June 14, 2016
What is in the VEGGIE BOX?
Red Onions, Apricots, Lavender, Summer Squash, Beets, Parsley, and Potatoes
What is in the FRUIT BOX? Apricots, Figs, & Plums
This Week on the Farm
A couple of days ago, I was up on the ladder in the Santa Rosa Plum trees picking for an order for the Sacramento Food Coop. This year is the first real harvest of the Santa Rosa Plums for us. Not that they haven’t borne beautiful fruit before this, but they come at the same time as the Royal Blenheim apricot, and so they can get treated like a lonely stepchild. But this year the crop was so beautiful and the taste so good that I finally got the message. A few are available at the coop in Sacramento, and some will be coming to you today in the fruit bags.
Now this is a plum. I have never been fond of plums, the skin often being tart almost to the point of bitter, and the flesh needing full ripeness to gain the soft sweetness and rich flavor of tree ripened fruit. But the first taste of the Santa Rosa plum this year changed my mind. We had been eating, picking and packing our black, firm early plum that I grafted from a tree that grew in my Dad’s backyard in Modesto. He had always told me that it was an ok plum, but he had gotten it from a coworker at the Modesto field office of Del Monte, and felt obliged to plant it. I felt a special attachment to it because of it being from my Dad and that’s how you get it. But truth be known, it is a commercial quality plum that is perfect for shipping and handling and is real eye-candy. But flavor and sweetness? Well, let’s just say it will always hold a place in my heart for its story and association with my Dad and his career at Del Monte, and if I ever need to ship a plum to Safeway, I’ve got it waiting. So don’t judge this week’s plum in your fruit bag from the plums of the last few weeks. For those of you who like a firmer and tarter plum, I picked the earlier plum as ripe and carefully as possible to take full advantage of its ability to hold up while fully ripe, but the Santa Rosa plum is another story altogether.
As I was picking in that tree, my mind kept active while in the background, over and over, I made all the decisions that go into quickly and efficiently picking the ripest fruity, dropping the occasional bird pecked on undeveloped fruit and leaving the rest for tomorrow. In the foreground, I mentally considered heirloom fruit in general and this Santa Rosa plum in particular. We grow a lot of heirloom fruits, not to say that all is, but several fruits that have been acknowledged as significant older varieties are found here on the farm. How we got each one is a story of its own, but many are from friends or relatives who have a tree they are excited about. Significant are the Royal Blenheim Apricot, Suncrest Peach, Satsuma Plum, and now the Santa Rosa Plum.
The Santa Rosa Plum was first bred here in California in; you guessed it, Santa Rosa. From now on, anytime you see the name Santa Rosa or Burbank associated with a fruit or vegetable, just figure it was developed by Luther Burbank, “The Wizard of Santa Rosa” His work was done right after the turn of the last century at a time when I like to think, maybe, the desirable qualities for fruit were somewhat different than they are today. But whatever they were, given his talent and the markets of the day, Luther Burbank came up with a plum for the ages, one that we still use as a standard for plum flavor. I wish you could have been there, just to smell the aroma coming from the just picked boxes dark, dark plums. It was a surprise to me, the smells of the Royal Blenheim and the Suncrest are more subtle. It isn’t often these days that smell of a box of fruit stops you in your tracks, in a good way. Contrast this to the fruit on the shelves commercially, and it is obvious how far away we have come from the qualities of the past century.
The Santa Rosa is a tough fruit to pick. It tends to drop at full ripeness, last night a strong wind littered the ground with ripe plums. It is soft, and at the full juicy ripeness, they are too soft to ship far. In a world where every fruit not packed considered a loss, in a world where long distance shipping is a must, the Santa Rosa Plum, the Suncrest Peach, the Royal Blenheim Apricot have no place. But as I pick from the trees bearing those fruits, a part of the bounty of which is often sacrificed to organic methods, an overworked, diversified farm and farmer, and the whims of nature. But when the world was full of small diversified family farms, these were the fruits of choice, because their taste, their aroma, all their qualities were suited for the discerning local households that those farms served. It made me realize what a mistake it would be for me to take these heirloom varieties and attempt to market them widely as a throwback to a different time while using the highly structured production systems suited to the mass growing and distribution of a fruit bred for an entirely different purpose. It was a moment of wonder in the top of a plum tree, thinking that these gifts from the past are a perfect complement to a small diversified family farm and the community it serves. The community of locals friends, neighbors and discerning people who get 50-60 percent of the fruit, the birds and insects and funguses that get 20-25 percent, and the soil bank of fertility that gets the rest, are all recipients of the efforts of a world that included a different set of values, including valuing its place within, not separated from the world around it. What a pleasure to be gifted these thoughts in the top of a Santa Rosa Plum tree. ~Jeff