Gifts of an old tree

aricots on tree branch

Ripe apricots on a tree. Image from Nature & Garden.

The Cupertino CA neighborhood where I lived in the early 1970s was developed about 1962 on the site of an old apricot orchard, the trees probably planted before the post-WWII boom of the 1950s transformed the orchard-covered Santa Clara Valley into Silicon Valley. The developers had left an apricot tree on each lot. Gnarled and picturesque, they provided welcome shade on hot summer days, and a harvest of apricots for those who loved them. Letters to my parents from two different years offer a glimpse of harvest time:

26 June, 1970
… Meanwhile, the apricots are getting ripe. We have started picking, and they are delicious. Several neighbours with trees (this used to be an orchard) don’t like them too much, so those of us that do are planning to get together and pick for drying. You have to have 65 lbs. of fresh fruit to fill a tray, and a local orchard will sulphur and dry them for us for $30 a tray – pretty cheap dried apricots!

apricots drying on trays

Apricots drying in the sun at the Curry family orchard in San Jose, date unknown. Standing are Douglas and Howard Curry. Image from Lisa Prince Newman’s blog, For the Love of Apricots.

I still remember the fun we had at that orchard in Los Altos Hills. It had a long, open-sided shed with a work table running down the center. My friend Judi and I and other women of the neighborhood stood at the table, cutting or breaking open pound after pound of golden, honey-scented fruit and laying them on the drying trays. Beyond the shed we could see a stretch of bare earth where the big wooden trays of fruit lay open to the sun. About ten days later we returned and were presented with our now-dried fruit, shriveled, somewhat brown, but delicious. A year later:

26 July, 1971
I have also been busy coping with the apricot crop. Our poor old tree has really taken a beating this year. We lost a third of it in the spring with fire blight, and then came home one afternoon when they were just about ripe to find a huge branch crashed to the ground. The poor thing is just dying of old age, and we shouldn’t have let it carry so much fruit. I managed to salvage about 70 lbs. from the broken branch, which we took to a commercial orchard to be dried. They turned out very well this year. They shrink, of course, to a fifth of their weight, but 13 lbs. of dried apricots is a fair quantity. I have also bottled quite a lot, and made jam, and then we had a bright notion of drying another 30 lbs. at home and making wine with them. This is Tony’s project, and he has been having a great time with it. We came home the other night (after eating out with friends) to find that the yeast was working so well in one jar that it had blown the top off, and there was gicky apricot pulp all over the counter!  

Decades later, when we finally opened a forgotten bottle of that wine, it was vinegar. Oh well …  By then we were no longer living in Cupertino, so I don’t know how much longer that kind old tree lived. I hope its new humans gave it a dignified end.

5 Responses to “Gifts of an old tree”

  • Ah, the revenge of the trees! Your story brought back happy memories of visiting your family’s beautiful farm.

  • Maxine Binning:

    That is a wonderful story Maureen. It reminded me of a huge grapefruit tree (you may know it as poor man’s orange) in Tauranga behind our house which produced the sweetest oranges every year. it always had fruit in all stages of development all year round. The tree was said to be have been planted late 1890’s. The tree was nurtured by the previous owners of the farm and my family inherited it. My father used to send me a case of the fruit each semester when I was at Uni in Otago and many students shared in these delicate fruit. The tree survived the farm being subdivided for a number of years and then a new owner of the land behind my parents’ cut it down and burned it to make way for his home, without notifying my parents. Very sad but the final glory was when the same neighbour complained about our huge pohutukawa tree dropping leaves on his lawn and he had no view of the harbour. Result, the tree was a protected tree and he could do nothing about it. Thank you for your story Maureen.

  • A Day at a Famous Cookery School
    I cant believe I just came across this story about Winkfield Place. I wonder when you were there Maureen. I was one of those girls who took the CB Diploma with Rosemary Hume in 1964 and did cook for the rich and famous!
    I now live in New Zealand and see that you were from NZ! What a coincidence as I was doing some research for a book I’m writing.
    I can see from your blog you’re now living in California – a mere stones throw from NZ.

  • What a charming story, thank you.

  • Devreaux Baker:

    I loved this!

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