This has been a great year for apricots. The ‘Newcastles’ are about done now, and the ‘Royals’ have just started. Once they are about done, we should be getting some fruit off the ‘Moorpark’ and then there will be a pause till the ‘Earli Autum’ and ‘Autumn Glo’ come in. Before the ‘Newcastle’ there was a smaller-than-last-year crop on the ‘Flavor Delight’ which is actually an aprium (i.e. an apricot-plum cross that leans more towards the former). Along the way we have also had ‘Katy’ (but only one fruit this year, which is no loss, as a subacid apricot is nothing remarkable) and, of course, the so-called black apricot, ‘Mesch Mesch Amrah,’ which is actually a type of plumcot (in this case, a Prunus x dasycarpa that is a naturally occuring plum-apricot cross). The Mesch Mesch Amrah had very few fruit this year, probably because of chilly wet weather during its bloom. But what it had was outstanding, as usual. I wish more people knew of and grew this rare fruit.
A special treat this year was my first ever taste of a white apricot. The ‘Shaa Kar Pareh,’ planted just two years ago, had one fruit. I have long sought a white apricot. The old Sunset Western Garden Book listed a variety called ‘Snowball.’ Much research in the mid-90s revealed that there is no evidence that this white-fleshed variety still exists. (Maybe someone has an old tree in the backyard and has no idea what a rarity it is!) As a result of my queries, Sunset quietly dropped the variety from its book a few years ago. More recently, Bay Laurel started offering two white-fleshed varieties, ‘Canadian White Blenheim’ (CWB) and the ‘Shaa Kar Pareh’ (SKP).
The CWB (planted in 2004) has bloomed (strangely for an apricot, only after being well leafed out) each of the last two years, but no fruit. As I have noted before, I suspect that the CWB has a a 600+ hours chilling requirement, but the SKP may be a good deal lower.
But I can report on the SKP. If this is what white apricots can be like, it was worth the wait! It was extremely sweet and juicy, probably more so than any other apricot I have tasted. I would say it was really only faintly like an apricot in some ways, in addition to the pinkish-whitish exterior color, being almost smooth of skin and vaguely plum-like in texture. But it was absolutely not, in flavor, a plum or aprium or plumcot. It was an apricot, just not like any other I have ever had.
As usual, among the more “typical” orange-fleshed apricots, the ‘Newcastle’ was outstanding. It has quite a complex flavor, not as rich as ‘Moorpark’ (which I eagerly await this year), but much more interesting than the more famous ‘Royal’ (a.k.a. ‘Blenheim). In fact, the latter is a fine fruit, but perhaps overrated. I can see why ‘Royal’ is favored for farmers markets (the big commercial growers long ago abandoned it for varieties like ‘Patterson’ and especially ‘Castlebrite’ that have a virtual suit of armor to allow them to withstand oppressive Central Valley heat and long-distance shipping). ‘Newcastle’ has two tendencies that would annoy growers, even those servicing the farmers markets: It often ripens unevenly (one side of a fruit sometimes remains rather under-ripe while another side is almost too soft and about ready literally to burst with juice), and it is so soft that it barely travels from the corralito to the house, let alone to a market. But these are not problems for the home grower, and ‘Newcastle’ gets my vote for the best home-orchard apricot for southern California. (I should add that, while I like ‘Moorpark’ probably best of all the orange-fleshed varieties, it is a bit of a shy bearer here, and probably has a chilling requirement of more than 500 hours, whereas ‘Newcastle’ has a chilling requirement under 400 and perhaps around 300.)
I need to re-graft that ‘Redsweet’ (an incredibly sweet and, yes, quite reddish, apricot) to complete the apricot rainbow!