One of the most delightful moments of high summer is when you can bite into an apricot that has fully ripened on the tree and has just been picked. Such a rich and delicious taste from this golden fruit.
They have a distinguished history being traced back thousands of years to northern China and Siberia. Alexander the Great found them growing in Armenia and they spread across the ancient Mediterranean empires.
Apricots are still grown in the lands of the Middle East. In fact, Turkey and Iran, which have been much in the news of late, are the biggest producers of apricots. Turkey produces close to 800,000 tonnes each year and is a very big exporter to countries to its north. Iran produces more than 460,000 tonnes. By comparison, Australia produces just 13,000 -14,000 tonnes each year, similar to the levels produced in Israel.
Apricots do need to have a cold winter, with at least 600 chill hours to be able to form up the fruit buds. However, they grow best in a climate that resembles the warm Mediterranean climates, enjoying a good, hot and dry summer when the fruit is maturing. How can you balance everything, seeing that apricots will burst into blossom in August, well before other stone fruits and weeks before pome fruits?
If you have planted your own apricot trees in a highlands location, you will have the best harvest if all goes well. But you will have to be sanguine about fruit setting each year. Some years all will go well and you will get a big crop (enough to make jams and bottle) but sometimes a heavy run of frosty nights in late winter will put paid to all your nurturing work. Still, keep positive in those times, because the delectable taste of even one home-grown, ripe apricot will stay deep in your memory for many seasons.
Apricot trees can grow into quite large specimen trees so allow spacing of at least three metres between trees. They need good drainage so do not plant them where waterlogging could occur.
You will need to have more than one cultivar to get good production, as most varieties of apricots are not self-pollinating. Trevatt is a good cross pollinating variety and it will produce a bountiful mid-season crop of juicy, deep orange fruit. It is a true blue Australian variety, developed in Mildura more than one hundred years ago so it does well in our climates.
Helena is a newer variety introduced from California which will yield a high-quality crop of flavoursome, early-season fruit. Divinity is another good mid-season apricot, bred in the late 1950s in South Australia. Its fruit size is a little smaller but it has excellent flavour.
For late-season apricots, you would not go past Mystery, also bred in the Riverland. It yields large orange-coloured, firm fruit with great flavour. If you have space, then also plant the old Moorpark apricot which has been growing in England since 1668. It has long been considered one of the best home garden varieties, producing a consistent crop of delicious fruit.
4 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
¼ cup sugar
2 small packets of yeast
1 cup milk
1½ cup butter
750g fresh firm apricots
2 cups orange juice
1 cup water
1 egg white, lightly whisked to glaze
Sift flour along with sugar and salt. Mix the yeast with a little of the milk (cold). Whisk the egg separately then pour it into the flour mixture and add in the yeast mixture. Add the remaining milk and beat well with a wooden spoon until smooth. Roll out the dough on baking board to the thickness of one finger.
Spread small pieces of butter on ⅔ of the dough. The butter needs to have same consistency as the dough (if it is too soft, it will melt into the dough). Fold together into three layers, as you would fold a napkin, first the part without butter. Roll out and fold again. Repeat three or four times using all the butter. Leave in a cold place for ½ hour.
Place all of the filling ingredients into a thick-based cooking pot. Heat and simmer until soft. Blend the ingredients to make a thick puree. Prepare the pastries by rolling small portions into squares (about five centimetres each way), then spoon the fruit mix into the centre of the pastry. Fold the two opposite corners of the pastry across the top, with tips overlapping slightly in the centre.
After pastries are shaped, place onto a greased baking sheet. Leave the tray in a cold place for 15-20 minutes, to allow the pastry to rise. Brush the top of each pastry with egg white. Bake in moderate oven, set at 180C, for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.
This week in the garden
* If you have time to plant, consider a row or two of bush beans, beetroot, sugarloaf cabbage and open leaf lettuces.
* Golden nugget pumpkins and button squash will produce an early autumn harvest if planted now.
* Bend over the stems of onions a few days before harvest, to prevent them bolting. When you harvest, allow them to dry out fully in a well-ventilated shady location.
* Regular deep watering of gardens that have been well mulched will probably take up most of your spare time over the coming weeks.
* Stake up capsicums and eggplants even though they will not grow as tall as your tomato plants. Pinch out laterals on your tomatoes.
* Check apple trees for evidence of codling moth and remove to help break the next cycle.
Owen Pidgeon runs Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.