Toast with butter and fresh plum jam.

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  • Homemade Plum Jam

Before this summer, I never really understood the need for jamming. I mean, theoretically I understood it: You have more fruit than you can eat or give away, so, rather than let it go to waste, you find a way to preserve it for future use. But simply knowing those facts is different from being faced with a tree that drops five pounds of fruit per day into my backyard, in the same way that reading about hang gliding is different from being shoved off a cliff strapped to a flap of canvas.

When I lived in the city, I got my fruit from the farmers market or the supermarket in easy-to-manage batches. If I was going to make jam, I had to plan on making jam in advance. This summer I made jam because, aside from letting the fruit rot on the ground, I literally had no other choice.

I gave away as many plums as I possibly could to neighbors. I packed bags of them and brought them on road trips. I ate plums three meals a day. I even fed plums to the dogs (don’t worry, not the pits). It wasn’t enough. Over the course of the three weeks during which the tree was bearing ripe fruit, I picked over 80 pounds of plums. That’s a lot of plums.

As you can imagine, I got quite a bit of practice at making jam. This is a summary of what I learned, along with some step-by-step instructions on how to make it yourself using your own plums (or plums from the farmers market or supermarket).

The Keys to Great Plum Jam

Here’s the most important stuff I learned after making many batches of jam.

  • Start with super-ripe plums. The riper the better. I mean it. It’s better to have plums that are on the verge of decaying than to have plums that are too firm. If you get your plums from your own tree, the best plums are the ones that hang like water balloons and fall off at the merest touch, or, better yet, the ones that have fallen to the ground already, if you can get to them before birds or bugs do. At the farmers market, see if your farmer has crates of overripe fruit under the tables or left over at the end of the day. You can usually get a discount on it.
  • Macerate overnight. Some recipes have you combine plums and sugar directly in the pot and start cooking right away. Eventually the plums break down and you can make jam—but the process is much easier if you macerate the plums the day before and let them rest in the fridge overnight, so that the sugar can draw out flavorful juices and dissolve. Your finished jam will cook faster and thus have a fresher, less-cooked flavor.
  • Keep the sugar level low. I use about a pound and a half of sugar per four pounds of plum flesh. For jams, this is pretty low on the sugar spectrum, but add much more and the jam gets cloying. (You’ll need more sugar if your plums are anything less than perfectly ripe, but why would they be?) Because sugar contributes to proper jam texture, you need to add a secondary gelling agent that works even without sugar. I use Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which uses calcium to activate gelling, precluding the need for tons of sugar.
  • Skip the lemon juice. Most plum jam recipes I’ve seen out there call for lemon juice for flavor balance and textural adjustment. But after trying jam with lemon juice and jam without, side by side, in various quantities, I’ve found that even a small amount distracts from the fresh plum flavor.
  • Use a wide pan to cook. The wider your pan, the more easily water will evaporate, and the more quickly your plum jam will reduce. Quick reduction leads to fresher flavor.
  • Keep it chunky. I cut my plums into quarters and let them break down naturally as they cook. This creates a nice chunky texture with juicy pieces of plum in the final mix. If you like a bit more jamminess to your preserves, you can run half of the plums through a food mill (we like the OXO Food Mill).

How to Make Plum Jam From Fresh Plums

Step 1: Pit and Quarter the Plums

If you’re using a loose-stone variety of plum, you can simply cut them around the equator, twist the halves apart, and discard the pits. But for clingstone varieties, like these elephant heart plums, it’s easiest to cut the pit out with a knife.

I start by slicing down one side of the plum parallel to the natural seam in the fruit, a little bit off center. This matches the orientation of the pit, so it maximizes the amount of fruit you can get off in one stroke.

Once you’ve taken off both sides, you can then trim around the pit with the tip of your knife to remove any excess material.

You should end up with a pit with just a bit of flesh stuck to it. (Feel free to suck on those pits to get at that flesh—it’s tasty!)

Five pounds of plums should leave you with about four pounds of plum flesh when you’re done trimming. And keep those skins on, because much of a plum’s aroma lies in those skins!

Step 2: Macerate

Transfer the plums and any juices from the cutting board into a large bowl (the largest you’ve got, most likely), and add a pound and a half of granulated sugar and one tablespoon of pectin for every four pounds of fruit. Toss the plums, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight until they’ve released their juices.

The next day, things should look nice and soupy.

Step 3: Freeze Spoons

Put a few metal spoons in the freezer before you start cooking. These will help you determine when your jam is ready down the line.

Step 4: Start Cooking

Because you’ve already extracted so much liquid, the plums will break down very quickly when you start to heat them on the stovetop. The key to great flavor is to use a really wide-mouthed pan.

I used either my wide Dutch oven or my sauté pan, depending on how big a batch I was cooking.

Le Creuset Dutch Oven Review: The Best Cast Iron Dutch Ovens $379.95 from Amazon

Add the plum mixture to your pot, and stir in four teaspoons of calcium water. (Look for the instructions on your pectin package for proper dilution rates for calcium water.) Place the pot over medium heat and cook. Make sure to stir frequently as the jam cooks to prevent any scorching on the bottom.

Step 5: Mill the Plums

As soon as the plums have broken down slightly, they should be tender enough to mill. Running them through a food mill will break them down to give you a smoother texture in the finished jam.

I mill about half of my plums, then scrape them back into the pot.

Step 6: Keep Cooking and Skim

Keep cooking the plums—you want to cook them down enough that they reduce by about one-quarter.

As they cook, a layer of foamy scum will appear on the surface. Skim it off if you want your jam to stay nice and glossy. A small amount of butter added to the pot will also help reduce foaming.

Step 7: Test for Doneness

As the jam starts to get thick and glossy (this should take 15 to 30 minutes or so), it’s time to check for doneness. Place a small amount on one of your frozen spoons and return it to the freezer.

Let it rest for five minutes, then check on the jam. It should be firm, but not rubbery, and should just cling to the spoon if you tip it.

At this stage, you’re pretty much done. You can chill your jam, store it in the fridge, and eat it within a few weeks, or you can process it in jars to store at room temperature for several months.

Step 8: Clean and Fill Your Jars

To start jarring, wash and sterilize all of your jars in hot soapy water, then rinse them out thoroughly. You want them to be quite hot when you’re jarring to prevent thermal shock from adding the hot jam mixture to them.

If you have one of those fancy jamming funnels, go ahead and use it, but I find that a plastic deli container is the best device for scooping food from one location to another with minimal dripping.

Wipe off the rims of the jars once they’re filled.

Cover the jars and screw on the lids until they’re snug but not overly tight. Screwing a Mason jar lid too tight will actually create a weaker seal, as it will damage the threads in the lid.

Step 9: Process the Jars

Process the jars in a boiling-water bath according to manufacturer instructions.

Take the plums out of the bath and let them cool at room temperature. Do not try to rush cooling by placing them in the fridge or under running water (unless you like jam and broken glass everywhere, that is).

If a proper seal has formed, the buttons on the tops of the lids should depress as they cool—and they’ll make a really satisfying ping as they depress.

Once the buttons have depressed, unscrew the lid rings so that you can clean around the lids with a damp cloth one more time. If you have a good seal, there should be no risk of those lids popping off.

Finally, screw the rings back on, let the jars cool naturally, and remove the lid rings once again for storage. Storing with the rings off ensures that you’re aware if one of your jars loses its seal.

Disclaimer: Because I don’t use lemon juice in my recipe, there’s a chance that if your plums are particularly low-acid, they may not be 100% safe to store at room temperature. If you are the type to err on the side of safety, I recommend storing the jam in the fridge and consuming it within a couple of months, or adding one and a half ounces of lemon juice to the mixture as it reduces.

Now I just need to find someone who’ll take 12 quarts of fresh plum jam off my hands!

  • Homemade Plum Jam

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I rather like the American expression “fall” for this time of year. It describes not just the dropping leaves, but serves as a reminder that we are coming to the end of so many home-grown fruits and vegetables and we need to catch them while we can. Courgettes, figs, blackberries and tomatoes are cheap and plentiful. This month’s recipes celebrate the best of our autumn bounty.

Greengage frangipane tart

SERVES 8
For the pastry:
flour 200g
butter 100g
egg yolk 1
water a little

For the filling:
butter 100g
caster sugar 125g
eggs 2
ground almonds 125g
plain flour 60g
greengages or small plums 400g

You will also need:
a round 22cm tart tin at least 3.5cm deep with a removable base
beans for baking blind

Put the flour and butter, cut into small pieces, into the bowl of a food processor. Add a pinch of salt and blitz to fine breadcrumbs. If you prefer, rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips. Add the egg yolk and enough water to bring the dough to a firm ball. The less you add the better, as too much will cause your pastry case to shrink in the oven.

Pat the pastry into a flat round on a floured surface, then roll out large enough to line the tart tin. Lightly butter the tin, dust it with a small amount of flour, shake off any surplus then lower in the round of pastry. Push the dough right into the corner where the rim joins the base without stretching the pastry. Make certain there are no holes or tears. Trim the overhanging pastry and place in the fridge to chill for about 20 minutes.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Put a baking sheet in the oven to warm. Line the pastry case with kitchen foil or baking parchment and baking beans and slide on to the hot baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and carefully lift the beans out. Return the pastry case to the oven for 5 minutes or so, until the surface is dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and set aside. Turn the oven down to 160C/gas mark 3, and return the baking sheet to the oven.

To make the filling, using a food mixer cream the butter and sugar together till pale and fluffy. Lower the speed, then mix in the eggs and then slowly fold in the ground almonds and flour. Spoon the almond filling into the cooked pastry case, smoothing it lightly with the back of the spoon.

Cut the greengages or plums in half and remove their stones. Place the greengages or plums on top of the almond filling, neatly or randomly as the mood takes you. Slide the tart on to the hot baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes till the filling is well risen and golden brown. Remove the tart from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Baked, spiced tomatoes

Baked, spiced tomatoes Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

If you cannot find small cans of creamed coconut, then break off 100g of coconut cream and make up to 160ml with boiling water.

SERVES 4
large plum or vine tomatoes 8

For the filling:
groundnut oil 1 tbsp
mustard seeds 1 tsp
onions 2, finely chopped
garlic 3 cloves
ginger 3cm piece
chilli 1 red, medium hot
red or orange peppers 2
ground turmeric 1 tsp
cherry tomatoes 8
creamed coconut 160ml

Warm the groundnut oil in a deep saucepan, cook the mustard seeds till they start to pop, then add the onions. Leave to soften and colour while you peel and slice the garlic, peel and finely shred the ginger and chop the chilli. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli to the pan and continue cooking till the onions are pale, golden brown. Core and thinly slice the peppers and stir in. Continue cooking over a moderate heat, with an occasional stir, till the pepper starts to soften, then stir in the ground turmeric, and the cherry tomatoes, halved.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Remove a slice from one side of each large tomato (or the top if you are using large vine tomatoes), then scoop out the seeds and core from each tomato to give a deep hollow. Chop the filling you have removed, discarding any tough cores, and add to the onion mixture. When it has cooked down to a soft, brightly coloured mush, pour in the coconut, bring to the boil, season with salt, then remove from the heat.

