This is the story of a delicious fruit that ripens beneath the sun of a very singular terroir. On the Crau Plain, we meet Arnaud Harel, head grower at Terre de Crau, who specialises in the production of apricots.

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Some adore to eat them fresh, others love to turn them into jams, compotes, juices, nectars and coulis. Soft to the touch when fully ripe, apricots are always fragrant but can express themselves with varying degrees of intensity and fullness depending on the variety. When cooking with apricots, we automatically think of desserts, but they also work wonderfully in sweet and sour dishes to accompany lamb – particularly tajines. With apricots there are many possibilities.

© Elsa David

A singular terroir!

In the Bouches-du-Rhône region, this pretty fruit enjoys a terroir that encourages it to thrive. To the north, the sublime Massif des Alpilles, with its spectacular limestone rocks, hosts superb villages such as Les Baux-de-Provence; to the south, there is the Mediterranean Sea and, between the two, some tens of kilometres of a flat territory with virtually no shade: the Crau Plain, 'one of the last steppes of Europe,' clarifies Arnaud Harel. Arnaud knows a thing or two about this highly singular terroir that he has cultivated for over forty years. He explains that the area used to be devoted to melon-growing before arborists from the Drôme began cultivating peaches and then apricots in the 80s. With the wind and the sun, the conditions are ideal for these crops.

© Elsa David

The secret of an underground 'sea'!

Did you know that the Crau Plain is located on the ancient  – 2 million year-old! – Durance delta which, as a result of the various glaciations and other tectonic movements, then shifted east. The heritage left by the Durance on the Crau Plain takes the form of many very visible pebbles and an immense groundwater table estimated at some 550 million cubic metres! 'Even if we control irrigation to provide the right dose of water at the right time, we can pump from the groundwater table,' explains Arnaud.

© Elsa David

Harvesting of the ripe fruit, one by one

No fewer than a dozen varieties of apricot tree – traditional-orange, bi-coloured, red varieties –, which reach maturity at different times, are present in Terre de Crau’s environmentally-friendly orchards. Allowing the fruit time to ripen is one of its secrets for producing tasty and juicy apricots. Each tree is pruned to favour the ripening of each fruit. But given that they do not all grow at the same place on the tree, they do not always get the same amount of sun: when harvesting, between May and early August, the same orchard sometimes needs to be visited four times in order to harvest each apricot at its best… Bespoke treatment! Arnaud is approaching retirement. But he will be sure to continue to eat apricots. His favourite treat? Enjoying them as they are, very simply, with just a hint of rosemary…

© Elsa David

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