Apricots drying in the Los Altos Hills orchard owned by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.
I've been visitng the Packard Orchard in Los Altos Hills several times a year, in all seasons, since I returned to my home town. I learned about it from a girl I've known since kindergarten who told me you could buy a five-pound bag of dried apricots up there--if you called ahead.
That quantity of locally produced dried apricots available for purchase at an affordable price--well, it is almost unheard of today.
I first drove up there on a rainy winter day. You head up a road that winds through the foothills of the Coast Range. This road, when I was young, ran through an area of modest homes where families kept horses in corrals out front. Now the homes are mostly two-story numbers decorated with vineyards and Ferraris.
The view from the hill where the orchard stands is spectacular.
You turn off the main road and head up a narrow driveway. At the top, you stumble on to paradise: seventy acres of apricot trees with a view from the orchard of the valley and San Francisco Bay. A multi-multi-million dollar view. (Point of fact: one family in Marin County last week bought the 4 million dollar home next door to them and had it torn down to improve their view of the Bay.)
Since I've been up at the orchard in winter and spring, I took the opportunity this week to visit during the apricot harvest. What a beautiful sight.
I called ahead to make sure it was okay. And when I got there, some men at the top of the hill thought I had come to help out cutting the apricots: "Just walk up there," one told me.
I took my camera up to a shed at the top of the orchard and found a sight that had once been so familiar to me, all around the Santa Clara Valley as well as in my own back yard.
My sister spent one summer doing this when she was in high school: she and the other workers were paid $.50/a tray.
People were cutting apricots and placing them on trays for drying. The 'cots go into a sulphur house next to help in their preservation, and then they are dried in the California sun.
To a Californian, this stuff is better than candy.
For a long time, I thought the Packard children had saved the orchard because it had some sentimental meaning for their family, and that may be part of it; but, I notice in reading their foundation's mission statement that the orchard is part of their program of protecting and restoring, " ... biologically important and iconic regions of western North America."
Apricot orchards in Los Altos Hills are definitely iconic to me!
The apricot trays are usually laid down looking west, to get the hottest of the afternoon sun.
Ferraris and mansions are passing things. This is something that, once gone, can never be replaced. Everyone benefits from it--from the open space, the beauty, the low density, and the work created for those who maintain it. I hope school children will learn from this place about the the days when this orchard was part of the richest fruit-producing valley in the world.
The best part is that Mike the orchardist is so nice, and that too must be a foundation directive. He doesn't mind a stray local popping by to take some photos. And one more thing:
He even let me take home a bucket of the windfall 'cots. I'll be sure and take him a jar of my jam, next time I see him.
Orchards cannot use the fruit that falls on the ground. If it isn't picked up by gleaners like me--it just goes to waste.
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