Fill the hollowed-out tomatoes with the mixture, spooning any extra around them. Bake for 40 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and fragrant.

Courgette and ricotta tart

SERVES 6
courgettes 400g
olive oil 2 tbsp
puff pastry 375g

For the filling:
ricotta 400g
garlic a large clove
basil leaves 15g
parmesan 75g, grated
eggs 2, lightly beaten
cream 150ml
plain flour 2 heaped tbsp

You will also need:
a rectangular baking tin (a swiss roll tin) measuring 20cm x 30cm

Slice the courgettes in half lengthways (or in thin slices if you are using large ones). Warm the olive oil in a shallow pan then add the courgettes and leave to soften over a moderate heat. They should be translucent but still firm.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6 and place a baking sheet in the oven. This will help the pastry to bake crisply. Roll out the puff pastry and line a shallow, rectangular baking sheet, 20cm by 30cm, with it. Put the ricotta in a bowl, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then peel and crush the garlic and add to the ricotta together with the torn up basil leaves, most of the grated parmesan and the two lightly beaten eggs, cream and flour.

Spread the ricotta mixture over the pastry in the baking tin, then place the cooked courgettes on top. Shake over the remaining parmesan. Bake immediately for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the tart has puffed up.

Lettuce and hot bacon salad

Lettuce and hot bacon salad. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

SERVES 4
For the salad:
mixed salad leaves 4 handfuls
smoked streaky bacon 8 rashers

For the dressing:
Dijon mustard 1 tbsp
lemon the juice of half
basil leaves 12 large
egg yolks 2
olive oil 4 tbsp

To make the dressing, put the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, basil leaves and the egg yolks in a blender and blitz for a few seconds. Add the oil, slowly, until the dressing has the consistency of double cream.

Gently rinse the salad leaves, drain and dry in a spinner. Grill or fry the bacon till crisp. Drain on kitchen paper to remove excess fat then snip into short pieces. Put the leaves into a salad bowl, add bacon and dressing then toss gently together and eat immediately.

Frozen blackberry parfait

Frozen blackberry parfait. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

SERVES 8
blackcurrants, fresh or frozen 150g
sugar 1 tbsp
water 2 tbsp
shortbread biscuits 200g
shelled pistachios 6 tbsp
vanilla ice cream 900g
blackberries 250g

You will also need:
a loaf tin or freezer box 22cm long, 12cm wide and 7cm deep, lined with clingfilm

Pull the blackcurrants from their stalks and put them in a small saucepan with the sugar and water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and leave for 2 or 3 minutes till the berries start to burst and the sugar melts. Set aside.

Put the biscuits in the bowl of a food processor with the pistachios and blitz till the biscuits are reduced to coarse crumbs – this will take seconds. Take care not to over-process – stop while you can clearly see the pistachios.

Let the ice cream soften slightly, then tip into a mixing bowl. Add the blackberries and the biscuit and pistachio crumbs and mix gently but firmly – the ingredients should be clearly defined. Transfer a third to the lined loaf tin, pushing the mixture into the corners but without flattening it too much. Spoon in half of the blackcurrants and their juice, then another third of the ice cream mixture followed by the rest of the blackcurrants, and the remaining ice cream mixture. Cover with overhanging clingfilm. Freeze for 4 hours. Unmould, slice with warm knife.

Fig chutney

Fig chutney. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

MAKES 2 LARGE JARS
soft brown sugar 250g
figs 8 large, about 1kg
malt vinegar 150ml
cider vinegar 150ml
onions 250g, roughly chopped
sultanas 250g
salt 1 tsp

allspice 1 tsp
black peppercorns ½ tsp, cracked
coriander seeds 1 tsp

Warm the sugar in a bowl in a low oven. Roughly chop the figs, removing any tough stalks, then put them in a large, stainless steel or enamelled pan. Add the vinegars, onions, sultanas, salt, allspice, peppercorns and coriander seeds, then bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes until the onions and fruit are soft.

Stir in the sugar. Place over a low heat, bring slowly to the boil, then turn the heat down so the chutney bubbles gently. Leave for 10-15 minutes, with the occasional stir to stop it sticking, until the mixture is thick and jam like. Bottle while hot and seal.

I have been clinging on to the last vestiges of summer like a child holding on to slowly melting ice cream. I bought a watermelon last week, successfully blanking the plums, peppers and pumpkins, whose presence clearly announces the arrival of autumn. This may be my favourite time of year, but it is all too short and in no time at all it will be Christmas, and then what I call the grey days.

This week, I have no choice but to accept the inevitable, and, anyway, the plums are too good to miss. The first we get in the markets here is ‘Czar’, a small, roundish fruit with dusky blue skin and juicy green flesh. As it ripens, the pulp turns amber and the juices run red. What with the watermelon and all, a man needs a bib. Second on the scene is ‘Opal’, a pretty fruit, glowing dark purple, red and gold, like the plums you drew at school.

A woman poking at a punnet of Victorias in the market yesterday asked if they were cookers or eaters. I don’t make that distinction, other than with the damson, which certainly needs some fire and sugar, and treat all plums as suitable for both dessert and baking, depending on their ripeness. I admit that there are better fruit than the ubiquitous Victoria, but I will not be as sniffy as Grigson about it. All this one needs is the patience to let it ripen fully, so that its gold and orange skin is freckled with red and brown and the fruit so ripe you can almost see through it. I am assuming here that you aren’t troubled by wasps.

I have planted smaller, earlier plums at the foot of my garden – the varieties you cannot buy easily in the shops. There’s not so much as a petal yet, let alone a fruit to eat, but the next few years may see my red ‘Mirabelle de Nancy’, its tiny fruits first recorded in 17th-century France, come good. The newer, yellow-fruiting ‘Reine Claude de Bauvery’ is proving to be a weak and awkward tree, its branches all to one side. That’s the price you pay for buying blind, I guess, with mail-order companies naturally picking out the trees that are easiest to pack rather than those that have the best shape. It will need pruning shears more experienced than mine. I shall not be putting the custard on just yet.

Country markets are the place to pick up the more unusual varieties, with their unreliable fruiting habits and rich flavours. The supermarkets will have little truck with them – their customers loathe to buy anything with a scab or blemish. These are the fruits with the most interesting flavour, the bloomy ‘Early Rivers’ (best for the pot), the golden ‘Jefferson’s Gage’, with its red freckles, and the good old ‘Warwickshire Drooper’.

The plum I am not keen on is ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’, which I often find dry and whose flavour reminds me too much of a prune, which no doubt some will become. It is soon over, making way for the most lauded of fruit, the plump, almost teardrop-shaped ‘Coe’s Golden Drop’. Keep it until it is as ripe as you dare – a window ledge will stand in for the lichen-encrusted bows of a real tree – then sink your teeth in to its honey-coloured flesh. Mind, you will have to suck at the same time if you are not to spill a drop of its amber nectar.

I get a bit despondent when I spot people buying a Victoria plum tree for the garden. OK, each to his own, but I do wonder whether they have thought it through. This is the fruit you can buy with ease in season. My advice is plant a gage. The ‘Cambridge’ and ‘Count Althann’s’ gages outshine any Victoria I have ever eaten. But you must bring an open mind to these small fruit – green to gold, they lack the heavy purple and scarlet that we associate with a good plum. Kids may need reassurance before they tuck into your green crumble.

There is no plum that doesn’t respond to a bit of warmth, whether it is straight from the tree on a sun-drenched early-autumn afternoon, or from the depths of the oven. The better-flavoured fruit needs little more than sprinkling with sugar, and baking slowly. The warm syrup, with its deep plum flavour is, I fancy, rather like a glass of warm Sauternes. After that, I make only the old-fashioned plum recipes: pie, crumble, tart and fool, because I am not convinced that new necessarily is best. Especially when we are talking about pudding.

A free-form plum pie

Serves 6

300g plain flour
150g butter
75g sugar
750-800g plums, damsons, greengages
a little flour or fine semolina
egg white and sugar for glazing

Make the pastry: put the flour into a bowl, cut the butter into chunks and rub it into the flour with your fingertips. They should look like breadcrumbs. Drop in the sugar and stir in just enough cold water to bring it together to a firm dough. You should need little more than a tablespoon or so, if that. Let the pastry chill, wrapped in a cloth or greaseproof paper, while you do the fruit.

Cut the plums in half and remove the stones. If you are using damsons or greengages instead of plums, you should leave the stones in. Set the oven at 200 C/gas mark 6. Take the pastry from the fridge and roll it out into a rough circle. The pastry should be about 30cm in diameter. Lift it onto either a steel baking sheet or, most suitable of all, a metal pie plate. This is easiest to do if you roll the pastry round the rolling pin first, then unroll it onto the tin.

Toss the fruit with a tablespoon or two of fine semolina or plain flour – this will stop the juices saturating the pastry – then dump it in the middle of the pastry, in a pile. Sprinkle it with sugar – the amount will depend on the sweetness of your fruit. Fold the edges of the pastry over the fruit as far as they will go. They should not completely cover the fruit. Brush the fruit with lightly beaten egg white and a light sprinkling of caster sugar. Bake for about 40 minutes in the preheated oven till the pastry is golden brown, the fruit tender and the juices bubbling out a little.

Plum upside-down tart

Serves 6-8. For the pastry:

120g butter, cold from the fridge
200g plain flour
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp caster sugar
about 10 plums, depending on their size
75g butter
6 tbsp caster sugar

You will need a heavy, solid-bottomed metal pie dish or baking tin for this, around 25cm in diameter. I have used a metal-handled frying pan before now, and it worked a treat.

To make the pastry, cut the butter into chunks and rub it into the flour with your fingertips. Stop when the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Drop in the egg yolk and sugar and push the ingredients together to form a ball of soft dough. You may sometimes need a little water to achieve this, though it will only be a tablespoon or so. Much will depend on your flour. You can do this whole job in a food processor if you are short of time and have no need of the pleasure of making pastry by hand, in which case it will be done in seconds. Flatten the pastry somewhat, wrap it in greaseproof paper or clingfilm and put it in the fridge. This will allow it rest.

Heat the oven to 190 C/gas mark 5. Halve and stone the plums. Put the tin or dish over a low heat and let the butter and sugar melt in it until they form a rich, honey-hued caramel. I think it worth mentioning that the caramel is likely to burn very easily at this point. Turn off the heat and push the fruit, cut side up, into the caramel. There should be little or no space between them.

Roll the pastry out so it fits the top of the tin. Lift the pastry up and lay it over the fruit, patching any holes as you go. Tuck the edges in between the fruit and the tin and place the tart in the oven, where you should leave it until the pastry is deep golden brown and the caramel and fruit juices are bubbling around the edge. This will take the best part of an hour, but start checking after 45 minutes. You want the pastry to be soft and crumbly and the fruit caught here and there with burnt caramel.

