Apricots are grown throughout Spain mainly in areas that have a reasonable amount of rain and cool winters. The trees are about 8-12 m tall, with a trunk up to 40 cm diameter and a dense, spreading canopy. The leaves are ovate, 5-9 cm long and 4-8 cm wide, with a rounded base, a pointed tip and a finely serrated margin. The flowers are 2-4.5 cm diameter, with five white to pinkish petals; they are produced singly or in pairs in early spring before the leaves. The fruit is a drupe similar to a small peach, 1.5-2.5 cm diameter, coloured from yellow to orange, often tinged red on the side most exposed to the sun and is smooth to touch. The single seed is enclosed in a hard stony shell, often called a “stone”, smooth except for three ridges running down one side.
Although often thought of as a “subtropical” fruit, the Apricot is native to a continental climate region with cold winters. The tree is slightly more cold-hardy than the peach, tolerating winter temperatures as cold as -30 °C or lower if healthy. The limiting factor in apricot culture is spring frosts. They tend to flower very early, around the time of the vernal equinox, meaning spring frost often kills the flowers. The trees do need some winter cold (even if minimal) to bear and grow properly and do well in Mediterranean climate locations since spring frosts are less severe but there is some cool winter weather to allow a proper dormancy. The dry climate of these areas is best for good fruit production.
Apricot cultivars are most often grafted on plum or peach rootstocks. A cutting of an existing apricot plant provides the fruit characteristics such as flavour, size, etc., but the rootstock provides the growth characteristics of the plant.
There is an old adage that an apricot tree will not grow far from the mother tree. The implication is that apricots are particular about the soil conditions in which they are grown. They prefer a well-drained soil. Here in the Northern region of the Costa Cálida, the apricot and other fruit trees are mainly irrigated by water courses that are controlled by the local authorities. The land owners pay for water rights and they are allocated certain times to irrigate the land with industrial water. Even if it is pouring with rain – if it is your turn for water, that is when you get it! If fertilizer is needed, as indicated by yellow-green leaves, then fertilizer should be applied in the second year. Granular fertilizer should be scattered beneath the branches of the tree. An additional 1/4 pound should be applied for every year of age of the tree in early spring, before growth starts. Apricots are self-compatible and do not require pollinizer trees, with the exception of the ‘Moongold’ and ‘Sungold’ cultivars, which can pollinate each other. Apricots are susceptible to numerous bacterial diseases including bacterial canker and blast, bacterial spot and crown gall. They are susceptible to an even longer list of fungal diseases including brown rot, Alternaria spot and fruit rot, and powdery mildew. Other problems for apricots are nematodes and viral diseases, including graft-transmissible problems.
Turkey is the leading apricot producer, followed by Iran. Spain is the 7th largest producer of apricots, many of which are grown in the North West region of Murcia. The last two year’s crops have been spoilt by heavy rains at the end of May, so let’s hope that this year will be different. Kernels
Seeds or kernels of the apricot grown in central Asia and around the Mediterranean are so sweet that they may be substituted for almonds. The Italian liqueur Amaretto and amaretti biscotti are flavoured with extract of apricot kernels rather than almonds. Oil pressed from these cultivars has been used as cooking oil.
Medicinal and non-food uses
Cyanogenic glycosides (found in most stone fruit seeds, bark, and leaves are found in high concentration in apricot seeds. Laetrile, a purported alternative treatment for cancer, is extracted from apricot seeds. As early as the year 502, apricot seeds were used to treat tumors, and in the 17th century apricot oil was used in England against tumors and ulcers. However, in 1980 the National Cancer Institute in the USA claimed laetrile to be an ineffective cancer treatment.
In Europe, apricots were long considered an aphrodisiac, and were used in this context in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as an inducer of childbirth, as depicted in John Webster’s The Duchess of Mali.
Due to their high fibre to volume ratio, dried apricots are sometimes used to relieve constipation or induce diarrhea. Effects can be felt after eating as little as three.
In The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion sings, “What puts the ape in the apricot? Courage!”
Apricots were used by the Australian Aborigines as an aphrodisiac. A special tea was prepared from the apricot stone, while the fruit was crushed and smeared over the erogenous regions.
Among tank-driving soldiers, apricots are taboo, by superstition. Tankers will not eat apricots, allow apricots onto their vehicles, and often will not even say the word “apricot”. This superstition stems from Sherman tank breakdowns purportedly happening in the presence of cans of apricots.
Dreaming of apricots, in English folklore, is said to be good luck.