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The accidental harvest

by Timber Press on September 5, 2012

in Food, Gardening

Got harvest? Maybe too much of it? We’ve been asking some of our authors and around the office what’s to be done when you have too much. David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth inherited a fruit tree and a bumper crop of fruit. Here’s what they did:

We inherited a mystery when we bought our house in December. The trees in the yard were dormant of course. One smallish tree occupied a prominent place on top of a mound at the back of our property. We knew it was a plum tree but, what kind of plum? By spring we could tell from the foliage, it wasn’t an Italian prune, or a Japanese type such as ’Santa Rosa.’

Flowering plums usually have bright pink flowers and we figured, since these flowers were white, we were dealing with a fruiting plum tree.

Lovely flowers bloomed in spring, but the display wasn’t a knock- out. It had to be a fruiting plum and that meant we had to wait for the fruit to mature  to find out which cultivar we had.

Badly neglected and butchered in the past our tree was a jumble of overgrown water sprouts.

The poor tree was a mess. Tangled watersprouts three or four inches thick testified to bad pruning at some point in the past. Followed by no pruning at all for many years. We hoped to salvage the tree, which would require major surgery, and plenty of TLC for years to come.

In the meantime, as the fruit matured it showed signs of becoming a bumper crop. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, grape-sized, yellow and red plums looked very promising. To us and to all the crows and robins raising young in the neighborhood.

Tiny plums. Pretty….. and tasty too!

The little fruits turned yellow with a red blush as they ripened. Much to our surprise, they were delicious. Sweet and tart at the same time, with complex layers of plum flavor.

About the time the crows and robins started harvesting from the top of the tree we began to harvest small quantities from the branches that we could reach. But only a little bit. We planned a major harvest in a few days.

One day while we worked on our next book as we longed to be outside in the garden, we heard a crack, a swoosh, and finally, a thud. We rushed outside. Our plum tree had split in half. Part of it lay on the ground. The other half remained upright, swaying and creaking in the light breeze.

As we trimmed and cleared the brush and fallen trunk, we harvested every plum we found. Ripe or not. We got two eight-quart pots full of plums from our accidental harvest. The crows and robins gleaned the rest, scattered across the yard.

Inspecting our hapless survivor, we realized the trunk had split into four sections. The remaining three were all going to come down — on top of our neighbor’s deer fence perhaps. So we called a good friend with a chain-saw and he arrived like the cavalry to help us cut the whole tree down.

Split to the ground in several sections there was no way this tree could survive without endangering ourselves or our neighbors so it had to come down.

We had a large quantity of fruit to process quickly so we decided to make plum puree. We made up our own recipe and we think it’s delicious. The flavor is both sweet and tart with hints of apricot and raspberry.

Recipe: Add 1 1/2 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar to eight quarts of plums in a large pot and bring to a boil. Set it to simmer and stir occasionally. It will thicken as the water evaporates. When you judge it to be thick enough, pour the puree into a colander and mash the puree through to separate out the seeds. Discard the seeds. This puree doesn’t have enough sugar to preserve it so put it into containers and freeze it. It makes a delicious topping for Greek yogurt, and for the almost tasteless peaches we bought at the grocery store.

We’re also harvesting tons of vegetables from the garden right now and planning the inevitable stir fry. But this time we’ll be using our home-made teriyaki sauce sweetened with plum puree. Fabulous!

deardorff_dDavid Deardorff, botanist and expert plant pathologist, loves to write and lecture about how to grow healthier plants. As a research biologist David has lived and gardened in many environments, from the desert southwest to the maritime northwest to the tropics. David earned his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Washington. He coordinated plant pathology research at the University of Hawaii and served as faculty advisor to the Master Gardener Program at Washington State University. He has served as Research Director at Island Biotropix, an orchid nursery and tissue culture laboratory which he co-owned with partner and co-author Kathryn Wadsworth.

wadsworth_kKathryn Wadsworth, writer, photographer, and naturalist, enjoys sharing the wonders of the natural world with others. While leading eco-tours around the world she has studied plant life and explored natural history from Australia to Alaska. In graduate school Kathryn studied film-making and communications at the University of New Mexico, where she made documentary films on a wide variety of topics ranging from the California Gray Whale to the impact of mining on the Navajo Nation. She has owned and operated a film production company, an orchid nursery, and a tissue culture laboratory.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Susan in the Pink Hat September 5, 2012 at 7:50 am

Given the age of the plum and judging from the pictures of the fruit and your description, it was most likely a Potowatomi plum tree.

2 Brian Ridder September 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I think you may be right, Susan. Potawatomi plum trees are pretty rare but the fruit makes for good puree (and also sorbet, apparently). Thanks for the comment!

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