Let the tart cool for a few minutes before you turn it out.

Poached plums with lemongrass

You need yellow plums for this, or perhaps greengages. Serves 4. For the sugar syrup:

600ml water
300g sugar
4 lime leaves
a fat stalk of lemongrass, or 3 of the little supermarket ones
8 plums, halved and stoned

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn down the heat so that the syrup is quietly simmering, and add the lime leaves, crushing them slightly as you go. Bash the lemongrass so that the stalk splits into fibres then add it to the syrup.

Lower the plums, their skins intact, into the syrup. Let them poach to total tenderness – the point of a small knife or skewer should glide effortlessly into the flesh. Turn off the heat and let the fruit cool in the syrup.

Slide the skin off the plums with your thumbs, halve and stone the fruit carefully and place the fruit in a shallow dish. Strain the liquor through a sieve and pour over the fruit, then chill until ready to serve.

Greengage meringues with cream

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 100C/80C Fan/Gas ¼.

  2. In a saucepan, heat the greengages with 2 tablespoons water and 120g/4¼oz of the caster sugar over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the greengages have broken down and are coated in a sticky syrup. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool completely.

  3. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl using an electric whisk until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Add the remaining 150g/5½oz caster sugar and whisk again until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed.

  4. Sift in the icing sugar and continue to whisk the egg whites until the mixture is really stiff, glossy and resembles shaving foam.

  5. Line a baking tray with baking paper or silicone, dabbing a dot of meringue mixture in each corner to stick the paper to the tray.

  6. Carefully fold half of the cooled greengage mixture into the beaten egg whites until you have created a ripple effect. Spoon eight large dollops of meringue mixture onto the baking tray, leaving a gap between each.

  7. Bake the meringues in the oven for 2 hours, then turn the oven off and open the door slightly (propping it open with a wooden spoon is a good trick). Leave the meringues to cool completely in the oven.

  8. Meanwhile, whisk the double cream with the vanilla seeds until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed.

  9. To serve, spread a circle of the reserved greengage mixture in the centre of each plate. Place one meringue on top and spoon over the whipped cream. Top with a second meringue, then spoon over more greengages. Serve immediately.

Plum Variety Descriptions

JAPANESE PLUMS

Early Magic –The early magic ripens in mid-July. Fruit size is medium. This medium sized fruit is purplish-red and covered with waxy bloom giving it a bluish cast. The flesh is amber-yellow, firm, juicy, sweet and very good tasting.

Early Golden – The early golden is one of the first plums of the season, ripening in the second part of July. Similar to shiro plum, it is small to medium in size, firmer than the shiro, mild tasting, sweet and does not stick to the pit. The early golden is an excellent choice to satisfy your early season sweet tooth.

Methley – One of the first out of the orchard in mid-July, this is well known variety that has been present on the market stands for a long time. This fruit is harvested with a green shadow, but ripens to a vibrant purple with a deep red flesh at market. This small round fruit is the perfect pop-able sweet treat on a hot July day.
Shiro – The shiro needs no introduction as it is the most well-known of the Japanese varieties. Be sure to handle this petite yellow plum with care as they bruise easily. Smooth and sweet, you will surely encounter the shiro at famers markets in late July.

Santa Rosa – The Santa Rosa is a beautiful, large, red fruits with gold flesh. It is a sweet plum that is delicious when eaten fresh, cooked or canned. It is ready the first week of August.

Starking Delicious – This new variety is gaining acclaim for its great taste and ease of growing. It is disease resistant making it a very environmentally friendly option. Ripening in the second week of August, this deep red Japanese plum is a delicious summer treat.

Ozark Premier – The Ozark premier is a large, plump, roundish plum. The skin is red with a waxy bloom. Its firm flesh is yellow, fine-grained, and juicy. The Ozark premier will appease your appetite with its sweet, great taste.

Burbank – The Burbank is a well-known old variety. The fruit is medium-sized and has attractive orange-red color that covers most of the surface with a base color that is amber-yellow. The flesh is yellow, fine-grained, firm and juicy, sweet and very good tasting. The peak harvest is in the second part of August-beginning of September

Redheart – you would be fortunate to find the redheart at the farmers market in mid-august. A finicky producer, the redheart is one of the tastiest plums grown in the state. It is aesthetically appealing being large, smooth, and heart-shaped with dark purplish red skin covered with golden specks. The flesh is blood red, firm and juicy. There are few other varieties that rival the redheart’s sweet aromatic goodness.

Rubyqueen – The Rubyqueen is a medium sized fruit with a firm flesh and excellent flavor. It has a beautiful dark red/black skin with a deep red flesh. This is really a jem of a plum.

Fortune – The fortune is a large bright red plum on a yellow background. The flesh is yellow, firm and juice. This attractive, good-tasting plum ripens in mid to second part of September.

Lydecker – The Lydecker is a new variety of plum harvested the first week of September. It is dark blue-black and nearly round, similar to many California dessert plums. It is said to have a superior ripe flavor to the more common varieties in its ripening season.

Simka – The fruit of the simka is large, uniform, with a very shallow suture. It is a very attractive, good-tasting plum. It is sweet with an excellent firm texture The skin is very dark red almost ebony and the flesh is very light green to slightly yellow. It’s a very good choice for the first week of September.

Alderman –The Alderman is a very attractive plum that has nice brilliant orange-red skin color and orange-yellow flesh. Skin is very firm, shiny, and waxy-like. The fruit is medium to large often 2”-2 1/2” in diameter. It has good texture and taste. It is a very good late plum. It ripens in the third/fourth week of September.

EUROPEAN PLUMS

Vibrant – The first European plum to be harvested, the Vibrant is a beautiful plum with a violet-blue skin and amber flesh. It is a medium to large-sized fruit with good firmness and sweetness with a medium acid content for a nice balanced flavor.

Vanette – The Vanette is a large, purple-blue, freestone plum. It has good sugar/acid ratio that accounts for excellent taste. . Most years ripens in the third week of August. It is very good dual – purpose plum and is one of the best fresh market plums. It is an excellent all-around plum. It’s great for cooking, canning and fresh eating.

Castleton – The fruit of the Castleton is medium-sized, dark blue, oblong, and freestone. It has a sweet to mildly acidic taste. It is very good dual purpose plum; suitable for fresh and cooking/preserving. A known favorite when it comes to home canning, it makes an excellent burgundy jam. Find them at the end of August to the first part of September at a farmer’s market or fruit stand near you.

N.Y. 6 – The N.Y. 6 is a relatively large blue-skinned, yellow-fleshed European plum. It is a favorite variety for baby food as it has a very mild taste which makes it excellent choice for mixing with other fruit. It is a great choice for baking.

Early Italian – The Early Italian is an old, well-known variety of blue plum that is also called “Early Fellenberg”. With its pleasant firmness and its great taste, the Early Italian is one of the highest caliber plums Michigan has to offer.

Stanley – The Stanley is the go-to for European plums. It is medium to large fruit with dark blue skin and yellow-green flesh. It can be identified by its distinct neck.

Valor – The Valor plum is large and very good tasting. Its skin is an attractive dark purple, speckled and the flesh is greenish- yellow. It is semi-freestone and can be found starting the first week of September.

N.Y. 9 – This plum ripens in the first week of September. The fruit size varies due to the crop load and goes from small to large. The flesh is green and the skin is purple, covered with waxy bloom so it appears blue. It has mild taste and is rather sweet. Though, it is processing variety, when picked when the flesh color starts changing from green to amber, it has just enough acid to make it well eating plum.

Blufre -The Blufre is a medium-large sized European plums. It is blue-skinned and yellow-fleshed with a very distinctive flavor. The Blufre is a good choice for all your baking needs.
Long John – The fruit of the Long John is large and has an interesting shape: it is quite long and bit “flattened”. The skin is dark maroon, almost black, and covered with the waxy bloom, which gives it nice blue color. The flesh is orange, firm and pleasantly tart. It is freestone and it ripens with the Stanley at the first of September, but is larger and better quality.

Autumn Sweet – The Autumn Sweet is a new European blue-skinned, yellow-fleshed plum. It is said to have superior quality to that of the traditional Italian plum. It ripens the first week of September, making it a great choice for lunchboxes that kids are sure to love.

Blue Damson – The Blue Damson is an old variety, renowned for its superb preserves and baking characteristics. It is a small blue plum with a yellow flesh. The Damson is in high demand throughout farmer’s markets from individuals longing for the most mouthwatering jams and most intriguing plum bounces.

Italian – The Italian is a medium to large fruit with purple skin and yellow flesh. It is a sweet plum that stores well and is a great dual purpose plum.
Tulare Giant – The Tulare Giant is a new Japanese plum variety. It is a large reddish-grey skin plum with an amber flesh. Eat this one fresh because its incredible sweetness is rivaled by few other varieties

Empress – The Empress is a well-known European plum variety. It has large, elliptical, symmetrical fruit of very good quality. The skin is purple and covered with heavy waxy bloom. The flesh is greenish-yellow and it is semi-cling. The Empress is a very nice late-season choice.

