Lisa Prince Newman peeks into the fruit industry that was the Valley of the Heart’s Delight
Few born before 1970, says author Lisa Prince Newman, will forget the endless magic carpet of white blossoms that once covered the Santa Clara Valley. Prunes, apricot, peach and cherries trees dominated what was then known as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight, as far as the eye could see.
At the peak of the orchard fruit industry, there were 125 square miles of vineyards and trees, and San Jose was the largest canning and dried fruit packing center in the world, boasting 18 canneries, 13 dried fruit packing companies and 12 fresh fruit shippers. Then, silicon happened.
In her recipe-rich and nostalgia-filled memoir cookbook, “For the Love of Apricots,” Lisa Prince Newman recounts a childhood in Saratoga, surrounded by fruit orchards.
“I connected at a deep emotional level to the landscape, seasonal rhythms of nature, and to the extraordinary fruit we grew,” says Newman. “My mother was an adventurous cook and I learned to appreciate the ‘farm to table’ way we lived, using what we produced seasonally in our daily meals, long before that term was invented.”
Newman’s love of apricots began early, and watching the orchards disappear due to the advent of the high tech revolution gave her the inspiration to preserve a snapshot of a simpler, agrarian time.
“I feel a great sense of loss about this, as do so many of my generation who grew up in the Bay Area,” says Newman. “Personally, I was deeply influenced by the environmental movement of the ’70s and expansion of the field of city planning. I entered that field and continue to work as a city planner with the intention to encourage city-centered land use planning that allows agriculture, open space, recreational and watershed lands to be preserved close by city centers.”
In the cookbook, Newman talks about the remaining pioneer families of fruit cultivation, including Novakovich Orchard on Fruitvale Avenue in Saratoga, Andy’s Orchard in Morgan Hill, B&R farms in Hollister, Apricot King Orchards in Hollister, Fairhaven Orchards in Hollister, LJB Farms in San Martin and Van Dyke Ranch in Gilroy. She includes a brief history of each family and heritage orchard in both Santa Clara and San Benito counties.
Through Newman’s recipes, which range from appetizers to main dishes to a variety of cookies and desserts, one can taste the passion she has for the versatility only apricots can offer. No fruit carries such universal appeal or is held in such high regard. Take one sip of apricot nectar and your mouth will thank you.
“Apricots are a beautiful, delicious, and versatile fruit—especially the varieties that were/are grown in the Bay Area, particularly the Royal Blenheim apricot,” Newman says. “The Blenheim apricot has an exceptionally balanced sweet/tart flavor, juicy texture and beauty. Because so much of the crop is dried, it’s available for cooking not just sweet but also savory dishes year round.”
Pete Van Dyke of Van Dyke Ranch in Gilroy agrees.
“I’m the fourth generation of my family to grow apricots here in the Valley,” Van Dyke says. “I am one of those weird dudes that loves to cook! Always looking for new recipes. I especially love to make barbecue sauce with apricots: perfect with pork and chicken. I also love history and highly recommend ‘California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley,’ by Robin Chapman.”
Newman encourages people who love apricots to plant an apricot tree (or more than one) in their yard.
“Visit and support the orchards that remain, ask your grocer and farmers market vendors to provide the best-tasting varieties of apricots, and support local land use decisions to protect and support remaining agriculture as well as to create new opportunities for agricultural development,” she says. “These are political decisions. Santa Clara County especially, but also much of the Bay Area, has extraordinary soil and climate resources for growing orchard crops, and apricots are the most wonderful, in my opinion.”
Historically, Newman adds, California apricots were world-famous and the Golden State was considered the top producer of apricots in the world.
Andy Mariani of Andy’s Orchard echoes the influence of Santa Clara County producers.
“Santa Clara Valley was known all over the world for Blenheim apricots,” Mariani says. “This is what made the Valley famous. There is still a quality to the apricots coming from here: the acid, the perfect sugar and the depth of flavor are what make our apricots stand out. I have only 7 acres of apricots left: I’d like to plant 3 or 4 more acres. Sadly, we are the last orchard standing in Morgan Hill.”
Other local growers are just as eager to showcase local history and remind readers what is so special about the Valley of the Heart’s Delight.
“This book is beautiful, and we have it in our retail store.” Mari Rossi of B&R Farms says. “Lisa will be signing her book at our first Holidays in Hollister event on Dec. 1. The event continues on Dec 8 and 15, with many vendors, plus holiday gift boxes and hot apricot cider. Everyone loves apricots, especially Blenheim’s.”
Visit fortheloveofapricots.com for more resources and a list of places where you can purchase the book. Give someone a bag of dried apricots and a cookbook for the holidays and spread the apricot love.
Keep the apricot heritage alive. Meet Newman and purchase signed copies of her cookbook at these upcoming events:
Dec. 1, 10am-3pm, B&R Farms, Hollister (Holidays in Hollister)
Dec. 2, 10am-3pm, Andy’s Orchard, Morgan Hill
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