Pioneer apricots

We’re just enjoying the last of our apricots, so I thought I’d celebrate with a post about apricots in pioneer Utah.

Early Utah nurseryman Joseph Ellis Johnson listed several types of apricots in his garden journals, circa 1870: Blenheim, Kashia, Mosha, Peach, Pineapple, and Royal. Of these, I have only seen Blenheim and Royal still available in nurseries, but I would love to try a Peach or Pineapple apricot!

Missing from this list is the Moorpark apricot. Capitol Reef National Park, which preserves Mormon pioneer orchard plants in central Utah (and sells the produce to the public at a very reasonable cost!), lists the introduction/discovery date for the Moorpark apricot as 1860, but Jane Austen mentions this variety in chapter six of Mansfield Park, which was published in 1814. Possibly there was more than one variety by this name, but either way, it’s possible the early pioneers grew it.

Also missing is the Mormon, or Chinese, apricot: the type growing in my yard. The name implies that it was probably brought to Utah by the Chinese immigrants who worked on the western side of the Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869 (a date which arguably ends the pioneer period in Utah). These workers don’t get much attention for the amazing building feats they accomplished, or the impact they had on the landscape and foodstuffs of Utah. In addition to the Mormon/Chinese apricot, I’ve been told they also may have brought the first carp to Utah, which have since wreaked havoc on our riparian ecosystems.

The Mormon/Chinese apricot is a sweet pit apricot, meaning the pits of these apricots can be roasted and eaten like almonds. Or so people say. This year we decided to try it ourselves, and found very little reliable information about how to roast the apricots. Most apricots produce bitter pits, which are poisonous. This made us wary of eating even the sweet pit ones. The chemicals which produce cyanide in apricots are supposedly inactivated by cooking, so we tried roasting them in their shells at 350 degrees (F) for 10 minutes. We popped open the shells and ate the kernels, and they were quite good, like almonds with a fruity hint of apricot. We haven’t suffered any negative effects from eating the roasted kernels from our sweet pit apricots, but we aren’t eating very many at a time, just to be sure, and if we were to come across one that tasted bitter or off in any way we’d throw it out.

As a disclaimer, I’m not advocating eating apricot pits, just sharing our experiment with it. Always be cautious eating foods you’re not familiar with, and don’t eat things unless you’re positive of what they are.

Also, I don’t know if Mormon pioneers tried the pits from apricots. In times of famine they could be adventurous eaters, and some pioneers died from eating poisonous plants they gathered from nature.

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