Thursday, February 9, 2012

Movie Night #3: Fruit Drying

When my great-grandfather harvested and dried the apricots on the family ranch, processing the fruit was a frantic time. He'd need laborers for picking, cutting, and drying the fruit handy. He'd need the drying yard area to be clean, and the drying flats handy. My great-grandmother also needed to be ready; I've heard stories that she was doing all the cooking for those field workers during the harvest.

After some long, hard, days, he'd have the product of all that work - the year's crop of dried apricots, ready to take to the packing house.

I don't know all the details of how my great-grandfather picked and processed his crop; not many stories made it down through the generations. I'm not even sure where he sold his apricots, but I ought to poke around and see who was buying dried fruit in Hayward in the 1930's. But I can imagine it was hard work.

It's not that much easier now. Here's two videos on modern fruit drying, one on prunes and one on apricots. Both hint at the action that would have been seen around San Jose in the 1930's, and would hint at the work going on at packing houses like Del Monte's Plant 51 on Bush St. and Sunsweet's plants in San Jose and Campbell.

The prune drying video comes from Stapleton Spence, formerly of San Jose but now processing fruit in the Yuba City area north of Sacramento. They've turned up before in the stories of the Vasona Branch before because they had interactions with Abinante and Nola, and also bought the machinery at the Woelffel Cannery in Cupertino. They use a lot of machinery, but the operation probably matches what Sunsweet was doing at the Campbell packing house from the 1930's or 1940's up until the 1970's.

There's also videos from Stapleton Spence of shaking trees to harvest the prunes - there's no need to hire the local kids to pick prunes up off the ground any more. They've even got a video report on the 2011 crop from one of the field managers.

The second video from Bella Viva Orchards out near Modesto shows the process of drying apricots. Some of the steps are mechanical - handling and cutting the fruit - but there's still an awful lot of hands that need to be present during the harvest to pick out the overripe fruit, space the fruit out on the drying flats, and take the fruit out into the drying yard.

Bella Viva Orchards has a bunch of other videos worth watching - pruning, harvesting, and taking the fruit to the San Francisco Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building.

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