There are two types of varieties, the European, that contain less water and more soluble solids, suitable to be dried, and the Japanese, more juicy for fresh consumption.
Some European varieties are thought to come from the Prunus domestica, a wild plum tree that grows near the Caspian Sea. Another wild ancestor of the European and South African varieties can be P. saliciana, in China and Japan. In addition, the Americans have used the wild plum P. subcordinata, from America, to cross with European plum or Asian varieties.
According to information of the Departmento de Cultivos Leñosos de la Escuela Universitaria de Ingeniería Técnica Agrícola (EUITA), Valencia, ( http://www.euita.upv.es ), in Spain the plum tree is mainly cultivated in Murcia, Comunidad Valenciana, Andalusia, Aragón, Catalonia and La Rioja. The most exported varieties are Reina Claudia , Santa Rosa and Golden Japan. Other cultivated varieties are Red Beauty , Formosa and Burbank.
We must distinguish between the European plum tree and the Japanese:
1- The European plum (Prunus domestica), usually bears pale green (” Claudias”) or purple (” Prunas”) fruits, to which dry plums belong, since they have a high content of soluble solids and contain little water; this makes dehydration much easier. The most used varieties for their industrial processing belong to the group Ente, like Agen of Ente GF 707. For instance, in Alicante and Castellón, the most cultivated varieties are Stanley, Claudias, Ana Spath, President and Giant.
Normally, this group is well adapted to regions with continental climate due to their flowering, greater demand of cold and less demanding in cares.
2- The Japanese plum (Prunus salicina), with earlier maturation and, in general, reddish and black epidermis, although some can be pale yellow, like ” Golden Japan”. Its water content is high, so it is very juicy. For instance, in the Rivera Alta of the Comunidad Valenciana (Spain), we find the varieties Red Beauty , Methley, Golden Japan , Formosa, Santa Rosa and Burbank. They are cultivated mainly in the warmest areas due to their flowering period, although in some cold areas we can see almond trees grafted with the variety Red Beauty, important for its pink-dark colour and its earliness.
The main plum producing countries are China, the United States, Rumania and Germany.
In the U.S.A., the most cultivated varieties are, in alphabetical order, Beauty (available from the end of May to the beginning of July), Burbank, Gaviota (June to August), Golden Japan (January to May and June to August), June Blood (end of June to the beginning of July), Kelsey and Ontario (July to September).
In Rumania, the variety Switzen or Quetsh, original from Asia and that is also produced in Germany, France and The Netherlands, is available in September and October.
In Germany, the varieties of greater diffusion are Czar (August), Ontario (July to September), Opal (August) and Switzen (September to October).
Some varieties of plums:
” Sungold”
It is a Japanese variety, whose fruit is big and aromatic and the skin is red when it matures. Yellow-orange and juicy flesh. South African variety that appears in the market in February and April.
“Red Beauty”
It is a variety of the Japanese plum, with the rounded fruit, medium thick calibre, considering that it is a very early variety. Red to dark red skin, depending on the maturity degree. Yellow flesh, hard texture and good flavour. It bears handling and transport. Very vigorous tree, open habit, self-sterile. The maturation period takes place from the end of May to the beginning of June. As an exception to the fact that Japanese plum is produced in the warmest areas, in the Ribera Alta (Comunidad Valenciana, Spain), predominate the Japanese early varieties, intended for export, like ” Red Beauty” that is progressively replacing the varieties Methley, Golden Japan and Formosa.
” Golden Japan”
Thick, clear yellow fruit, thick and resistant bright skin, very juicy and pleasant pulp, belonging to the group of Japanese plum. Resistant to transport. Vigorous tree, great fertility. It is cultivated in the U.S.A., France, Italy and South Africa, available from January to May and June to August. In Spain, the harvesting takes place in the middle of June.
” Black Amber”
Japanese variety, black colour, big size, round shape, a bit flattened. The pulp is amber, the firm flesh is not adhered to the bone, good taste. Resistant to handling. Productive. Vigorous tree of very erect habit, self-sterile. It comes from the U.S.A. and the maturation period in warm zones is during the last week of June.
” Santa Rosa’
Japanese plum, with a big, round and hearted fruit. Deep red skin. Amber yellow or pale carmine flesh, very juicy, sweet and perfumed, with a flavour that reminds of the strawberry. Erect habit tree, medium development and very fertile. Partially self-fertile. It is from America, but mainly cultivated in France, Italy, Spain and South Africa. It is available from December to February (South Africa) and from June to November (in other producing countries). In Spain, harvesting takes place in the middle of July.
” Reina Claudia Verde’
European plum of medium size, rounded, green, thin and juicy pulp, characteristic scent and flavour. The stone comes off easily. Partially self-fertile. Excellent for table consumption, stewed or tinned fruit and jam. It is produced in Belgium, France, England and Spain. Available in August and September. In Spanish warm areas the harvesting takes place in July-August.
” Reina Claudia de Oullins”
It is a European plum. French variety. Vigorous and productive tree. Great fruit, golden pale green. Very juicy and pale flesh, not very sweet flavour. The stone does not come off very easily. It is one of the most widespread varieties. Pollinizer variety: Reina Claudia Verde. Maturation during the second fortnight of July (in Zaragoza) and available in the market until August.
” Angelino’
It is a Japanese variety with great size fruits, dark red colour and even darker when ripe. Sweet flavour and yellow flesh. Not very productive but very good fruit conservation. Maturation from the middle to the end of September.

Types of Plums

About 20 varieties dominate the commercial supply of plums, and most originated in either Asia or Europe. In spite of our stronger cultural connections with Europe when it comes to food, it is actually the Japanese plum that most people would identify as the typical American plum.

Originally from China, these plums were introduced into Japan some 300 years ago, and were eventually brought from there to the United States. Most varieties have yellow or reddish flesh that is quite juicy and skin colors that range from crimson to black-red (but never purple). They are also clingstone fruits—that is, their flesh clings to the pit.

In contrast, European-type plums are smaller, denser and less juicy. They are often blue or purple, and their pits are usually freestone, meaning they separate easily from the flesh. The flesh is golden-yellow.

The domestic plum season extends from May through October, with Japanese types coming on the market first and peaking in August, followed by European varieties in the fall. Here are some varieties of plums you’re likely to find in markets:

  • California French plums (d’Agen): These small, meaty European-style plums are descendants of the Frenchpruneaux d’Agen, which are used in France to make prunes. Most of the California French plum crop is destined to be sold as dried plums, but you can occasionally find them fresh.
  • Casselman: These smooth, red-skinned plums can be either fairly firm or slightly soft and are very sweet.
  • Damson: This small, tart, blue-purple European-type plum is used mainly for jams and preserves.
  • El Dorado: This dark, almost black-skinned plum has amber flesh and a sweet flavor even when firm.
  • Elephant Heart: Distinguished by their dark, mottled skin, blood-red flesh, and heart shape, these plums are extremely sweet and juicy.
  • Empress: These large, dark-blue plums have sweet greenish flesh and taste like prune plums.
  • Freedom: This plum is sweet and juicy and has mottled light red skin.
  • Friar: These are large, round, black-skinned plums with very sweet, amber flesh.
  • Greengage: Distinguished by its deep-green skin, white dusty coating, and succulent yellow flesh, this European clingstone is very popular.
  • Kelsey: This large heart-shaped, green-skinned freestone plum is firm and very sweet. The ripe Kelsey often has a red blush to the skin at the tip.
  • Laroda: Similar to a Santa Rosa, these mature a little later, are slightly larger, and are very juicy and sweet.
  • Mirabelle: This small, round, yellow plum is sweet and full-flavored.
  • Nubiana: This large, slightly flat, purple-black, amber-fleshed plum is similar to the El Dorado.
  • Plumcot: This is a cross between an apricot and a plum, though it more closely resembles a plum. Some varietal names of plumcots arePlum ParfaitandFlavorella.
  • Pluot: This is another hybrid, a cross between a plumcot and a plum, so though there is apricot somewhere in the mix, this fruit looks distinctly like a plum. It is also sold asDinosaur Eggs. It has purplish skin and sweet flesh that ranges in color from amber to red. This hybrid has a long-lasting flavor.
  • Prune plums (Italian prune plums): This deep purple plum is covered in a light dusty film that protects it from the weather. Under the purple skin, the flesh is greenish-amber and very sweet. These are tangy when firm, and sweet when mature.
  • Santa Rosa: This very popular plum has reddish-purple skin and red-tinged amber flesh. Its taste is tangy-sweet.

See our recipe for Cherry-Plum Compote.

POPULAR PLUM TREE  VARIETIES IN THE UK

AVALON PLUM TREE

A new variety of plum which in most areas is more than a match for most other varieties. Taste and disease resistance are particularly good. This is primarily a top quality eating plum but it also cooks well when harvested slightly earlier.

to go to our comprehensive description and pictures of the Avalon plum tree.

BELLE DE LOUVAIN

Best used as a cooking plum, this variety will do well in all sites and tolerates shady and windy spots in particular. Self-fertile and crops from mid to late august. for detailed information about this variety.

BLUE TIT

Delicious small plums which are both for eating and for cooking. Reliable crops year on year. Fruit is produced in mid-August and this variety is self-fertile. We have one in our garden and can recommend it highly.

to go to our comprehensive description and pictures of the Blue Tit plum tree.

CAMBRIDGE GAGE

The fruits are smaller than your average plum but that’s as expected for a Gage. The fruit colour is yellow / green, turning slightly more yellow and pink as it ripens ……..

to go to our comprehensive description of the Cambridge Gage tree.

CZAR

We recommend it for two reasons and the first is that it makes a very reliable cooking plum which crops very early in the season. The second reason is that it thrives in conditions where lesser plum trees would fail. Cold, shade and poor soil ……..

for our in depth description of this plum tree with pictures.

FARLEIGH

Dating back to the early 1800s Farleigh damson trees regularly produce a large crop year in year out. They are exceptionally hardy and were often used as windbreaks for more tender fruit ……..

for our in depth description of Farleigh damson trees.

JEFFERSON

Jefferson is one of the best tasting plums with a firmish texture, lots of juice and sweetness. Another plus point for this variety is that it crops over an unusually long period of about ten days. for our in depth description of this plum tree with pictures.

LIZZIE

A very early cropping plum variety which stands frost at blossom time very well. One of the sweetest of all the eating plums. Self fertile, cropping in early to mid July. This is a new variety which looks to be a very good choice.

MIRABELLE

We have included Mirabelle here for a couple of reasons firstly because it is so easy to grow in the UK, so easy in fact that it is often found growing wild. The picture of the plums below are taken from a tree which has grown in significant shade on a countryside pathway but it still produces a large crop of fruit every year.

There are several varieties but the one almost exclusively grown in the UK is Mirabelle de Nancy. The fruit is cherry sized yellow plums, masses of them, which are ready from mid August to early September depending on weather conditions. They originate from the Lorraine area of France and traditionally are harvested by placing a large sheets under the tree and shaking it. Ripe fruits will fall off easily and can be collected in the sheets. It regularly produces a large crop each year.

The plums can be eaten raw although the texture is not nearly as juicy as many other plum or greengage varieties. Their primary use is for cooking and they make excellent tarts and jams.

OPAL

A cross between a gage and a plum, Opal has taken on the full sweet flavour of the gage side of its parents but with a slightly larger fruit. Plums are produced early in the year, late July in some areas, and …… read our detailed and full review of this plum tree variety (including picture) here.

SHROPSHIRE DAMSON

We have included a damson here because they make the best jam of all time! The bitter sweet taste is out of this world. This damson will tolerate almost all conditions although water-logging will be a problem. Self-fertile producing fruit in mid to late August.

VICTORIA

An old variety which has most definitely stood the test of time as both an eating and a cooking plum. A very reliable tree which can produce a crop so large that the branches break. Keep an eye out for this when the plums are forming and prune about half of them off if the crop looks to be large.

Victoria plums

Self-fertile, Victoria produce a good crop of plums in August and September. for our in depth review of the Victoria plum tree including how to prune them, pests and diseases, pollination partners, flowering and fruiting times adjusted to your area of the UK.

WARWICKSHIRE DROOPER

The Warwickshire Drooper is a superb plum tree to grow in most parts of the UK. It has lovely looking yellow skinned plums which are slightly smaller than average, two small bites of heavenly taste. Kids love them because they are on the sweet side when mature and the yellow flesh comes away easily from the stone ……..

for our in depth review of the Warwickshire Drooper plum tree including how to prune them, pests and diseases, pollination partners, flowering and fruiting times adjusted to your area of the UK.

