Monday, July 19, 2010

Ripe Plums

Twenty years ago I snagged a few plum seedlings from the old homeplace, which was on its way to becoming one vast row of metal storage units. Since then, I've watched the trees grow here on the mountain, but they've never borne fruit. I cast a doubtful eye at the scraggly trees a few months ago and put their extinction on my TO-DO list.

Fresh, organic and sugar-free

My TO-DO list being what it is, the plum trees were assured at least one more summer.

Well, guess what!

They made plums this year. They made so many plums the trees are bent over with the weight of the crop.

The fruit is deep ruby red and ambrosial.

This weekend, I had gathered some soggy plums and also had a gift of fresh-picked wild blackberries, though not quite enough for a pie (my pre-eminent touchstone of summer – fresh blackberry pie).

So, to save these treasures I turned them into preserves.

The whole time - as I preened the blackberries and pulverized the plums, boiled jars in a big pot and lids in a little one, stirred the madly boiling fruit mixture, then filled the jars – I thought there must be a hundred fine poems that speak to this process.

Summer. Fruit. Hot water. Jars. Transformation!

One of my favorite short stories considers fruit preserves. Olive Tilford Dargan’s story “Serena and Wild Strawberries" is in her under-appreciated book, From My Highest Hill (set in early-20th-century Swain County).

There was a time I would have said nothing could surpass William Bartram’s account in the category of "Wild Strawberries in the Smokies Stories."

That was before I read “Serena and Wild Strawberries.”

The story (an early version, at least) is online at Google Books:

But back to the poems. I know they’re out there, musing on the moments captured in jars.

Didn’t Robert Frost write something in that vein?

I’ll find them, but I do remember one poem, by Ted Kooser, that goes…


I liked how the starry blue lid
of that saucepan lifted and puffed,
then settled back on a thin
hotpad of steam, and the way
her kitchen filled with the warm
wet breath of apples, as if all
the apples were talking at once,
as if they'd come cold and sour
from chores in the orchard,
and were trying to shoulder in
close to the fire. She was too busy
to put in her two cent's worth
talking to apples. Squeezing
her dentures with wrinkly lips,
she had to jingle and stack
the bright brass coins of the lids
and thoughtfully count out
the red rubber rings, then hold
each jar, to see if it was clean,
to a window that looked out
through her back yard into Iowa.
And with every third or fourth jar
she wiped steam from her glasses,
using the hem of her apron,
printed with tiny red sailboats
that dipped along with leaf-green
banners snapping, under puffs
of pale applesauce clouds
scented with cinnamon and cloves,
the only boats under sail
for at least two thousand miles

~ Ted Kooser


Anonymous said...

Interesting on the plums. Do you know what their pollinators are? How long were they dormant and had they flowered since you had replanted them?

GULAHIYI said...

Good point about the pollinators. Maybe I'll set out a different plum nearby to help in that regard. The other plums I had were far away from these. They have flowered in past years...but I don't know about their dormancy.

Anonymous said...

Plums are like cherries (same family), they need a solid eight weeks of dormancy in the winter so maybe the cold last winter actually helped them fruit this year. UGa has a good website on fruit trees - more technical stuff than I can understand but some good information nonetheless.

GULAHIYI said...

OK, I see know. I had not considered dormancy as a factor for plums. That must be similar to the chilling hour requirements for different peach varieties. The plums seemed to bear regularly in the Piedmont (and plums come true from see, I think?) Perhaps, here they tend to break dormancy BEFORE the last killing cold, until this year.

I should learn more about growing plums (and will check the UGa site). Most of the old farms I knew of when I was growing up had at least a couple of plum trees - various kinds.

Anonymous said...

April says that the plum tree in the pasture across from her house has bloomed several times over the years but never fruited. This year it nearly fell over from the crop.
The fruit comes from little buttons inside the flower and I know that some years they just drop off - so maybe the cold set was long enough and at the right time last year to prod the crop.

GULAHIYI said...

Thanks for letting me know that. It's very curious to find two such similar cases. These subtle nuances from year to year are pretty entertaining to follow.