We don’t often get many greengage plums. Our tree is small, and it sits in a windy location, so many fruits blow down before they are anywhere close to ripe. This year wasn’t too bad–we harvested about three kilos of fruit. Plenty to enjoy.
One of my favourite things to do with summer stone fruits is to make upside down cake. Indeed, I’ve blogged about it three times in the past two years. So today I’ll ignore the cake, and mention the plum, instead.
I didn’t know a lot about greengages before coming to New Zealand, where I found a fair number of people had them growing in their yards.
Greengages are named after Sir William Gage, who imported them to England from France in 1724. The cultivar he imported had another name, but apparently the tag was lost in transit (These were the days before anyone considered biosecurity…Importing a strange plant? Whatever). They were popular in America in the 1700s, but fell out of favour in the 1800s.
According to a 2004 article in the New York Times, there’s good reason greengages fell out of favour. The trees take longer to mature than other plums, they fruit erratically (I thought it was just our tree), the ripe fruit is fragile, and they’re prone to cracking and rotting on the tree. Not exactly an easy plum for commercial production.
But the greengage is considered one of the finest plums for flavour. Grown commercially, it fetches a high price. According to the New York Times article, in 2004 fewer than 100 greengage trees were harvested commercially in the United States. They are more common in Europe and New Zealand. New Zealand exports a small quantity of greengages to the US each year, where they are sold in specialty markets.
So I feel much better about my 3 kilo harvest of greengages. They are wonderful, and if they’re a bit finicky to grow? Well, that just makes them all the more special when we have a good year.