CONTINUE TO BILLING/PAYMENT

OCTOBER 6, 2016

Eat, Memory

IN THE BEGINNING, there was găluşti cu prune — plum dumplings. My mother’s mother, in August, plum season, steaming up the kitchen, boiling them in a big pot. These were the days before summer camp, before air conditioning. An electrical storm was coming. She warned me not to turn on the television or switch on the light. I thought that if I even touched the window, there would be a blue electric shock. The dumplings that survived the boiling she fried in sugar and breadcrumbs. The disintegrated balls — white lumps of potato dough and misshapen chunks of plums — she set aside for me. The whole ones — perfect, round, sparkling — were for my parents.

A plum dumpling is a perfect universe: the first encounter with granular, sugary crumbs; the dense, substantial wrapping that you sink your teeth into; and the juicy, sweet, and sometimes tart Italian prune plum center that veers toward sublime.

One of the earliest stories to imprint on my mind was Leo Tolstoy’s 1875 fable for children, “The Plum Stone” (“Kostochka”). Vanya, seeing plums for the first time and finding their scent delicious, waits until he is alone and snatches one to eat before dinner. When his father asks who ate the plum, all the children, including Vanya, plead innocence. Vanya’s father says, “The fact that one of you has taken a plum is bad enough, but the worst thing is that there are stones in plums, and if you don’t know how to eat a plum and end up swallowing the stone, you’ll die before evening. That’s what I fear most.” Vanya blushes, then pales, and says, “I didn’t swallow it! I threw it out the window!” Everyone laughs as Vanya cries.

Five years after the fall of communism, my family visited Romania, the old country, for the first time since my parents left in the 1970s. We drove counterclockwise around the place, in a two-car caravan, starting and ending in Bucharest. On one of our last days, my father’s mother insisted we drive through the Carpathians in the pitch-black night, as she was eager to meet a friend the next day. I gripped the edge of my seat, watched the high beams of our cars skim the edges of steep cliffs, and then buried my head in my mother’s lap, hoping it would all be over soon. The next morning, safely away from the hairpin turns of the mountains and among rolling hills — farmland, orchard country — my grandmother asked my father to stop the car. There were no landmarks to indicate a meeting place. But as we stretched our legs, my grandmother waved at a figure in the distance, and a man’s flat cap emerged first from behind a hill. His tan arms clutched something to his chest and he rushed toward her with a sloshing Pepsi bottle full of clear liquid: tsuica. Homemade plum brandy. Moonshine. Into her suitcase it went, carefully transported back to the States so that it might properly “disinfect” us before each dinner.

Rituals

Varieties of plum brandy in Eastern Europe abound: from the aforementioned tsuica, taken before every meal, to the Damson-derived Slivovitz of Serbia, to Hungary and Transylvania’s Pálinka, and to Albania’s raki, made at home from small red plums. In Lëpushë, Albania, a family of five is said to consume 250 liters of raki per year, and it is considered shameful to not be able to offer guests a drink. Slivovitz, most easily found in the United States, is strong but smooth, still retaining some sweetness from the plums. As for the moonshine in my grandmother’s Pepsi bottle? Prepare for a throat searing.

Romania is the fourth largest producer of plums in the world (after China, Serbia, and the United States), and 75 percent of Romanian plums become tsuica. Palinka and Hornica, tsuica twice or thrice distilled, are strong and flavorless but will result in a plume of warmth from stomach to skull.

Among the peasants of Maramureș, a bottle of Hornica is a traditional wedding present and an essential drink at weddings. To celebrate a wedding, there is a “gathering of the god children” where each couple offers their godparents a sack of flour, grain, corn, and plum brandy, and each godchild purchases two shot glasses of brandy for his or her spouse. At funerals, two shots are swilled — one for the living self and one for the soul of the deceased — but inebriation is frowned upon and considered shameful.

Slivovitz, free of grain, is a traditional drink at Passover. Fermented with ground-up bits of plum stones, it sports a nuttier flavor than tsuica, my ur-brandy. Slivovitz made a weekly appearance at my grandmother’s Sunday dinners. (She served Slivovitz in lieu of the illicit, unexportable tsuica, except, of course, when she returned from Romania with a certain Pepsi bottle.) My husband and I moved to Seattle in 2009; craving a taste of home, we asked at the neighborhood liquor store for Slivovitz and learned they no longer carried it. They used to, around Passover, but even then the demand was low. “Try the suburbs,” the clerk said. That’s where the Jews live now. We’d never felt so Jewish as we did living in Seattle. In New York and in Chicago (where my husband grew up), Jewishness was a given. In Seattle, I started to feel anthropological, as if I had to explain my culture every time it came up in conversation. For the first time, my Jewishness felt like an oddity.

Now obscure liquors are the rage. At Nue, a restaurant offering “international street food,” you can get a Dirty Diplomat cocktail, which includes Unicum, a plum-infused Hungarian aperitif in a vein of Jaeger. (I delighted at the opportunity to eat mititei, skinless grilled sausage, but found their interpretation too delicate, a bit precious — I prefer my mititei in a backwoods beer garden with a side of food poisoning.) Whenever we find Slivovitz at the liquor store, we buy a bottle and stick it in the freezer next to the vodka. We offer it at our annual Seder for Passover orphans, though some cringe at the spirit’s strength and opt for the familiar and/or kitschy Manischewitz, or better yet, a local Pinot Noir.

Favors

The brief interwar democracy in Romania saw peasants voting, according to Hugh Seton-Watson, for “benefits promised them, for personalities they knew, or for cash or tsuica.” Sandwiching this time of favors was violence, chaotic on one end, systemic on the other.

The city of Czernowitz, once a provincial capital in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and subsequently absorbed into Romania, the USSR, and, currently, the Ukraine, is the setting of Gregor von Rezzori’s memoir The Snows of Yesteryear. He depicts a fleeting image from the collapse of that empire in 1919. Drunken marauders raided abandoned army storehouses for decadent foodstuffs:

The revolutionary spirit of 1917 had degenerated into bloody madness Gangs of plunderers drifting about had already targeted the ration warehouses of the departed Austrian army as their first objective. Besmirched with lard and plum jam, totally inebriated and with their bellies full, the howling gangs of rabble staggered past our house; they were more or less held in check during the day but became menacing at night. (Trans. H. F. Broch de Rotherman.)

Even in that frightening scene of “bloody madness,” the phrase “besmirched with lard and plum jam” is alluring in its decadence, as if the lard and plum jam (and, quite possibly, plum brandy) partially inspired the rabble-rousing.

“ou’ll swallow your death,” warns the father in Herta Müller’s novel The Land of Green Plums (trans. Michael Hofmann). A former SS officer in communist Romania, he “keeps the graveyards deep in his throat His mouth drinks schnapps made from the darkest plums, and his songs for the Führer are heavy and drunken.” He warns the narrator not to eat unripe, green plums, but because she “wishes death” on her father, she “eats and thinks, This will kill me.”

As a university student, she watches police swipe green plums from trees, pocketing them, gobbling them. The police are depicted as childishly greedy, shortsighted, “lust after the sour taste of the poverty which had so recently ruled their lives,” feeding into and off of a poisonous system that requires their complicity. One friend of the narrator turns out to be a spy for the secret police; she suffers from a tumor at her breast, described as a “nut,” an image that recalls the deadly plum stones that are constantly swallowed yet never satisfy.

The compulsion to eat plums is sickening, the plums themselves toxic.

Hunger

A peach is like your mother: It’s always there for you. A nectarine is like your girlfriend: It’s something really dear and special. A plum is like a harlot down the street: It’ll screw you every time.

— Joke circulated among California stone fruit growers about the difficulties in growing plums.

The average American consumer perceives plums to be “‘a little more adult, a little more gourmet’ than peaches or nectarines,” according to Chip Brantley, author of The Perfect Fruit. He discusses the pursuit of the ideal fruit through the development of pluots — a crossbred fruit that is mostly plum with some apricot thrown in. Interspecies plums also include plumcots, plucots, plumots, plutos, and plouts — but never, ever apricum.

Unlike apples, which grow with a more or less reliable standard of quality and flavor, plums are wildly variable risks: too much work and too often disappointing. The “black and red plum ghettos” of the modern American supermarkets resulted from years of failed experiments that narrowed the universe of the plum to a binary. Yet the black and red plums still disappoint.

U. P. Hedrick’s 1910 monograph The Plums of New York, published by the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, laments numerous problems encountered by plum trees in the majority of the temperate United States: parasites like curculio (a weevil), black-knot, leaf-blight, and plum-pockets, the latter a disease causing fruit to become “misshapen” and “bladder like.”

In the 1889 Report by West Virginia University Agricultural Experiment Station, Dr. W. W. Brown writes: “I selected a goodly number of Japanese plums with two objects in view. First, to ascertain whether they could be grown in this , and secondly, whether they are curculii proof.” Rather than Brantley’s “black and red plum ghettos,” these agricultural reports catalog myriad varieties. Brown writes of Kelsey Agon, Boton, and Katonkin plums, distinct in growth, appearance, time of ripening, size, and color. He compares the Katonkin to the Wild Goose plum, but more delicious. He proclaims the Boton and Kelsey superior to native plums. He remarks upon the same difficulties faced by the California growers in Brantley’s book: unpredictable blooming, the ever-present danger of losing the crop.

The pursuit of the pluot arose from the desire for a superior fruit, one not prone to disappointment. Plums, too often, are not what you want them to be. Brantley notes that the discovery of powerful antioxidants in red-fleshed plums became a boon for beleaguered American plum growers. Marketers want to boast the plum’s edge on pomegranate’s antioxidant levels, jack up the price, and watch profits bubble up.

Indeed, the nutritional benefits of plums are many: high fiber, potassium, beta-carotene, and boron — which helps bone development, muscle coordination, and testosterone levels.

Want to work on your manliness? Eat a plum!

Warding off parasites or ulcers? Try one smoked.

Hedging against misfortune? Pickled plums are the way to go.

Keeping evil at bay? Plant a plum tree in the northeastern corner of your garden.

The antioxidants message was lost on the American public. Taste and appearance are more hotly pursued than health. The Plums of New York catalogs 1,500 varieties of Old World plums in that state, including a blue-skinned, green-fleshed Tragedy plum. Origin stories of the plum suggest that the Domestica, our most common plum species, spread to East Asia and Europe from the Caucasus Mountains and Caspian Sea via Mongols, Tartars, Turks, and Huns. Imagine riding your trusty horse with a pocketful of plums or a sapling at your bag. Imagine the thrill of eating a new kind of fruit, the unexpected color and texture of its flesh, the unexpected flavor of its juice.

Wild Plums

There is scarcely a region of the that has not its own wild plum; and each species shows a tendency to improve under cultivation.

— Plantguide.org

The Wild Goose plum, Prunus hortulana, is thought to originate in Kentucky and grows wild from Maryland to Texas. Also known as the creek plum and the hog plum, it grows on a tall, straight-limbed, thornless tree, with thin, flat oblong leaves (which can produce dyes ranging from green to dark gray) and thick-skinned juicy fruit.

