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Research Bears Fruit With Helena Apricot

October 23, 1994| from Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Don't pull out your pie tins and canning jars just yet, but the Agriculture Department has developed a new breed of apricot that could make tomorrow's tarts tastier.

Helena is a new apricot with a more colorful skin, plumper flesh and sweeter taste.

"Helena apricots," said Craig Ledbetter of the Agriculture Research Service's Horticultural Crops Research Laboratory in Fresno, Calif., "are big and juicy, with deeper orange skin than most apricots. The flesh is firm and sweet, not mealy, so Helena is ideal for eating fresh or adding to summer salads.

"We expect this apricot will also make a delicious pie, cobbler, tart or jam, though we haven't tested it yet for baking or preserving."

Low in calories and a good source of vitamin A and potassium, about $10 million worth of apricots were sold last year for the fresh-fruit market, according to an article in the October issue of USDA's Agriculture Research magazine.

Ledbetter has worked with about two dozen farmers in California, the nation's biggest producer of apricots. In their San Joaquin Valley orchards since 1987, he has tested more than 2,000 pounds of the Helena apricots. Although only tested there, the trees may thrive in Washington and Utah and other states where the fruits also grow, Ledbetter said.

The new variety can self-pollinate, meaning it can bear fruit without needing another variety nearby to provide pollen.

That's especially important because it ripens between two other popular varieties in early June, before Patterson and after Katy. Helena is larger and more flavorful than the Patterson type, Ledbetter said.

All cuttings of the Helena variety, formerly known only as K210-35, originate from a single tree. A now-retired USDA stone fruit and grape breeder, John Weinberger, chose to test this small tree out of hundreds of others in a research orchard in the 1970s. Ledbetter's development continues Weinberger's research.

But don't look for Helena in your neighborhood supermarket just yet. That will take another few years, Ledbetter said.

To obtain clippings from the limited number of Helena budwood available, contact Ledbetter at his Fresno laboratory. For details, call 209-453-3064.

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