- Botanically speaking, plum trees belong to the genus Prunus in the family Rosaceae. The common European plum is said to originate from around the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea.
- Some trees are self-fertile or partially so and are therefore less reliant than apple trees on flying insects to help pollinate the crop.
- Common varieties on the Market include those pictured below. Jubileum is a modern variety known for its large size. Greengages are known as Reine de Claude in France.
Growing and harvesting
For growers, a key issue is size - larger plums will fetch more money. (In contrast, there is a demand for smaller apple sizes in recent years).
"If there is a glut of plums you can’t give the darn things away; if they are large you make a fortune," says top grower Mark Eastwood, a third-generation farmer whose farm in Kent covers 40 hectares - with 1.5 hectares dedicated to plums.
He grows three main varieties: early Opal; mid Victoria; and the late Marjorie's Seedling. The picture below shows Victoria plums ripening on the tree in early August.
Plum trees require vigorous thinning as the trees are prone to biannual cropping - i.e. cropping heavily in one year and then cropping little in the other. His team pick over the tree around three times to harvest the fruit at their peak.
Eastwood also grows apples too, with output around 800 tonnes of apples and 30 tonnes of plums each year.
Competition comes from much cheaper Spanish imports but he is scathing about their quality.
"They tend to grow these varieties which look nice but don’t taste of much and sit in your fruit bowl for ages. We are commanding three times the price ... It could be the crop is short and people want to buy more English produce – that's a different trend. The flavour of English plums is better as they take longer to mature."
In the market
Obviously, plums tend to end up in sweet dishes such as clafoutis, frangipane and other patisserie. Compotes, sauces and jams are other classics.
But savoury suggestions include dishes such as below, starting with a sea trout tartare with chilli, plum, fennel and herb oil from chef Omri McNabb at the amazing Palomar in the West End.
Here's one from chef Steve Groves from Roux at Parliament Square - venison, celeriac, preserved plum and hazelnut.