APRICOTS – January

full of fragrance, a little bit sweet and a little bit tart

Home-grown apricots are delicious, packed with juice and delicate flavours. Apricot trees make a great centrepiece in a backyard, with their abundant spring blossoms and attractive foliage.

The best thing about apricots is they’re easy to grow in most warm or cold temperate climates. Most varieties need a moderate amount of chill in winter, but the fruit really develops flavour in areas where summers are relatively hot and dry, which is why Central Otago is the apricot capital of New Zealand.

When growing in the south take care during blossom time. Apricot trees traditionally bloom early and the flowers are often killed by late frosts. Choose late-blooming varieties and you may need to cover your tree with frost cloth while it’s in bloom.

Choose a variety that does well in your region.

« Apricots grow well from the stone in the fruit, so if you see
a laden apricot tree in your neighbourhood, it’s worth getting
a piece of that fruit and growing a tree from the stone.

To do this, firstly scrub any flesh off and lay the stone out on newspaper for three hours or so to dry. You can get the seed out of the stone by using a hammer carefully on the side of the stone to crack it. The idea is to get the seed out of the stone without crushing it. If you think you’re going to crush the seed, you can just plant the whole stone, but germination will take longer. Allow the seeds to dry on newspaper for a few more hours. You can now store them in a jar or zip-top plastic bag in the refrigerator to stratify the seeds for 60 days. Plant in potting mix after that and leave in a warm spot to germinate.

Although most apricots are self-fertile, fruit set is better when planted with one or two other varieties nearby. Trees will start bearing in the third or fourth season.

Choose a site in full sun. Apricots flourish on deep, moisture retentive, well-drained, ideally slightly alkaline soils. Dig in a bucketful of well-rotted organic material before planting. Plant bare-rooted trees in autumn when the soil is still warm or early spring if your tree is in a bag or pot.

Set bare-rooted trees on top of a mound of soil in the centre of the planting hole, and spread the roots over the mound. Identify original planting depth by finding colour change from dark to light as you move down the trunk towards the roots. If the tree is grafted, position the inside of the curve of the graft union away from the afternoon sun.

For container-grown trees, remove the plant from its pot and take off circling roots by laying the root ball on its side and cutting through the roots with secateurs.

Water newly-planted trees frequently as they establish in their first spring and summer, and before the onset of drought, when mature trees may need watering too. This is particularly important when the fruit starts to swell.

Mulch a 5cm layer around the rooting area in September and early October.

When fruits are 1-2cms in diameter, thin to 3 to 4 fruits per cluster to increase the size of remaining apricots and prevent over bearing one year, and little the next. Some varieties of apricot trees overproduce, bending and snapping their own branches. These fertile trees can be supported by hand made ‘crutches’.

The fruit is ready from late December to February, when fruits are fully coloured and their skin gives slightly when pressed softly and it detaches easily from the tree. The picking season is short.

Apricots must be harvested carefully, as they are delicate fruits and do not have a long shelf life.

Apricots are vigorous trees and grow twice as quickly as any other fruit tree, which means you’ll have to prune every year. Prune just after picking the fruit to avoid bacterial infections getting into open pruning wounds. Train trees to an open centre. See here for how we pruned a plum tree. Apricots bear fruit on shoots made the previous summer and on short spurs from the older wood.

Reliable varieties:
‘Tomcot’, ‘Moorpark’, ‘Sundrop’, ‘Trevatt’, ‘Clutha Gold’, ‘New Castle’

Apricot Upside-down Cake

¼ cup melted coconut oil, plus 1 tablespoon for cake tin
¾ cup maple or agave syrup, plus 1-2 tablespoons for cake tin
9-10 apricots, halved and pitted
2 cups thread coconut
1¼ cup spelt flour
1¼ teaspoons ground cardamom
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup almond meal
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds (I had some LSA and used that instead)
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line the bottom of a 24cm springform cake tin with cooking paper.
Add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and use your hands to spread it over the bottom and up the sides of the lined cake tin. Add 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup and spread it over the bottom of the cake tin.
Arrange apricots, cut side down, on the bottom of the cake tin.
Add coconut to a food processor and add a handful of the spelt flour. Blend until coarsely ground. Into a medium-sized bowl, sift remaining spelt flour, cardamom and baking powder. Add almond meal and ground coconut and stir to combine.
In another bowl, whisk together flax seeds (or LSA – ground linseed, sunflower seed, almonds) and water, then add maple or agave syrup, oil, vanilla, vinegar, salt and baking soda and whisk again. Pour into dry mixture and stir until just combined. Pour over apricots and gently spread batter evenly over the fruit.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for an hour before releasing the sides. Place a cake plate over the top of the cake and flip it over. Remove the cake tin base, carefully peel off the cooking paper and serve.
Note: because of the apricots, the cake will only last a couple of days out of the refrigerator. Also the apricots are quite tart, so you may like to add more syrup when serving or sift some icing sugar over the cake.