|Three generations of Passarellos!|
I thought buying 25 pounds of apricots every spring from Wolfe Ranch was a lot. Then I realized I was in the minor leagues. Turns out our friends, the Passarellos, pick up 300 pounds! It's hard enough for me to process 25 pounds of apricots - what the heck do they do with 300 pounds?
Naturally, this I had to see, so Rebecca let me tag along to her father-in-law's house. Basically, they run a mass production assembly line in their backyard! Three generations of Passarellos help out with this 40+ years family tradition.
Starting early in the morning, grandparents, parents and grandchildren, help to wash, halve and pit the apricots. The apricots are then placed single-layered, cut-side up in specially constructed wooden trays.
After a lunch break, the trays get stacked and are elevated on bricks over a small dirt area in the backyard. A large, heavy plastic bag is used to encapsulate the stacked trays. The opening of the bag faces downward so it can be buried in a shallow dirt trench that goes around the stack, so as to form an "earth" seal. But before sealing the "tenting", a coffee can is filled with sulphur and placed underneath the stack of apricot trays. The sulfur is lit with a propane torch to start the sulphuring process. The "tent" is then sealed around the edges with dirt and the sulphur burns overnight.
The next morning, the trays are unstacked and laid out in the yard, elevated on top of the original apricot packing boxes.
The apricots sun dry for about 5-7 days or until the liquid has evaporated from the hollowed-out pit cavities and the apricots start to look shrivelly.
Then they're bagged in one pound quantities and stored in the freezer. Besides snacking on them plain, the Passarello's use them in their Dried Apricot Pie recipe and for a holiday treat, dipped in chocolate.
Lucky me, with my fabulous pound of dried apricots, I made David Lebovitz's Dried Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream which was a big hit at our annual ice cream party.
Thank you Passarello family and long live your amazing apricot drying tradition!
Update: Check out the Passarello's YouTube video for action shots of their apricot drying process.