Give summer apricots the VIP treatment

One summer, my folks headed over to Walla Walla for a few days. They were culinarily savvy enough to know about the region's super-sweet onion, the Walla Walla sweet. Picking up a 20-pound sack had already made their list. But they had no idea they were heading into primo apricot country, as well.

"Milton-Freewater apricots, boy-howdy!" raved my husband, his Pendleton upbringing showing. Steve is not one to overstate, so my folks figured a bona fide endorsement had been made. Apricots went on the list.

Later that week, the back of Dad's Buick was overflowing with sacks and crates of fresh produce, including the apricots, of course. From the bushel of apricots, I made the best jam of my life. It became my Christmas jam that year, and without exception, every recipient made a point of confirming that they were on next year's list ("If you plan to go with apricot again," said my cousin Ann, "maybe you could throw in an extra jar.")

So for all these many years, Ann and her husband Mike have always received an extra jar of The Jam at Christmas. And sometimes — if I'm feeling flush — I send a mid-year supply their way also.

This last April, I carried one such jar all the way from Oregon to Napa Valley for Ann and Mike's daughter's wedding. But amidst all the hoopla, I forgot to give it to them. Which is where this story begins. You see, Mike is sort of a legend in the family because of his successful trucking business.

Now clearly, the trucking business per se isn't the root of our hero worship. But early in its development, he managed to nail down accounts with a few major rock bands. The Grateful Dead was one of them. In that capacity, Mike and a carefully selected crew became the equipment handlers for all the Dead's concert tours. For the family Deadheads, this has translated into years of VIP backstage passes, great seats and fantastic Grateful Dead T-shirt collections.

When Jerry Garcia died in 1995, the group disbanded. But there have been a number of reunions involving various combinations of the musicians, and Mike's been there to handle equipment for many of their tours. In early 2009, the Dead launched another such tour.

I hadn't been thinking about that last May when Steve and I were standing at our front door saying goodbye to a friend. Jared mentioned that he and a buddy were heading up to the town of George on the Washington side of the Gorge for the Dead's final concert of the spring tour. Even though their tickets placed them way in the back on the amphitheater's outfield grass, Jared was pumped. "Hmmm," I thought. "What if ...

"When are you leaving?" I asked.

"Saturday morning." Only a day and a half away.

"Well, hold on!" I dashed back to the kitchen and grabbed the well-traveled jar of apricot jam. Returning to Jared, I handed over the precious commodity. "Would you like to do me a favor?" I asked slyly. Jared looked at the jam, his brow wrinkling. Then I told him about my cousin and saw his eyes grow large as he hoisted aboard its potential value.

Mike was in Mountain View, Calif., when I reached him on his cell.

Dead music was blaring in the background. They were heading for Washington the next morning.

"Apricot jam," said Mike. "Cool!"

In the end, I got the satisfaction of initiating a great memory for a friend: Mike scored some jam, and Jared and his buddy scored backstage passes, front-row center seats and (you guessed it) a couple of Dead T-shirts.

On the drive home, two bleary-eyed and dreamy Deadheads floated down Interstate 5. Jared's pal just kept saying, "That must be SOME jam."

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at

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