaten a few, and they are firm and tangy. I know how much better they will be in another week: then I will begin serious (joyful!) canning. The flavor is beyond description in very ripe apricots. I pick the first bucket and, cleaned and pitted, they go straight into the pot. Then I add enough honey (approximately 5 cups) to get the fluid to run, and begin to warm them. I keep picking apricots and adding to the warming reduction to fill the (7 gallon) pot and simmer while stirring until it turns glossy. Then, into the clean jars it goes. The yield is about 5 gallons.
Yummy! This year I think I'll begin to devise a salsa or habañero-apricot preserve. My scalp feels warm just to think of it.