Back in the days before houses were built here in Toop Street, there was an apricot orchard.
Today, only one tree remains; a venerable old tree, hollow-centred where the core has rotted. Miraculously, it has regenerated the cambium layer allowing it to survive and even send up healthy new branches.
It fruits rather erratically. One year it produces small numbers of large and luscious fruit and other times it is laden down with an abundance of small apricots in tight clusters, or next to nothing.
I have a great affection for this tree. Not only is it a survivor, my grandchildren learned to climb in it, it shades my outdoor table and it has a nice Zen shape. Best of all it produces the best-flavoured apricots – the Trevatt.
The birds like them too. Wax eyes, sparrows and blackbirds rip into them as they ripen, frequently chased off by tui in screeching skirmishes. With such competition, the timing of harvest becomes critical during the ten-day ripening period.
This usually coincides with Christmas and this summer the branches were weighted down, the skins a bit scarred and some threatening brown rot from the rain and humidity and so they needed harvesting before the wildlife decimated them.
But there were several complicating factors.
A good number of family were here in the Bay to celebrate my daughter Megan’s significant birthday which ran over the weekend prior to Christmas, and clearly, there were conflicting priorities – help with catering, lots of socializing with alcohol, barbeques, shopping etc. Also, like most of the orchardists in Hawke’s Bay, I worried about the availability of pickers (my grandchildren).
Still, the harvest began.
Small batches of apricot processing occurred in sporadic bursts in between the action-packed days, usually early in the day. The ladder wobbled on the uneven slope as I raked down the fruit. Grandchildren were summoned to pick, but they are less available these days with summer jobs. This is person-intensive harvesting I reminded everyone, needing a hand on each corner of a sheet and someone up the tree, another with a rake.
Some fell to the ground, juicily embedded with stones from the shingle below; but they weren’t wasted, they quickly went into the preserving pan after a bit of sorting out. Bertie and Basil my border terriers enjoyed what fallen fruit we missed. There is the risk of them swallowing them stones and all – I don’t like to think about that.
As the morning temperatures rose, the preserving pan bubbled, all the windows and doors open wide to keep the air circulating and I held off the phone calls as to my whereabouts for the next brunch gathering. The daughters have been saving up the recycled jam jars for my ‘preserving’ season and so here I was, when time is critical, sorting out the jars, lids and removing the old labels.
I surpassed myself by bottling 18 jars of apricots and felt proud my industry if a bit frazzled. I surmised aloud about making apricot chutney, pureed apricot for drizzling over future puddings, and offered to make apricot muffins for coffee the next day.
I also complained about feeling awfully tired in a cranky tone. My apricot marathon seemed to be falling on deaf ears and Megan, in a moment of exasperation said, “Don’t mention the apricots, Mum, I’m sick of hearing about it!” Huff, I think, they will all be very happy to fill their larders with my jars.
However, I slept well that night and awoke in the morning refreshed, knowing that my mission was done, time to let it all go and get on with Christmas.