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Amazing apricots

Farmers find sweet rewards with California fruit


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This time of year, nothing says "straight from California" more than a fresh apricot. After all, the Golden State produces about 90 percent of the apricots grown in the United States. And there are more varieties than ever to choose from, including the CandyCot apricot from John Driver's farm in Stanislaus County.

John knows a few things about apricots. That's because, in addition to farming, he's spent much of his career working as a plant breeder—specifically with apricots. In 2001, he decided to put his knowledge about the stone fruit to the test and bred together seeds from some of the best apricots he could find. Then, he teamed up with friend and fellow Stanislaus County farmer Chris Britton to plant a test plot of 10 acres with about 275 trees to see what kind of apricot they could grow together.

What the duo ended up with was something no else had on the market: an apricot so intensely flavorful and sweet, it tasted like "nature's candy." With that in mind, they named the apricot a CandyCot.

The farmers are able to achieve the added sweetness in the CandyCot by leaving it on the tree for a longer period of time. Because of that, the fruit must be handled with the utmost care, so it doesn't bruise or scar before it gets to the consumer. Instead of running the apricots through a packing line, the delicate fruit is individually placed in specially made foam packages.

This is just one of the special nuances of the especially sweet fruit that John tries to educate consumers about each week as he takes his grassroots marketing campaign for CandyCots to shoppers at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco.

In addition to the farmers market, the duo has also enlisted the help of their local community to get the word out about the fruit—people like chef Bryan Ehrenholm of Modesto's Pure Joy Bakery and Lunch Pail Café.

Because of their natural sweetness, Bryan says he is able to use CandyCot apricots not only in sweet concoctions at the bakery, but also in savory dishes at the café, such as his signature lamb tacos with apricot pico de gallo.

After a decade of trying, John Driver and Chris Britton are finally ready to deem their "experimental planting" a success. They're even looking to plant additional trees this year as they work toward a future of more sweet rewards.

For more information about the CandyCot apricot, visit  www.candycot.com.
For more information about the Pure Joy Bakery and Lunch Pail Café, visit www.thelunchpail.com.

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