John Voss and Virginia S. Eifert on Wild Goose Plums:

By August there are oval, coral-red, or yellow-red plums on the trees. Few are perfect; most have small white larvae inside, larvae which were deposited as eggs in the ovaries of the flowers long ago in April. The plums fall, are pecked by robins. The stony seeds are gathered by chipmunks and wood mice and squirrels who find the nut inside a toothsome morsel on a day.

Far, far away from Herta Müller and Tolstoy’s death nut.

Sloes, or blackthorns, or Prunus spinosa, boast a black skin with purple-blue waxy bloom. They are thin-fleshed and astringent, and sport a thorny bark and spiny branches. Across Northern Europe and Britain, the prickly shrub hedged cattle. The juice of sloes dyes linen reddish and washes out to pale blue.

Sloe sap, according to Shlomo Yitzhaki, medieval Talmudist and Tanakh commentator, was used to make ink for manuscripts. (He used the term prunellier.)

Stones of sloes have been found in ancient Swiss lake dwellings.

And in 1991, a 5,300-year-old mummy was found in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border with sloes in his stomach. The mummy affectionately known as Ötzi died suddenly, either bashed in the head or killed by an arrow, and his undigested meal of sloes also included unleavened bread, deer meat, and moss, believed to be used as a food wrapper. He’d also taken a medicinal herb, hop hornbeam, suggesting he suffered from nausea or stomach ache.

Ötzi was not the only eater of sloes. Devourers of spinosa foliage include the emperor moth, the willow beauty, the White-pinion, the common emerald, the November moth, the mottled pug, the green pug, the brimstone moth, the hawthorn moth, and more.

Soaking sloes in gin results in sloe gin.

There’s “he little beach plum of the Atlantic coast, the sloes of the Alleghanies and the South, the leathery-leaved Pacific plum, and the sand plum of the semi-arid plains.”

In East Asian art, “the plum is considered one of the ‘Three Friends of Winter’ with pine and bamboo, as well as a member of the noble ‘Four Gentlemen’ with the orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo.” Plums at their most refined.

Sex and Death

The plum in Chinese poetry goes way back. The oldest plum poems, from the 11th to third centuries BCE, pre–Han Dynasty, refer to the fruit more than the tree or flowers. One early poem obsesses over falling plums. The speaker urges men to pick them up before they’re gone. Hans Fränkel, a German-American sinologist, child of Jewish refugees, husband to poet and calligrapher Chang Ch’ung-ho, and author of “The Plum Tree in Chinese Poetry,” posits that perhaps the plums are girls reaching maturity, or girls impatient for marriage.

No one wants a rotten plum.

Han Dynasty poems shift from fruit to wood. A strange gift of a plum branch to the King of Wei enchants Fränkel. Does it convey magic powers, he wonders? (I want to say yes. I want a magic staff of plum wood.)

Later, in the Six Dynasties period, we shift from wood to flowers, the plum blossom a gift sent to a distant friend or lover. Poems become more delicate still. They dwell on the reclusive gentleman scholar, hiding among his willows and chrysanthemums, contemplating plum blossoms in late winter.

The prince poet Hsiao Kang (503–551), later an emperor, writes a poem in which an ideal plum tree in a palace garden transforms into a woman, “fairy-lady white.” Two hundred years later, in another poem, an emperor’s concubine becomes the Plum Witch. Fruit to wood to blossom to the ethereal: bewitching spirits.

Twelfth century CE poets speak of chewing on fragrant blossoms, as if they are fruit.

The poet Su Shih writes in 1095 CE: “Nothing is left but falling blossoms sticking to the empty wine cup.”

Fairy Tale–Red Fruit

The best place in the United States to grow plums is the Mediterranean West Coast. California, the center of plum production in the United States, also hosts a bevy of experimentation in crossbreeding, that pursuit of the novel and the ideal. At Chez Panisse, one might order a nearly blue-fleshed Flavor King pluot, served simply in a copper bowl at the end of a $65 prix fixe meal. Brantley conjures the opulently named “Midnight Jewel” black-skinned pluot, a variety he is told he absolutely must try but which he cannot find. I imagine the “Midnight Jewel” stored in some illicit thieves’ cave.

Brantley describes red-fleshed “Blood Plum of Satsuma,” “fairy tale–red” fruit so good-looking you devour them, Vanya-like.

I can hardly remember such a dark-fleshed fruit, but I can imagine it. It’s the idea that beguiles.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s composite “Four Seasons in One Head” (c. 1590) shows an old knobby soul, craggy with bark, woody warts, twiggy wisps, with branches reaching out of his head like antlers. Youthful cherries dangle from his ears and apples balance in the branches. Luminous green-gold grapes hang, juicy as the bark is dry. Beneath the apples, behind the cherries, two dark plums lurk, like a half-remembered dream nestled in the back of the mind. Thanks to modern super-sized fruit, I initially thought the prominent pink-hued orbs were plums, not apples. The plums, to me, are like a lesser-told story that is no less magical — perhaps more so in its rediscovery, because of its rediscovery. Not pomegranates, not apples, but plums as temptation.

I read Brantley’s descriptions of endlessly tested plum varietals and imagined taking a bite from the fruit on Arcimboldo’s composite head, the robust fruit I wrongly took for a plum. It would be neither delicate nor “fierce, spicy,” like one particular Israeli plum, but would have a hardier skin and a cakelike texture. I suppose if I were a breeder I’d try to cross the plum with a Saturn peach.

I hate to think of all the raw plums failing to meet my luscious ideal — tart plums, hard plums, mealy plums. Better to think of them in their more decadent old world iterations — dumplings, jam, brandy — the sort of products that elicit both rabble-rousing and decorous ritual.

The title recipe in Sylvia Boorman’s 1962 wild-foods cookbook Wild Plums in Brandy offers “a truly divine way of preparing a divine little plum”:

2 lbs plums

2 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup water

1 cup brandy

Wash the plums. Dip a needle into boiling water and prick each plum around where the stem joins it. Boil the sugar and water until you have clear syrup. Drop in the plums, boil for two minutes, and remove to china or Pyrex or stone dish. Cover tightly and let sit for 24–48 hours. The skins may come off; Boorman recommends leaving them in with the plums. Pour off the syrup into a saucepan and boil for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and put plums into sterilized jars and fill to the top with brandy and syrup and cover immediately. Boorman writes, “It is well to let them sit for three months And you will feel celestial after taking a dish of them.” Boiling wild plums in sugar and soaking them in brandy is perhaps a simpler method of ensuring flavor than the gamble of breeding fruit. And yet that method requires a certain kind of violence.

The World Seems More Real

M. F. K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf expounds upon how to live well during famine in wartime. (A high-end restaurant in Seattle is named after that book; I have no idea why.) Fisher writes of a prune roast so pungent and hearty, the world feels more real. Is my search for a perfect plum the search for something more real?

I long misremembered the magic fruit in C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew (1955), his novel explaining the origins of Narnia. In my plum zeal, I reread that book and found that the magic fruit is not a plum but an apple in a garden. (Of course.) Why had I thought of plums? Because the witch who steals and eats the fruit promising immortality is stained with dark red juice.

I found solace in the chapter titled “The Wood Between the Worlds,” about a liminal place full of trees and pools of water. Jump into a pool and find yourself on earth, or in Narnia, or in a dying world of tyrannical giants. Lewis writes:

You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots. This wood was very much alive. When he tried to describe it afterwards, Digory always said, “It was a rich place: as rich as plum cake.”

Grafting 250 varieties of heirloom stone fruit, most of which come from the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, artist Sam van Aken is developing trees that grow 40 types of fruit. (Does he know van Aken is the family name of Hieronymus Bosch, that fantastical grafter? Are they related?)

Van Aken hopes to conserve varieties which commercial growers avoid due to durability, size, taste, and appearance, the avoidance that results in Brantley’s “red and black plum ghettos.” In his project he discovered, for example, the unpopularity of yellow plums, and I have to wonder why yellow is so much less appealing than purple-black or dusky blue. Do yellow plums seem somehow anemic?

In Western religion, van Aken notes, the number 40 represents “a number beyond counting”: the ethereal concept for his art project. Depicting the tree in blossom certainly suggests abundance.

Petals so lush you want to bury your face in them.

Botticelli’s painting The Virgin and Child (1480, a.k.a. The Madonna of the Book) shows baby Jesus in Mary’s lap. Behind her, at the window: A blue expanse of sky dwarfing a row of twilit trees. Just behind his cherubic head: An abundance of cherries and luminous yellow plums. The cherries suggest blood, the plums the love between mother and son.

In our last days on that family trip to Romania in 1994, we stayed on the orchard of another friend of my grandmother’s. The walled orchard had been taken over by the Iron Guard in World War II, and then the Communist Party after that, and had only recently been repatriated. In the dark basement, old furniture and files remained in disarray.

I can see, in my mind’s eye, morning glories on the verandah and dusty green leaves on peach and plum trees. I can see, by a dried-out creek off of their property, not too far from a hard water plant, abundant blackberries, warm and heavy on the vine. It was August, plum season, but I can’t for the life of me remember seeing fruit on any of those trees.

My grandmother’s friend, whose wife owned the orchard, had been a television newscaster during the Communist regime. (My grandmother had met him when she translated Soviet articles for the Romanian press.) Driving through the woods, he took us to a monastery for a candlelit choral performance, then to a backwoods beer garden for Ursu and mititei. He was drunk on tsuica, his driving a wobbling nightmare.

Long after that night, I can’t help but wonder about the desire to numb oneself, and where it might come from. Had there been some guilt? He’d done well for himself, a cog in the propaganda machine like so many others. I can’t find his work from that time. But film reels show a bounty of fake foods on display for the dictator’s proud perusal. Behind mounds of bread and baskets of fruit, purveyors’ grins plastered wide in the camera’s light.

“At least in wartime,” goes a Romanian joke of the 1980s, “there was more to eat.”

Just before our visit, the villagers near the orchard vandalized its walls, broke bottles against it. My grandmother’s friends gave it up soon after repatriation. Had there been hostilities toward the orchard’s former residents? Had there been hostilities toward this old regime newscaster? How many villagers had owned a television?

Did they eat green plums in the 1980s?

In Seattle, plums catch that rare summer light that almost makes suffering through long gray winters worthwhile. Once, a man and his two young boys pulled a red wagon full of plums down the street, offering strangers fruit from their yard. I didn’t eat those red wagon plums but I did store them in my memory. I transported them to that old fruitless orchard I may never see again.

For a long time, I found the idea of sugar plums and plum pudding charming. And then I actually tried plum pudding (it contains no plums) and despaired at tarlike goop. There was no relation to the dumpling of my yesteryear with its sugar-dappled wrapping, its blue-skinned, red-tinged, yellow-fleshed center. A dancing fairy did not pirouette in my mouth. Yet I still love the idea of William Carlos Williams eating all the plums in the icebox. I still love the idea of little Jack Horner sticking his thumb in a pie and thinking himself (wrongly?) a good boy. I still imagine little Vanya hiding behind a curtain, about to sink his teeth into a stolen plum.

