A man harvests apricots at P-R Farms.

All About California Apricots

California Grown and P-R Farms shared insights about apricot farming at ICE’s Los Angeles campus.

Courtesy of P-R Farms

California Grown recently treated students at ICE’s Los Angeles campus to lectures, a demonstration and tastings featuring Golden State ingredients such as sea urchin and olive oil. The bright, juicy apricots freshly picked from P-R Farms’ grove and driven to our front door were the showstoppers.

Though representing 1% of the world’s apricot production, the state of California is responsible for growing 85-95% — yes, you read that correctly — of all apricots in the U.S., where 35,000 tons of the crop are canned, frozen or dried. The Patterson variety is most commonly used, known for its sweet and tangy flavor.

Growing apricots requires patience and precision. “Apricot trees usually bear fruit in the third or fourth year,” explained Robert Rocha of P-R Farms. The lifespan of an apricot tree ranges from 40 to 150 years, however, Robert said the trees only produce fruit for 20 to 25 years of that lifespan.

Apricots grow at P-R Farms.
Apricots grow at P-R Farms.

Apricot trees need the right environment to flourish, and California’s climate is ideal. The trees require what is referred to as “freezing hours,” which are typically 600 to 900 hours of below 45-degree temperatures annually to properly bloom. “The bloom occurs typically any time between mid-February and early March,” Robert said.

Traditionally, the apricot harvest begins in early June and lasts about six weeks. Thanks to rising temperatures, that date crept up to early June in the last few years and even late May. This year, the harvest was a week later than expected due to heavy spring rains. Pickers study each apricot to know when it’s ready for harvest, as not every piece of fruit ripens at the same time. Typically, fruit is ready when it is firm and the color of the skin turns from green to a gold or orange hue.

While it may be less common to find a fresh apricot at an East Coast farmers market in the summer, piles of freshly harvested apricots adorn stone fruit vendors’ displays at California farmers markets in June and July. Apricot aficionados seek out the elusive Blenhiem, an heirloom variety that is grown in limited quantities.

Grocery chains will see a surge of apricots during the second half of the season when about 17,000 tons of varieties like the common Patterson are delivered to Trader Joe’s and the like.

The apricot season is short, so grab some to serve fresh with a dollop of labneh and drizzle of honey or to bake in pies, crisps or this apricot cognac tart from ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts curriculum.

Recipe

Apricot Cognac Tart

By Nick Malgieri

Ingredients

  • 680 grams pâte sucrée*
  • 680 grams pastry cream*
  • 13 grams vanilla extract
  • 115 grams toasted ground almonds
  • 55 grams cognac
  • 1,350 grams apricots
  • 340 grams apricot glaze*
  • 55 grams almonds, toasted and sliced

* recipe below

Directions

  1. Prepare the dough and chill it. Roll the dough on a floured surface and line a buttered 12-by-18-inch pan with it. Chill the dough-lined pan.
  2. Beat the pastry cream to soften it and beat in the vanilla, toasted ground almonds and 1 ounce of cognac.
  3. Rinse, halve and stone the apricots. Spread the almond pastry cream evenly on the dough and arrange the apricot halves on it, cut side down.
  4. Bake the tart at 350 F for about 30-40 minutes. Cool the tart.
  5. Combine apricot glaze and remaining ounce of cognac. Brush the glaze evenly over the cooled tart. Strew with the sliced almonds.

Pâte Sucrée

Ingredients

  • 680 grams all-purpose flour
  • 225 grams sugar
  • 7 grams baking powder
  • 6 grams salt
  • 225 grams butter
  • 250 grams eggs (approx. 5)

Directions

  1. Prepare using the mealy dough mixing method. Chill until ready to use.

Pastry Cream

Ingredients

  • 490 grams milk
  • 50 grams cornstarch
  • 113 grams sugar
  • 50 grams eggs
  • 70 grams yolks
  • 55 grams butter
  • 6 grams vanilla

Directions

  1. Dissolve cornstarch in 1/8 of the milk.
  2. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a rondeau or saucepan; bring to a boil.
  3. Whisk whole eggs, then the yolks into cornstarch mixture.
  4. Pour 1/3 of the boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking. Return the remaining milk mixture to a boil.
  5. Whisk the egg mixture into the boiling milk, whisking until the pastry cream thickens and returns to a boil. Boil, whisking, about 1 minute.
  6. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.
  7. Pour the cream into a stainless steel pan. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface and poke holes to vent. Chill immediately.

Apricot Glaze

Ingredients

  • 450 grams apricot preserves
  • 115 grams water

Directions

  1. Combine apricot preserves and water in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring.
  2. Strain mixture into another saucepan. Reduce mixture until it coats the back of a metal spoon.

Make more fresh fruit desserts in ICE's Pastry & Baking Arts program.

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