Sunday, July 22, 2007

Thoughts on Apricots

There is one fruit that stands out to me. Not that it is my favorite, or superior to other fruits. But, I have a deep attachment to it. Apricots. Roundish, like a small peach- golden to orangey, the outside is slightly velvety and the smell...sweet and summery. I sigh. When I was a kid my family owned an apricot orchard out in Brentwood, California; it was a forty five minute drive from our home. Winding through yellowed hills in my dad's old pickup truck, the ride seemed agonizingly long to me. The only point of interest along the way was the eyeball rock. At some bend along the road there was a large round rock that somebody had painted to resemble an eyeball. Occasionally it would be repainted by a new hand- but it was always an eyeball, looking back at me on my way to the orchard. We would arrive, bouncing across the furrows and dirt clods, filling the air with dusty clouds. Each trip the orchard looked different.The trees would start leafing, then blossoming with intensely sweet blossoms and then the thick dark canopy of leaves would be dotted with green, then light orange fruit. I remember long days in the hot sun. The heat, a corporeal presence, flies buzzing around me, and the tired boredom that would sometimes over come my young mind. We would climb long ladders up to the branches that hung heavily with apricots; Blenheims, highly prized for being sweet and tart, and Tiltons, larger, firmer and tangier...The whole family would fill buckets, flats, and eventually the back of the truck. While the stillness of the heat was only broken by the sound of insects and the rustling cornfield lining our orchard or a song or two from a sibling, somewhere muffled within a tree. Sweat would trickle down my back or into my eyes. From the top of the ladder I would catch myself staring in a stupor for, who knows how long.The dark twisted wood of the trees looked scaly and slick. A startling blue, cloudless sky bore down and we would retreat for a water break. Sometimes the older kids would have fruit fights. I remember well the time my big sister got hit with a green apricot by my brother. Her revenge was...sweet. She took a large, squishy, over ripe apricot and dropped it down the back of his pants, giving it a good smack to make sure it splattered. Wow, was he mad! But, mostly the days were long with work. Sometimes there was a tent for us younger kids to relax awhile, never quite out of the heat. And at times a nearby farmer or wanderer would come through and join us around a campfire. In particular, a homeless man with a trailor, he had shabby clothes and long hair. He played the guitar and sang us a song he wrote called Living in the Bay Area. I felt sorry for him. He left with some apricots. Many people did. There were sometime migrant workers helping.We would have U-Pick days... a parade of families and if I remember right, elderly people would come and grab a bucket, then pay dad and go away smiling, with plans to dry, can or juice their fruit. But, the sweetest memory was the way we sold them out of our house. In the "Blue Room" we had an old swamp cooler in one window. The door had to remain closed. Flats brimming with fragrant apricots were stacked almost to the ceiling, with a walkway left down the middle. The only cold room in the house. I would walk slowly between the stacks, breathing in the cool, delicious air. On a very hot day I would sneak in, perhaps with a sibling, and lay down on my back looking up at the towering boxes, lovingly embraced by the smell of apricots. There were always some for us to eat. The flavor is hard to describe, because it is all its own, sweet, floral and sometimes slightly tart. Apricots have a particular fan club.People came, sometimes the same people for years, until the season was over and the stacks grew shorter and every box was sold. And in the fall Daddy would trim the trees and sell the firewood. We would eat apricot jam, dried apricots and apricot fruit leather through the winter. Sadly, as often is the case, we had financial reasons to sell the orchard, I can't remember when. In a way, we lost more than the future investment of the land which would have been large. The apricots had been a blessing to us.They were yummy, brought a small income and I am sure our skin benefited if nothing else. But there is something else, which selling the place didn't take from us. Apricots brought our family close. We learned to work together in that orchard, and we felt closer to the earth, aware of the seasons, and the harvest. My parents harvested much more than that sweet fruit, they also brought in a cash crop of memories, love and lessons in that old orchard. Anytime I eat an apricot, I remember and harvest again.


angie said...

What an amazing orchard it must have been. I love that you recognize that it brought your family closer, taught you how to work and left you with wonderful memories. We had a single apricot tree in CA and it produced like crazy. I loved the smell and color of the fruit, but felt like I could never pick all the apricots. I can't imagine having a WHOLE orchard to pick.

I got the idea to arrange my shoes in a circle from your blog! :)

Hope you post more recipes.....I'll have Kirsten give me a crash course on healthy substitutions this weekend. She sent me some chocolate chip cookies while I was in the hospital that were so good! I'd love that recipe, too.

Mark and Kiss said...

Ohhhhh....the orchard. I would love to do something like that for my kids. Jojo, I love how you captured those memories. I am glad you write them down, then all I have to do is print them and ta-da, journal entry done! Hee, hee, hee.

You have such a gift for writing and often remember such fun random things like the guy singing the song "Living in the Bay Area". As soon as I read that the song totally came to my head, guitar music an all! Ha, ha, ha. I love you baby.

Angie, I forgot all about the cookies! I will try to get more recipes together for this weekend! Jojo, I'll be calling you for recipes. I am so glad that both of you are enjoying eachothers blogs! Hooray.

imageseer said...

you know it was really fun to travel back in time to your childhood memory. I'm tempted to dig into my blurry past and see what i can recall.

maribel said...

What great memories you have! Smells really do bring them all back again, don't they? What a blessing to have had this kind of experience with your whole family. Your writing is beautiful and captivating. I could see, and smell the orchard!