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Plum trees


by Lila Das Gupta

... the flavour and variety [of British plums] is superior to any from abroad, they freeze well, they're incredibly versatile and our consumption of them helps to support UK farmers.


Last year I was watching the gorgeous Valentine Warner on What to Eat Now, extolling the virtues of the British plum. Off he went to Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection, to compete with the wasps and gorge himself on soft, ripe plums. Later he returned triumphant to cook a crumble. "Hot autumn magma" he said smoulderingly, as he took it out of the oven.

Being a suggestible sort of person, I rushed to the supermarket the very next day to get myself some British plums. You can imagine how crestfallen I felt when all I could find were those disappointing, large, round Santa Rosa plums from California. Not a Victoria plum in sight, my hope of autumn magma was crushed.

This year I'm faring no better. Supermarkets are full of Angelino plums from Italy. The only British plums I've tasted this season are from my neighbour on the allotment.

It's all rather depressing really. The majority of consumers are either too busy or too indifferent to write to supermarkets demanding that they stock British plums. Yet their flavour and variety is superior to any from abroad, they freeze well, they're incredibly versatile and our consumption of them helps to support UK farmers.

So, I am mounting a pincer attack. As well as writing a letter, I've also ordered a plum tree for the allotment. It would have been lovely to go to Brogdale to eat my way through some of the 350 varieties they keep there, but instead I took the advice of fruit tree expert Paul Jasper.

Some allotments don't allow trees at all, but our committee permits dwarfing rootstock and asks that we plant trees in the centre of the plot so that we don't shade or deplete the soil for someone else. The dwarf rootstock for plums is known as 'Pixy', but if you're planting in a back garden then 'St. Julien A' is the best option since increased vigour means fewer problems with disease later on. Paul's own personal recommendations are 'Marjorie's Seedling' and 'Czar'. "Both can be used first for cooking then dessert as they become sweeter", he says.

"If I had to choose just two types on 'Pixy' it would probably be good old 'Victoria' (still the best flavour) and 'Marjorie's Seedling', which would follow it in cropping and is also prolific, so any excess could be cooked or bottled for later."

Unlike apples, plum trees are mostly self-fertile, but if you live in the North of England or are in an area prone to late frosts, then you may wish to plant the later flowering varieties.

"'Marjorie's Seedling' and 'Czar' are particularly good for frost resistance. 'Marjorie's' comes after 'Victoria' and is much less troublesome. Its toughish skin seems to deter plum sawfly, so it's good for people growing organically" adds Paul.

Just to whet your appetite, here's my own version of plum crumble:

FOR THE FILLING:

10-15 plums, halved

1 tablespoon of water

1 tablespoon of sugar

Cinnamon

Mixed spice

1 thumb-length of fresh ginger

Preheat oven to 180°C . Cook the plums over a low heat with the water and sugar. When almost cooked, turn off the heat, allow to cool a little, de-stone and place in an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle with two or three shakes each of the cinnamon and mixed spice. Coarsely grate the ginger over the plums, (grating lengthways along the grain to avoid hairy bits).

FOR THE CRUMBLE:

170g (6 oz) wholemeal flour

85-110g (3-4 oz) butter

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons rolled oats

2-3 tablespoons brown sugar (depending on taste)

Cinnamon

Mixed spice (a few shakes if desired)

Rub the fat into the flour then mix in the oats, sugar, salt and spices. Put over the crumble and bake for 25-30 minutes. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.



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Talkback: Plum trees
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Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2009 at 17:06

Agree about California plums but I think that the Victoria is over-rated. You can do anything with it, cooking, eating, preserving, plum brandy, but it has a rather bland flavour. Agree that Czar is darn near the perfect all round plum. But if you have enough room then growing that sweetest of plums, the Greengage or Goldengage and that most interesting of jamming and cooking plums, the damson (makes great liqueur too), is well worth it. Thanks for a thought provoking blog.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2009 at 17:20

I so agree! Living in Kent I am infuriated when I cannot find English fruit to buy, and not just in supermarkets. I made the other half's life a misery when he came home with apples from New Zealand! And he didn't even get it. We are fools to accept foreign fruit. The Italians wouldn't.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2009 at 18:16

I live in Santa Cruz, California and am English and although I miss English plums I do enjoy my Santa Rosa plums from my tree in the garden. It is a prolific fruiter but I think it really needs the hot sun and no rain! to make it taste so delicious. I make lots of plum chutney, a big family favourite. I have not tried the greengage here but am contemplating it, although I do think we should be growing fruits and vegetables that are suited to the areas in which we live for best results.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2009 at 19:14

I've been meaning to plant a couple of plums or gages since my very old plum tree died a few years ago. I've been trying to decide which varieties to choose and I think I will now go with the two plums mentioned here. Thanks.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2009 at 20:19

I took on an allotment plot about 7 years ago which has several greengage trees and a Ponds Seedling plum tree. The greengages are wonderful, great to eat on their own or to use for jams, pies etc. The Ponds is an excellent cropper (over 70lbs this year) of large tasty deep red skinned/yellow body fruit which make really tasty jam and anything else you want to cook. Along with some golden plums I have on another 1/2 plot(unknown variety, supposedly unique to our site), I've cropped over 200 lbs this year. Plums are easy to grow but you have to watch out for the plum moth which seems to prefer some varieties (larva in the fruit). Pheramone traps are the way to attract the moths before they lay their eggs in the developing fruit.

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