The plum like no other
July 14, 2012 § 2 Comments
By DIANA ARSHAM
It all started in the winter of 2010 with a conversation about childhood memories. Mine: While alone in the garden of my great aunties’ midwestern farm, I walked into a vibrant pink, flowering peony — just my height as a five year old. More than likely, I had been drawn to its iridescent glow in the warmth of the midafternoon sun and by the intoxicating scent of its fully flowering ripeness.
Thomas shared his memory of walking out his front door across a small dirt road lined with Methley plum trees — “a plum like no other,” or at least that’s how he had so fondly remembered it. He recounted how, after moving to California, he had searched for Methley plums and inquired at farmers markets. He learned that local growers had not heard of, let alone grown, the plum like no other.
The conversation piqued my interest as a newly ardent urban farmer cutting back 10-foot camellia bushes to favor new plantings of fruit trees. I knew I wanted to plant plums, having struck out on figs, a favorite of mine.
Plums are popular in San Francisco, particularly the Santa Rosa. I was also determined to grow another favorite of mine, the Green Gage plum, and I had recently been told about the local prize of them all, the Beauty, a Japanese plum more red than the purple European variety. They all need about 200 chill hours to bloom and bear fruit. In our mild winters, that’s usually our maximum chill time. Other fruits need 800 to 1,000 chill hours, so we are talking about a special breed.
By January 2011, Thomas — via the miracle of the Internet — had located a source for the Methley. And as luck would have it, the Methley did have a chill requirement of 200 hours. It was meant to be!
Thomas delivered the Methley to our front porch. Bare root, dry and somewhat bedraggled, it had been on a long trip and needed rest and probably intensive care. As I prepared a soothing compost-enhanced soak for the evening, I told the tree we were both on the line.
I planted the Methley in the ground where it gets the early sun rays in the first part of spring, next to a stand of five-foot Shasta daisies (named for Mt. Shasta and hybridized by Luther Burbank). The Methley bloomed its first spring and I dutifully removed all of the blossoms, encouraging it to continue strengthening its root system, branches and trunk.
This year it was initially full of blossoms, but due to a very late series of rain showers, the Methley set only six plums, and only five made it to turn red.
“Not the right color,” Thomas declared. “It’s not ripe.” Or maybe not the right species, or inadequate growing environment, I feared. Full of performance anxiety, I wondered how I was going to keep it safe for the next couple of weeks while it ripened. By now it was through raining and I headed off the insect droves by applications of Safer soap. But could the Shasta daisy grove send out a strongly competing scent to confuse the predators in the form of birds, raccoons and rats? Just to play it safe, I squirted “Critter Ridder” on the Japanese boxwood on the north side of the bed. And said a prayer.
By the first week of July, continuing to read up on the care and feeding habits of the Methley, I decided to harvest the plums. Early one morning I sat straight up in bed, knowing it was time to gather them. Sure enough, pots had been knocked over on the fence so very close to the plum trees.
Yes! A dark purple! Gary and I tasted one. It was a very different, grape-like, dense texture — jammy, almost. It was delicious, but was it too ripe? How are they supposed to taste?
Later that day, I stopped by Thomas’s gallery to give him half of the tiny harvest. I was ready to tell him my list of triumphs in getting the Methley to harvest, yet prepared to have him sink in despair. It couldn’t possibly be as good as his childhood memory.
Before I could finish telling him of my trials and successes, his hand dove into the basket. A second after he popped the first one into his mouth, he exclaimed: “That’s it — the plum like no other!”