As most of you probably know by now, our garden here in France is the remains of a small orchard planted by farmers of the past. I’ve written before of the pleasures of picking fresh cherries in July and taking home with us a supply of apples for the winter, leaving behind the tiny cider apples which only the birds and wasps will enjoy. What I don’t think I’ve written about before is our plum tree.
It stands, or rather leans away from the prevailing westerly wind, in the corner of the garden next to the entrance from the road. It's small and old and only fruits erratically, but this year it has been laden with fruit which we know from past years is always wonderfully sweet and juicy. The fruit is light green, with a yellowish tinge when ripe, and has the most beautiful bloom.
Being the kind of gardener who knows by name only the most common varieties of fruit and flowers, I’ve always just called this our plum tree. To my deep pleasure I discovered a couple of weeks ago that it's actually a greengage, so this has memorably become my greengage summer.
There is something so old-fashioned, so evocative, about the name greengage. To an English woman like myself it conjures up images of old houses with walled gardens full of gnarled fruit trees, with boughs bent under the weight of fruit. It also makes me think of jams and jellies and pies and puddings, greengages having the reputation of being one of the very finest-flavoured plums.
Thanks to the recent warm weather, the fruit ripened early and all at once. With rain forecast for today, yesterday afternoon DH and I sprang into action. DH brought out his wonderful French fruit-picking ladder and climbed up into the branches, while I trotted back and forth to the kitchen with bags of fruit until he decided he couldn’t safely reach any more.
Now I had to decide what to do with over 20 pounds of fruit. First we had the ripest poached for supper, then I sat listening to my favourite French radio station while I stoned a bowlful for jam and left them to macerate overnight, as instructed by my favourite jam recipe.
|Plums to the left of me, plums to the right of me...|
With several pounds of delicious and delicately-coloured greengage jam to add to the stock of apricot I’ve already made this summer, I don’t think there’s any chance we will run out of jam in the foreseeable future. Now all I have to do is to stone and gently poach the rest and we will have fruit for dessert from now until it’s time to pack up and go home. Greengages, anyone…?