The apricot tree is a deciduous fruit bearing tree of the genus Prunus. It is grown in all parts of the world and is thought to have originated in Armenia; however, it may also to have been grown in ancient India. A medium sized multi-branched tree, it has a dense spreading canopy. It grows well in areas of southern Australia that are not too dry and does well as a backyard tree. Once the leaves fall in autumn, it can be pruned by about 20% to remove older growth as well as crossed, damaged and bent branches. By ensuring that the tree has an open centre, sunlight can reach all parts of the tree to assist with the ripening of the fruit. Its early spring blooms of pinkish-white five-petaled flowers are followed by new leaves. The tree produces a stone fruit with yellow to orange skin, tinged darker on the side most exposed to the sun. The fruit is firm but softens the riper it gets. It is a good eating fruit but can also be preserved or stewed.
I have had an apricot tree in my backyard since I moved to this part of Melbourne thirty years ago. Most years I have had a good crop of apricots. A wet winter this year, as well as my uncharacteristic regular watering, resulted in very strong growth of branches and fewer fruit. What apricots there were were at least double the usual size. The dense growth also meant that the fruit took longer to ripen. They were not ready for picking until the third week of January whereas I can usually pick them in early January. The slow ripening also made them a target of hungry backyard visitors – birds, the occasional fruit bat and, a first this year, mice! One morning I watched in horror as a flock of sulphur crested cockatoos circled overhead, fully expecting my tree to be stripped in a matter of minutes. Fortunately they saw something tastier elsewhere. Even without the cockatoos I ended up with a third of my usual crop.
Apart from eating the apricots and giving them away to family and friends, I also make apricot jam and stew them. Stewed apricots can be frozen and kept for months. Defrosted, they are a nice addition to breakfast cereal. I only managed a dozen jars of jam this year rather than the usual thirty plus. The recipe is below. Do try it, I promise, the jam is delicious.
– Wash, stone and cut apricots into small pieces
– Place in heavy bottomed boiler (also works well in a heavy frying pan)
– For every 500g of fruit add the juice on 1 lemon
– Cook until soft (about an hour)
– Measure stewed fruit
– Clean boiler and return stewed fruit to heat
– For every cup of mixture measure out ¾ cup of sugar (I use jam setting sugar [has pectin added] as the mixture can take too long to set and the longer it boils the darker the colour.)
– Warm sugar in oven and add gradually to the boiling fruit
– Boil for at least half an hour then test for setting (I find it usually takes between ¾ to one hour to reach setting point but it really depends on the fruit.)
– Ladle into already prepared jars and seal by whatever method you prefer. (I use glass jars scrubbed in soap and hot water, rinsed, scalded with boiled water and set to dry in a low oven. When jam is completely cold I seal with cellophane covers wiped with white vinegar.)