Buy ’em locally
Double R Ranch Fruit Stand
9224 Gaddini Road, Winters
Putah Creek Road exit on northbound I-505
Loren Warren’s OMRP (Old Man’s Retirement Plan)
2 miles east of Winters on Road 32/Russell Boulevard
The Fruit Tree
415 Grant Ave. (Highway 128) on the western edge of Winters
(530) 787-3228 ManasRanch.com
25838 Road 21A, Esparto (a half-mile west of Highway 16)
Lester Farms (dried fruit)
(530) 795-2693; Lesterfarms.com
4317 Margaret Lane, Winters
Apricots are a big part of Yolo County’s agricultural history, especially in and around Winters. The Winters Express noted in its June 28, 1946, edition that 464 rail cars of apricots had been shipped out that year.
The packing sheds once lined the railroad tracks that crossed Putah Creek and came up Railroad Avenue, but the only remnants now are the iconic railroad bridge, a couple of renovated packing sheds at Elliot and Main, an old box factory with corrugated siding just north of them, and, running along the sidewalk on the east side of Railroad Avenue from the bridge to Abbey Street, etchings in the sidewalk where the tracks once were.
The apricot crop was once so critical to the economy of the town of Winters that for many, many years the school term ended in mid-May so children could help with the harvest or cut apricots in the dry yards. Even today, many Winters adults of a certain age can tell stories about the youthful summers they spent with their friends, cutting apricots.
Even though we grew up more than 500 miles apart, Ann in Berkeley and I in Laguna Beach, we both treasure the memory of the apricot trees in our own back yards. We climbed them, picked their fruit, ate them out of hand, made pies with them and when the crop was at its fullest, made jam and canned them. Ann also sold them door to door.
When I moved outside Winters about 25 years ago, an apricot orchard was right across the road from me, and my neighbor kindly gave me permission to pick at will. When I walked through that orchard during apricot season, I would wind up at Johnny Lopez’s drying yard and what a glorious sight that was — surrounded by the deep green leaves of the orchard was an open area with hundreds of wooden trays spread across the ground, each covered with a layer of cut, pitted and sulfured apricots, drying in the bright June sun like a huge, golden blanket.
Sadly, my neighbor’s orchard was ripped up 10 years ago, “because you can never make money on apricots,” the farmer told me. It broke my heart to see the beautiful trees I had walked among for more than a decade tossed on their sides, roots exposed against the sky, their branches broken in the fall as the backhoe flipped them out of the earth. In a few days they were gone, pushed into a pile and burned and, shortly after, rows of spindly young walnut trees took their place.
This story was repeated during the 1990s throughout the Winters area. One reason was the always-present risk of rain during February pollination for the early-blooming apricots. The main reason, though, was that newer apricot varieties, Castlebrite and Patterson, had been developed and were being planted heavily on the upper west side of the San Joaquin Valley, around Patterson and Westley, and fruit from that warmer, drier area ripened earlier and got to market when the prices were high.
The Winters farmers, looking at the weather risk and diminishing returns, started shifting their orchards into almonds, prunes and walnuts. However, one semi-nostalgic farmer told me they always saved at least one tree of the Blenheim apricots for themselves. They knew a good thing, just like anyone does who has ever had a ripe Blenheim apricot.
The Blenheim, sometimes called Royal Blenheim, is renowned for its impeccable sweetness and flavor. The Royal Blenheim was boarded onto the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste in the last few years to help preserve it by calling attention to its flavor and increasing the market demand for it.
Happily, some folks are still growing Blenheims in the area, and you can find them at fruit stands, like Double R Ranch Fruit Stand and The Fruit Tree in Winters, and Manas Orchards in Esparto. Also, like in the old days, apricots and other fruit are available by the flat or lug at Double R Ranch and Manas Orchards. At the Davis Farmers Market, Jeff and Annie Main of Good Humus Farms sell the Blenheim apricots they planted soon after they bought their farm in 1976.
Royal Derby is another old-fashioned, flavorful variety to look for. Shop now, because the apricot season is a brief one. Should you miss it, however, peaches, nectarines and plums will be available until deep into summer and available by the lug box.
Rustic Tart of Apricots and Goat Cheese Cream
Serves 6 to 8
This can be made with virtually any seasonal, fresh fruit, such as plums, peaches, nectarines, figs or pears. For larger fruit, cut into thin slices. Don’t be alarmed when the filling swells and puffs.
6 to 8 apricots, pitted and cut into quarters
One 12-by-14-inch sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed as directed by manufacturer
2 to 3 ounces soft goat cheese
½ cup plus one tablespoon sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Putting it together:
Preheat oven to 375º F.
On a floured work surface, spread open the puff pastry sheet. With a rolling pin, roll to a scant 1/4-inch thick. To make a tart, trim the corners to make a round. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and transfer the round to the paper. Pinch the edges up to form a generous ½-inch rim. Place in the freezer and chill 15 minutes to firm edges.
In a bowl, whisk together the goat cheese, ½ cup of the sugar, the egg and cream until a smooth paste forms. Spread the paste evenly over the bottom of the pastry round. Do not overfill as the weight of the fruit causes it to sink, pushing up the paste. Arrange the apricots, cut side down, in concentric circles on top of the paste, about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of sugar evenly over the apricots.
Bake until the pastry is puffed and browned and the apricots are soft and slightly golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let stand for 10 minutes.
With a long knife, loosen the round from the parchment paper so the tart won’t stick when cut into slices. Serve warm.
— Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan have a food and marketing consulting firm, Evans & Brennan, LLC, specializing in farm-fresh food in school lunch. They co-lead Slow Food Yolo. Reach them at [email protected]