Well, that jar of Baby Crawford peach jam from Andy’s Orchard disappeared in a hurry, and we had such a good time with it that we decided to bust out another of our California souvenirs. This time, however, we didn’t open up one of our can-as-you-go specials (although we do have a couple of those kicking around), we opted instead for one of the beauties Michelle bought directly from June Taylor last August, the day she got her personal workshop: Greengage plum.
We were familiar with the lore that surrounds Greengages, but neither of us had actually ever tried one until we visited Andy’s. Greengage season was effectively over by the time we got our tour of Andy’s Orchard, but Mr. Marinari managed to rustle up a few specimens for us nonetheless, even if they were past their prime in his eyes. Like everything else we had at Andy’s, they were outrageously good, so much better than Andy’s disclaimers would have led you to believe, and easily among the very best plums we’ve ever had. Obviously, this had a lot to do with Andy’s Orchard and the way they were cultivated, but it also had a lot to do with the variety itself, whose perfectly rounded honey-sweetness is the stuff of legends.
Alan Davidson notes that the Greengage originated in Armenia, by most accounts, but that the variety had reached France by the time of the reign of François I, where it was received very warmly indeed and was soon named after François’ wife, “Reine Claude,” the name by which the variety is still known to this day in that part of the world. By the early 18th century the variety had been introduced to England, where it also took hold, and where it became known as the Greengage (or Green Gage) because of its color and because of Sir Thomas Gage, who was one of the earliest horticulturists to develop the variety on English soil, having purchased a number of fruit trees from the monks of Chartreuse, one of which turned out to be a Reine Claude plum tree. Our favorite fruit book of the moment, The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America by A.J. Dowling (1845), lists numerous other varieties of plum bearing the name “Gage,” including Autumn Gage, Bleecker’s Gage, Hudson Gage, Imperial Gage, and Yellow Gage, but the Greengage is the one that predated all the rest and the one that has largely outlasted the rest, and in both cases the reason has to do with its famous taste. Dowling goes so far as to write, “The Green Gage is universally admitted to hold the first rank in flavour among all plums, and is every where highly esteemed… It is pronounced… the best plum in England, and we must admit that we have no superiour to it here [in New York],” and he describes its fruit as “exceedingly melting and juicy” with a “flavour, at once, sprightly and very luscious.” We couldn’t agree more. Davidson, for his part, has the following somewhat contradictory comments to make: “Greengages, being the finest of dessert plums, should be enjoyed in their natural state. They also make the most luxurious of plum jams.” We were lucky enough to have had them both ways, but opening a jar of Greengage plum butter in February (on a –20 C night, no less) was like a godsend.
So much so, that we decided to celebrate their unveiling.
1. We brewed ourselves a pot of tea to accompany our reading material.
2. We put the finishing touches on a loaf of rye bread [recipe soon to follow], then baked it in the oven.
3. And, finally, we slathered butter and generous amounts of the Greengage plum butter on our still-warm slices of bread.
No question about it. This was the best dessert I’ve had in weeks (sounds crazy, I know, but you're going to have to trust me on this one). I remember June Taylor telling us about how she often feels stumped when asked for recommendations on how to use her wonderful line of jams and butters. Look no further, June.