Vegetable and fruit varieties each have their own character, a special taste or look that makes eating simply and seasonally so much more interesting. I imagine them all as a family from a Wes Anderson movie.
Take Thanksgiving at the Romaine family household. There are Speckles and Freckles, the 5-year-old twins who are always feeding the dog under the table. Their cousin Defender runs around in his superhero costume pretending his dinner role is a UFO. This upsets the refined manners of Aunt Parris Island who tells quirky Uncle Outredgeous to stop encouraging little Defender with his whoopee cushion antics. Everyone remembers the year when Uncle Braveheart announced his engagement to Aunt Nancy, a Butter Lettuce. It was quite controversial. Grandma Rouge D’Hiver cried silently for days, but Grandpa Flashy Trout Back calmed her down and once darling cousin Little Gem was born all feelings of doubt and worry disappeared.
This proliferation of unique varieties holds true for fruit as well. In our orchards, we have Apples like Muscadet de Dieppo, Granny Smith, Michelin, Braeburn, Red Gravenstein, Gala, Pink Pearl, Pink Lady, Fameuse, Fuji, Arkansas Black, Red Astrachan, Sierra Beauty, and Cox Orange Pippin. We have plums like Satsuma, Elephant Heart, Seneca, Santa Rosa, Italian Prune, and Golden Drop. Add to that a couple fig varieties, a couple cherry varieties, apricots, peaches, pears, Asian pears, persimmons, nectarines, and citrus….
Each variety ripens at a slightly different time, meaning we have fresh fruit nearly year round. This delightful diversity, however, makes preserving a little more complicated because we don’t often have a lot of any one thing. And by a lot, I don’t mean tons, I mean hundreds of pounds. Our “a lot” is other people’s “a little.” For some fruits, like apples, we can store the early season varieties and pick for another month before making the Apple & Lavender Jelly. For other fruits, like the plums, that doesn’t work so well.
This year we made two batches of our Plum & Anise Preserves. The first batch was made with Santa Rosa plums and the second used Elephant Heart plums. Both of these plum varieties were developed by Luther Burbank right here in Sonoma County and both make a delicious and distinguishable preserve. Santa Rosa plums are very tart, with a complexity of flavor that rivals all other plums. According to the Los Angeles Times, in the 1960s, the Santa Rosa accounted for more than a third of California's plum harvest. In 2011 that number sadly dropped to 1-2%. I am on a personal mission to spur more demand for this fruit because, in the words of one Los Angeles Times reporter, “after you bite into a rich, tangy Santa Rosa, almost anything else tastes insipid.”
Almost anything, except Elephant Heart plums which are brighter in color and flavor. With ruby red flesh, they have also been called Blood Plums, while their large size is cause for the Elephant Heart name. Less acidic than Santa Rosa’s, this plum has a sweet strawberry and vanilla taste.
Our Plum & Anise Preservesare great in a turkey sandwich or rollup and make one delicious Panini when paired with a triple crème cheese, like Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam. Come by the ferry building to try some or order some online. I’m excited for you to try both batches and give us feedback. But I do hope it doesn’t cause any deep rivalries for the Plum family. You know how sensitive they can be….