Highlighting Local History Of Apricots

Posted on May 24, 2013 by  
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The apricot is more than just a fruit to Los Altos native Robin Chapman – it is at the center of her fondest childhood memories.

During a golden age in the 1940s and 1950s, Los Altos proved the ideal place for cultivating apricot orchards.

Chapman pays tribute to the apricot and its historical significance to the region in her new book, “California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley” (History Press, 2013).  Inspiration for the book, Chapman said, came from her parents, who died within six months of each other in 2010.

After a long career in broadcast journalism, working at stations from Oregon to Florida, Chapman returned to her Los Altos home in 2009 to care for her ailing parents. Her father, William Ashley Chapman, was a do-it-yourself engineer and a World War II veteran who built the family’s first home in the 1950s.

Chapman talks with enthusiasm and admiration about her family’s love for apricots, evident in how they cared for the 12 apricot trees on their property.

“It was like Eden,” Chapman said of her formative years, filled with sweet-tasting apricots in the summer and canned apricot jam offseason.

Weaving personal and general history, Chapman’s book reaches back in time to the 18th-century Spaniards who planted the area’s first apricots, and then fast-forwards to the era of post-World War II families who built their homes among the subdivided orchards.

Many early Los Altos residents, she said, prized education for their children, and the fact that Los Altos was close to four universities influenced their decision to move to the area.

“Their children went to these schools,” Chapman said of institutions like Stanford University. “At the same time, (the schools) did research that benefited the orchards.”

Although her book’s title refers to “Lost Orchards,” Chapman said she’s not bitter over their disappearance in the wake of today’s Silicon Valley.

“Look at the things we’ve developed,” she said. “The Valley is remarkable.”

As the richness of technology replaced the richness of the apricot orchards, Chapman noted, “instead of apricots coming off the trees, we have iPhones.”

Her purpose in writing the book, she said, is to educate those living here in the post-apricot era on what initially made this area a great place to live.

“We’ve gained so much, but we’ve lost a little, too,” Chapman said. “So we need to keep what we have left.”

Chapman also has a suggestion for current Los Altos residents: The rich soil is still here, so take advantage of it.

“Everybody should plant their own apricot tree,” she said.

To purchase the book or for more information, visit www.historypress.net and search for “California Apricots.”

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