I tried the bright orange one first. It was firm and sweet and, compared to samples of the other three available varieties, it tasted the most like an apricot. I’m sure a batch preserved wouldn’t last us through late September, but these were not destined to meet up with anything warmer than my cutting board.
The sign above the bin of fruit didn’t list the names of the horticulturalist and research geneticist who are credited with the creation of this freestone fruit with the blushing skin and poppy-hued flesh, of course. It just said “Robada,” a name I keyed into my phone after I had to mouth it silently a third time.
When I think of the story behind fresh fruits and vegetables, I think of farmers and day-laborers. I think of distribution centers, commercial cleaning practices, packaging and labeling. (A wretched oval sticker on every pear, plum and zucchini. Mercy.)
Next is the history of a food: how it migrated, the factors involved in its rise or fall in popularity. My mind is tripping by now through remembered pages of seed catalogs with their sketches of unusual squashes and grains and greens. I think of how delightful it is to taste a new-old variety of bean or berry.
But the science? Not only does it sound unsavory (test tubes + goggled researchers = dessert?) but smacks of Big Ag. It makes perfect sense that enthusiasts for fragile cultivars (oh, Shuksans!) and heirloom varieties may shake their heads – or fists – at the immense effort and cost of creating shippable, sliceable (unflappable!) food science-conceived fruits. (See Felicia Friesema’s witty piece from last summer on the “Apricot Flame Wars,” as she terms it, here).
Developing a new fruit is no cake walk, as you may remember. According to the 1997 Agricultural Research Service’s description of the then-new variety, the Robada was developed by horticulturalist David W. Ramming and researcher Craig Ledbetter. Following a number of crosses, both followed its development in the orchards for a full eight years.
I know there’s big money behind marketable fruit. But I’d be hesitant to say that the development of a fruit that’s sweet enough for pie and firm enough for salsa is a threat to the seed-saving trend, the focus on sustainable gardening or that persistent internal voice urging me to make my own salt.
I say we take it all together and gather ’round with a bag of chips.
Apricot Salsa Fresca
3 cups diced apricots
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced¼ – ½ cup diced sweet or young onion
juice of one lime
1½ tablespoons chopped mint leaves (about 7 leaves)
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
Combine apricots, cucumber and onion in a medium bowl and stir to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, mint leaves and vinegar, reserving a bit of the mint for garnish if you like. Salt to taste.
Pour over apricot mixture and toss to combine. Garnish.
Serve immediately or refrigerate.