The Disappearing Blenheim Apricot
Blenheim apricots are one of the many pleasures of early summer. Plump and sweet, with a bit of fuzz to the skin, these golden gems are available through July at your farmers’ market. Even with the honey-sweet flavor, the juicy flesh, the rosy yellow skin, and compliments from customers, and other attributes, the Blenheim is slowly disappearing.
Blenheims were grown in Europe nearly 200 years ago and flourished in the garden at Blenheim Palace in England, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. They arrived in California in the 1880s and production spiked during the World War I era, after a stoppage of imported dried fruit from Europe. The largest farming areas for the variety were in the Sacramento and Santa Clara valleys.*
It is one of the best tasting, but most delicate of the apricots. With urban growth, cheap competition from Turkey and Africa, and the desire to grow a hardier variety, many farmers are backing away from planting more Blenheims as their old trees die. And since they are a notoriously delicate fruit and do not transport well, most are used for dried apricots these days.
Only about 2 percent of apricots grown are of the Blenheim variety with acreage dwindling each year. About 95 percent of the apricots grown in the U.S. come from California. Many different varieties grow in California, each with special characteristics. The most prevalent varieties are the Poppys, Pattersons, Blenheims, Tiltons, and Castlebrites.
There are still many small farmers who insist on keeping this luscious variety of apricot alive. Chefs consider Blenheims the best of the apricots for flavor. Customers find it is a rare and wonderful treat during the summer months.
For people in the know, Blenheims will remain a favorite apricot with intense flavor and lovely color. Most of these apricots will continue to be grown by niche farmers with a desire to see the royal fruit continue to be offered at farmers’ markets.
The best way to enjoy these lovely apricots is just eaten out of hand. They’re juicy and flavorful and the aroma is amazing. Because of their high sugar content they make fabulous jams and jam-filled cookies. Take some of that jam and mix with onion soup mix for a very flavorful topping for chicken.
Enjoy these wonderful Blenheim apricots before they disappear. Look for them May through July at your local farmers’ market and support those farmers who continue to grow them.
*California Bountiful, July, 2008.