California Apricots

Heroes, In Season, Local Heroes, Summer
on January 1, 2008

They’re not much for publicity at Apricot King Orchard. When we called, Patti Gonzales, the self-styled “apricot queen,” didn’t really have time to talk.

“We’re really busy—and doing OK,” she said. “Besides, we’ve got a family wedding next week.”

They’re busy all right, turning out the juiciest dried apricots we’ve ever tasted. Apricot King is an 80-acre orchard in Hollister, Calif., at the end of the Santa Clara valley. Stretching south of San Jose, this valley still yields legendary abundance: garlic in Gilroy, artichokes in Watsonville, and some of the finest apricot orchards in the country, including, of course, Apricot King, a family business since the 1920s.

The Gonzales family oversees every apricot from seed to fruit and beyond, trucking them to innumerable farmers’ markets in central California and the Bay Area. Their farm also produces walnuts, cherries, syrups, and jams—but dried apricots are the backbone of their business and are sold in all varieties: slabs (hand cut), slip-pits (dried a few days with the pit for a slightly nutty taste), over-ripes, and even black and juicy unsulphured dried apricots (sulphur keeps apricots orange as they dry). Now that’s heaven.

—Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, food writers in Colebrook, Conn.