¤

Sources:

Drinking in Albania: Pieroni, Andrea. “People and Plants in Lëpushë.” Ethnobotany in the New Europe: People, Health and Wild Plant Resources. Ed. Manuel Pardo-de-Santayana, Andrea Pieroni, and Rajindra K. Puri. New York: Berghahn Books, 2010.

Drinking in Maramureș: Kligman, Gail. The Wedding of the Dead: Ritual, Poetics, and Popular Culture in Transylvania. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Interwar Romania: Seton-Watson, Hugh. Eastern Europe Between the Wars, 1918–1941. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1945.

Farmers in California: Brantley, Chip. The Perfect Fruit: Good Breeding, Bad Seeds, and the Hunt for the Elusive Pluot. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.

Nutritional value: Walkowiak-Tomczak, Dorota. “Characteristics of Plums as Raw Material with Valuable Nutritive and Dietary Properties.” Polish Journal of Food & Nutrition Sciences, vol. 58, no.4, 2008, pp.401-405.

Types of plums: Julia Ellen Rogers. The Tree Book: A Popular Guide to a Knowledge of the Trees of North America and to Their Uses and Cultivation. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1905

Keeping evil at bay: “Plum.” East Asian Plants: A Cultural and Horticultural Guide. University of Kansas, n.d. Web.

The plum in Chinese poetry: Fränkel, Hans. “The Plum Tree in Chinese Poetry,” Asiatische Studien, vol. 6, 1952, pp. 88-115.

For Romania under Ceauşescu, cf. the documentary The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu, 2010.

¤

Anca L. Szilágyi’s writing appears in Electric Literature, Gastronomica, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the inaugural Artist Trust/Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award and is at work on a novel.

Fruit and Nut Review – Peaches, Nectarines, and Plums

Peaches, nectarines, and plums, all members of the Prunus genus, grow well throughout Mississippi if late spring frosts or freezes do not damage blooms or young fruit. Spring freezes or frosts during or after bloom are often the limiting factor for peach, nectarine, and plum production. Several factors affect the potential for spring freeze damage.

One important consideration is the chill hour requirements of different cultivars. In general, chill hours refer to the number of hours below 45 °F a plant is exposed to during the winter months. This exposure to cold temperatures is required for fruit trees to break dormancy. Average winter chilling hours for various Mississippi locations are Hattiesburg, 400 to 600; Jackson, 600 to 800; Mississippi State University, 800 to 1000; and Holly Springs, 1000 to 1200. A peach cultivar that requires 1000 chill hours to break dormancy probably will not grow very well in Hattiesburg because it will not get enough chill hours. On the other hand, a peach cultivar planted in Holly Springs that requires 500 chill hours will have its chill hour requirement satisfied around Christmas and start blooming during the next warm spell in January. Blooming this early would risk the blooms dying in the next cold front.

Peach Cultivars

Cultivars recommended for Mississippi areas north of Hattiesburg.

Variety Chill Hours Maturity Date
Springold 850 May 30
Bicentennial 700 June 4
Surecrop 950 June 10
Sentinel 850 June 17
Harvester 700 June 27
Redhaven 950 June 29
Contender 1050 July 4
La Premier 1050 July 4
Redglobe 850 July 15
Ruston Red 850 July 20
Cresthaven 850 July 24
Redskin 750 July 25
Ouachita 850 August 3
La Jewel 850 August 8
Springold, Bicentennial, and Surecrop are clingstone; others listed are freestone. Elberta is a famous peach cultivar that was the most popular commercial cultivar in the eastern U.S. for many years. Elberta is still available from many nurseries but is no longer recommended because several superior cultivars ripen at the same time, July 20.

Cultivars recommended for Mississippi areas south of Hattiesburg.

Variety Chill Hours Maturity Date
Florida King 400 May 18
Bicentennial 750 May 26
La Gold 650 May 30
La Pecher 450 June 6
Idlewild 550 June 9
Harvester 750 June 15
La White 650 June 18
La Gold 700 June 19
La Festival 450 June 25
La Feliciana 550 July 5
Dixiland 750 July 20
Florida King and Bicentennial are clingstone; June Gold, La Pecher, and Idlewild are semifreestone; other cultivars listed are freestone.

Nectarine Cultivars

Nectarines are a fuzzless genetic mutation of peaches. They are not the result of crossbreeding between peaches and plums. Based on yields in MAFES research orchards, Harko, Redgold, Stark Sunglo, and Hardired are recommended for northern Mississippi. Karla Rose, Sunfre, and Carolina Red are recommended for southern Mississippi.

Variety Chill Hours Maturity Date
Harko 800 July 1
Redgold 850 July 10
Sunglo 850 July 5
Hardired 850 July 1
Karla Rose 650 June 5
Sunfre 525 June 5
Carolina Red 750 June

Plum Cultivars

Most varieties of plums require from 550 to 800 chill hours. This means that plums may bloom early in central and north Mississippi, making them susceptible to late frost injury.

Cultural requirements of plums are much like that of peaches. One main difference is that most plum varieties are not self-fruitful and require the presence of another variety for cross-pollination. Methley, Bruce, and Au-Amber are selffertile and can be used to pollinate most other plums.

Robusto, Morris, and Methley are recommended for northern Mississippi. AU Producer and Methley are recommended for southern Mississippi.

Robusto — red skin; white flesh; high-quality fruit; susceptible to diseases

Morris — red skin; red flesh; high-quality fruit

AU Producer — dark red skin; red flesh; highquality fruit

Au-Cherry — red skin; red flesh; small fruit; medium firmness; recommended for home production

Methley — red-purple skin; high-quality fruit; used mainly to pollinate other varieties; susceptible to blackknot; self-fruitful

Bruce — usually marketed as a “green” plum; reliable fruit production after late frost; self-fruitful

Planting and Training

Prunus trees will not tolerate poorly drained, wet soil. Excellent soil drainage is required. Commercial orchards are routinely planted on hillsides with deep, well-drained soils. The good air circulation found on hillsides helps prevent frost and control disease. The orchard should receive full sun and have good air and water drainage. Morning sun can help dry foliage early in the day and reduce disease pressure.

For the best orchard performance, purchase quality fruit trees from reputable nurseries. A 1- year-old tree with a 3/8 to 1/2 inch trunk diameter, 3 to 5 feet tall, with a good root system, will typically outperform a 2-year-old tree that is much larger at the time of purchase. Avoid nursery trees with small or malformed root systems. Cut the tree off 24 to 30 inches above the ground after planting to force new branches to develop into a well-shaped fruit tree.

Fruit trees are traditionally available as bareroot plants from nurseries in the spring. The trees are dug from field beds while dormant and held in cold storage until spring planting. The trees are shipped and planted before breaking dormancy. Containerized fruit trees are also available. They can be planted later in the spring after breaking dormancy. With proper care, either of these types of nursery trees will perform well in the orchard.

Planting in early spring rather than later in the summer gives the tree a chance to establish itself in the orchard before stressful summer weather begins. Dry roots lead to tree death, so keep the roots of nursery trees moist before planting. You can do this by storing the tree in a plastic bag to hold moisture or by “heeling in” the tree in moist, well-drained soil. The key is to keep the roots moist but not soaking in water. If the tree cannot be planted immediately after purchase, store it in a cool place to keep it dormant until planting.

Peach, nectarine, and plum trees require an average of 15 to 20 feet of space on all sides to prevent overcrowding. A common spacing in commercial orchards is 20 feet between rows and 15 feet between trees. This spacing anticipates annual pruning to control tree size and spread. Prune damaged roots before planting.

The planting depth of fruit trees is an important consideration. Trees will die or grow poorly if planted too deeply. The correct planting depth for bare root trees is the depth at which they grew in the nursery. This can be determined by the change of bark color from the roots to the trunk. Before transplanting, check container trees to make sure the root-ball is not too deep in the container. It is common for container trees to be growing too deep in the container, and this will lead to problems once the tree is transplanted to the orchard. If necessary, remove some of the media from the top of the container tree root-ball to insure the correct planting depth. The uppermost root should not be more than 1 or 2 inches underground.

Dig the planting hole three times as wide as the root ball and just deep enough for the roots to be at the desired depth. Spread the roots evenly around the planting hole. Make sure that the root ball has complete soil-to-root contact with no air pockets, which could lead to desiccation of roots. Use only the native soil as backfill in the planting hole: do not add amendments or fertilizer to the backfill.

Poorly drained soil and shallow soils should be avoided for peach, nectarine, and plum trees. Tree growth and life span will be unsatisfactory in this type of soil. If a hardpan exists in the orchard, break it before planting. Prunus trees respond well to raised beds, where soil drainage is enhanced.

Fertilization

Peach, nectarine, and plum trees grown in most Mississippi soils benefit from annual fertilizer applications. Soil tests every 2 years will indicate which nutrients need to be applied. Many Mississippi soils are acidic and benefit from lime applications. Follow soil test recommendations and apply lime as needed to maintain soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Balanced fertilizers such as 13-13-13 and 8-8-8 are commonly recommended for fertilizing fruit trees and do a very good job of supplying plant nutrients.

Phosphorus (P), the middle letter in NPK fertilizers such as 13-13-13, can build up to high levels in soils and may not need to be applied annually like nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) do. Too much soil P could be as harmful as too little. The soil test will provide this information. Nitrogen is commonly the limiting plant nutrient, and annual applications are usually needed for optimum plant growth and fruit production. A shortage of N can cause short shoot growth (less than 6 inches per year), pale green or yellow foliage, and small, well-colored fruit. Too much N can cause excessive shoot growth (more than 36 inches), deep green foliage, and late-maturing, poorly colored fruit. Excessive vegetative growth will shade fruitwood in the lower portion of the tree canopy and eventually will cause the fruitwood to die. In time, the surviving fruitwood will be in the upper reaches of the tree canopy, not distributed throughout the tree.

Research indicates that fruit trees benefit from a split application of fertilizer, especially N, annually. Apply half the recommended fertilizer in February before bud break, and apply the second half around mid-August. Spread the fertilizer evenly around the tree under the drip line of the branches.

Here are general guidelines to use for fertilizing peach, nectarine, and plum trees, but remember that soil conditions vary from site to site. Use soil test recommendations and personal observations of the growth and appearance of the fruit trees along with these recommendations as the basis for fertilizer applications. Excessive fertilization does not help the plant, the environment, or the budget.

First year — Apply 1 pound of a complete fertilizer (e.g. 13-13-13) at bud break (early spring) in a circle starting 10 to 12 inches from the base of the tree. Apply 1/2 pound ammonium nitrate (33-0-0) 20 to 24 inches from the base of the tree in early June. Apply the fertilizer in a band approximately 12 inches wide. Place the fertilizer to encourage outward growth of roots.

