Silicon Valley is a current, modern place in many respects, but its landscapes, for those who look, reveal the agricultural history just below the surface. In California Apricots, author Robin Chapman scrapes off the office buildings and the suburban homes to show the fruit-growing past of the Santa Clara Valley. Chapman grew up in the middle of an apricot orchard in Los Altos, an orchard subdivided into house lots in 1947, three years before she was born. She ably and poetically captures the post-World War II years when the South Bay’s economy was still based on a combination of agriculture and the military, and only just beginning to shift into technology.
The story of apricot cultivation in Santa Clara County is a very Californian story, a very Bay Area story. Apricots, originally from China, spread to Turkey, then Greece and Spain. They were brought to Mexico by Spanish missionaries, then to what is now California during the Mexican period. Missions planted groves of apricots and found that Bay Area weather suited the picky trees. The heyday of apricot production was in the mid-20th century, as new technologies and transportation methods made it possible to harvest large orchards and transport the fruit - fresh, canned, or dried - across the country. Apricot and other fruit production was a transitional phase in Bay Area agriculture, occurring after cattle ranching and wheat growing, but before the area’s large population growth squeezed out most of the orchards.
For those who can remember those years, or for those who can only imagine what they were like, California Apricots is a fragrant look at one aspect of the history of a constantly changing region.
Details: California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley, by Robin Chapman. American Palate/The History Press, 2013.