Apricots join artichokes, garlic, avocados and citrus on the long list of fruits and flowers that make California agriculture the envy of the nation, if not the world. It's a finicky fruit that needs a dry spring (check), free of the late-spring frosts that can devastate crops (also check, at least this year). Excitement about apricots tends to get heaped on the later-season Blenheim, which has a near-legendary heirloom sweetness and versatility that people flock to come mid-June.

But right now, we have an abundance of the Poppy apricot, an early-season variety the color of the California state flower, with velvety smooth flesh and the classic sweet-tart balance of a good apricot. K&K Ranch out of Orosi had them out two weeks ago and the harvest just keeps coming. And then going. Terri Kashima, one of the K's of K&K, says her restaurant customers favor the fruit more than in previous years.

“The Poppy apricots came in early and very strong,” said Kashima. “They are juicy and sweet with just a bit of tang, and have a very pronounced apricot flavor. Our restaurant customers are buying them by the crate because they are so good, so early.”

You also can find them at the K&K Ranch booth at the Torrance, Cerritos, Hollywood and Palos Verde farmers markets.

The Poppy apricot is a relatively new variety, patented in 1996 by the Zaiger family out in Modesto, who crossed the Earlicot and the Super Giant apricots in their experimental orchard. One tree from that first batch of propagated seedlings produced early and strong, and all resulting “Poppy” trees were created via grafts. The trees grow rather large, producing a large amount of fruit per tree and making them a newly popular tree for orchardists. Of course it helps that the fruit they produce glows golden, with a red blush near the shoulders, and has a honeyed juiciness and a well-balanced, true-to-type apricot tang.

The next apricots due from K&K Ranch are the Katy (another newish variety) and Helena. Weather willing, these will arrive sometime in June. Also look for the next early-season heirloom — the Castlebrite.

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