Second year — Apply 2 pounds of a complete fertilizer (13-13-13) in a circle under the drip line of the tree in early spring. Apply 1/2 pound ammonium nitrate (33-0-0) under the drip line of the tree in early June.

Third year — Apply 4 pounds of a complete fertilizer (13-13-13) in a circle starting 2 feet from the base of the tree out to the edge of the drip line. Apply half of the fertilizer in early spring and the remaining half in August (late summer). If the trees indicate nitrogen deficiency (pale foliage, less than 10 inches of shoot growth) add 1/2 pound 33-0-0 to the August application.

Mature trees — Fertilize at the rate of 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of a complete fertilizer per year of age until trees are 8 to 10 years old. Then apply 8 to 10 pounds per year. Divide this fertization into 2 applications – early spring and late summer. If trees indicate nitrogen deficiency, add 1 pound of 33-0-0 to the late summer application. If soil tests indicate high levels of phosphorus, do not use a complete fertilizer. Instead, base fertilization on soil test recommendations.

Irrigation

Fruit trees respond well to irrigation during times of drought. Prolonged summer droughts reduce vegetative and fruit growth. If it is needed, irrigation during the early life of a fruit tree will speed the development of the tree structure and bring the tree into bearing up to 2 years earlier than nonirrigated trees. The fruit from a bearing tree that is irrigated during a prolonged summer drought will be larger than the fruit from a tree that is not irrigated. By mid- to late summer, the irrigated bearing tree will be in better condition to set fruit buds for the following year than the nonirrigated tree will be. In general, 1 inch of water per week should suffice. Drip or trickle irrigation is ideal because the slow rate of application allows the water to soak deeply into the soil. This encourages deep root growth that enables fruit trees to withstand better the stresses of hot, dry summer weather.

Pruning

The best time to prune fruit trees is late winter and early spring before bud break. Do not prune in October, November, December, or January.

Training the fruit tree is much easier if you start the process the year it is planted. The goal of pruning peach, nectarine, and plum trees is to create an open-centered, vase-shaped tree with the main scaffold branches covering all the area allotted for the tree. The mature tree will have branches forming the sides of the vase, and the interior of the tree will be open so that sunlight can contact all branches and twigs.

Figure 1. At planting, cut back the tree to 24 to 30 inches from the ground. Several branches will emerge from the remaining stem. Select 4 to 6 branches equally spaced around the trunk. At the end of the first season of growth, reduce the number of lateral branches to 3 or 4 equally distributed around the trunk. These will become the main scaffold branches of the tree.

Immediately after planting, while the tree is still dormant, cut back the tree to 24 to 30 inches above the ground. This will result in the emergence of several branches near the top of the remaining stem. Avoid scaffold branches that arise from the trunk higher than 30 inches from the ground, as they will make the tree top heavy. Remove all lateral branches to within ½ to 1 inch of the trunk.

After growth starts, remove all the new growth except four to six branches equally spaced around the trunk. Branches arising lower than 20 inches above the ground are less desirable than those higher on the stem. At the end of the first season of growth, reduce the number of lateral branches to 3 or 4 spaced about 6 inches apart vertically and equally distributed around the tree trunk (Figure 1). These will become the main scaffold branches of the tree. Choose branches of equal vigor. Sometimes weak branches will never catch up with more vigorous branches and will eventually be removed. It is very desirable to have the scaffold branches growing at a 45° angle from the trunk of the tree. A branch that is more upright, with a less than 45° angle, will be more vegetative than fruitful. If the branch grows at an angle more than 45° from the trunk, horizontal to the ground or lower, it will lack sufficient vigor to be a useful scaffold branch.

First year dormant pruning – To encourage branching, remove the terminal bud of the selected scaffold branches after the first growing season. The tree needs maximum foliage during the first through third growing seasons to establish the tree structure. Minimal pruning that leaves maximum foliage is desirable in the first and second dormant prunings. Prune to establish the vase shape.

Second and third years – In the dormant pruning after the second and third seasons of growth, continue to train the main scaffold branches so they grow at a 45° angle. Remove strong sprouts that are growing straight up. If the scaffold branches start growing too upright, prune them back to selected branches growing at the desired 45° angle. This is the time to build the framework of the tree for the future. The primary and secondary scaffold branches will support the foliage and fruit in future years. Arrange the scaffold branches so that sunlight can penetrate the tree canopy to maintain fruitwood from top to bottom of the canopy, rather than only at the top.

Mature tree pruning – After the primary scaffolds and main framework of the tree are established, the goal of annual dormant pruning is to maintain an optimum amount of fruiting wood distributed evenly throughout the tree canopy (Figure 2). The current year’s fruit buds of peach, nectarine, and plum are formed on the previous season’s growth and are visible by August. It is necessary to leave many of these new shoots during pruning so the tree will produce fruit. As the tree grows older, renew the fruiting wood by removing 2- to 3-year-old shoot growth and leaving new or 1-year-old growth. Prune to maintain the desired height.

Figure 2. Mature tree-pruning – After the primary scaffolds and main framework of the tree are established, the goal is to maintain an optimum amount of fruiting wood distributed evenly throughout the tree. Pruning should allow sunlight to penetrate the tree canopy to maintain fruitwood from top to bottom of the canopy.

Some people prefer to keep fruit trees short so that all pruning, thinning, and harvest can be done from the ground without a ladder. Taller trees can produce more fruit than shorter trees can, but they require more labor for spraying, pruning, thinning, and harvesting. To mature to optimum size, each peach fruit requires 35 to 45 leaves. Pruning away fruitwood is the first step in thinning the fruit load on a tree. Thinning the fruit load optimizes fruit size and keeps branches from being broken because of too much fruit weight. A healthy situation for a fruit tree is to have a full crop of fruit that the tree can support without help.

Remove any sprouts arising below the bud or graft union because they are from the rootstock and probably will not produce desirable fruit.

Fruit Thinning and Harvesting

Dormant pruning removes a large number of flower buds and partially thins fruit. Thin fruit from overloaded trees so they can produce fruit of adequate size and good quality. Thinning also helps prevent limb breakage.

Peach and plum fruit should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart on the fruiting branches. Early-ripening varieties need greater spacing and must be thinned before pit-hardening to produce large fruit. Later maturing varieties can be thinned at the pit-hardening stage without much loss in final fruit size.

Generally, fruit in the top of the tree canopy will grow larger than fruit in the bottom of the canopy, so fruit lower in the canopy should be spaced farther apart than those in the top. An advantage of homegrown fruit is that the best quality possible can be attained by allowing fruit to ripen on the tree. Most fruit for commercial use is picked 3 to 7 days before soft ripeness so it can withstand handling and shipping.

Peach ripeness is estimated by the disappearance of green and the development of yellow undercolor on the fruit. Harvest the fruit by hand with a slight twist of the wrist to loosen the fruit from its stem.

To keep bruising at a minimum, place picked fruit into shallow containers.

Pest Control

Generally, success of the orchard depends largely on the care and attention given the trees throughout their lifetimes. Maintain a rigid spray schedule for insect and disease control. The primary insect pests in Mississippi are the catfacing insects that result in misshapen fruit, worms that feed inside the fruit, borers that attack the tree trunk at the soil line, and several other insects and mites that attack the trees. Brown rot is a disease that commonly attacks ripening fruit.

General information about peach, nectarine, and plum pests can be found in MSU-ES Publication 568, Homeowner Peach & Plum Insect and Disease Control. Regulations for agricultural pesticides change frequently, so check chemical label directions before use.

Keep weeds and grass at least 4 feet away from the tree trunk. Weed competition will reduce growth of young orchard trees. Keeping weeds and grass away from the tree trunk will also reduce the risk of damage from lawnmowers and string trimmers.

How to Grow a Plum Tree from a Pit

  1. Place the pit in a bucket of water and see if it stays afloat or sinks. If it floats, the pit is no good and shouldn’t be planted. If it sinks, it should grow.
  2. Dry the pit thoroughly and put it in a zip-lock bag with some compost or peat moss.
  3. Place the bag in the refrigerator and maintain the pit’s temperature at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) for six to eight weeks.
  4. Check the pit frequently after about five weeks. When it cracks and sprouts, remove it from the refrigerator.
  5. Prepare the soil for planting by combining two parts soil with one part compost. Try to do this about a week before the pit is ready. If it hasn’t started sprouting by the fifth week, start preparing the soil then.
  6. Plant the pit 4-inches (101.6-millimeters) deep in the soil.
  7. Place a hardware cloth over the area until the sprout breaks through the surface. This will keep animals from digging up the pit
  8. Transplant the sapling after a year, if necessary, to the place where you want it to grow permanently. Spring is the best time for transplanting .

How to Grow Plum Trees From a Seed

Plums are a very wholesome and functional fruit. They can be eaten raw, canned, made into jams or jellies and are used in a number of flavorful desserts. Of the three varieties of plums (European, Japanese and damsons), the Japanese plums are the most common plums in America for eating raw. When growing a plum tree from seed, keep in mind you might want to consider it an ornamental tree, since plum trees grown from seed rarely produce fruit.

Preparing the Plum Seeds

Remove the plum pits from the fruit and place them into a wire basket or colander. Run cold water over the plum pits to remove any sticky residue. Set the plum pits out on paper towels and let them dry for one to two days.

Crack open each of the pits and remove the plum seeds. You can use a nutcracker, a vise, or a hammer. Use care when cracking open the plum pits so you won’t damage the plum seeds inside the pit.

Dampen down 2 cups of fine sand. The sand should be damp to the touch, but not drippy wet. Place the dampened sand into a large (2-quart) plastic, zipper top bag.

Place the plum seeds into the bag of damp sand. Zip the bag closed, then shake it gently to distribute the sand over the plum seeds.

Set the bag into a cold area, such as the back of a refrigerator where the temperature will remain consistently between 35 and 40 degrees Farenheit for three months. Check on the bag of plum seeds at least three times a week to make sure the sand is moist. Mist the sand with water as needed.

Remove the plastic bag from its cold storage after the alloted time and pot up the plum seeds into individual pots.

Planting the Plum Seeds

Pour sterilized potting mix into 1-gallon planting pots. Water each of the pots thoroughly until the soil is well dampened. Pack down the potting mix in each of the pots until it’s been well compressed.

Poke two holes in the center of each 1-gallon pot that are 2 inches deep.

Drop one plum seed into each of the holes and cover with 2 inches of potting mix.

Place each pot in a location which will provide light and some warmth. Ideally, there should be between eight and 10 hours of light made available daily and a temperature of between 55 and 70 degrees Farenheit.

Water often enough to keep the potting mix moist. Germination of plum seeds usually begins in approximately three to four weeks, depending on growing conditions. You can transplant each of the plum tree seedlings into their permanent location when they have grown to about 10 to 12 inches tall.

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