by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. I decided to walk to the Farmer’s Market yesterday; usually I ask Mister Joseph to drive me, the better to bring home the excessive armloads of produce I need to feel I have enough. But the weather, on the cusp between a summer exiting and a fall arriving, was perfect for something ambulatory and good for you.
Yes, it was a perfect day to be out and about…. and the way to the market hard by the Charles Hotel was packed with everyone and his brother, folks who had the same idea as I did: to prepare squirrel-like for the rigorous winter ahead… never mind that every morsel I purchased this day would be long gone before the first flake of snow hits the pavement. It’s the thought that counts, that there would be enough, that I would have enough, and that this winter there should be, for me and mine at least, an ample sufficiency.
It is most curious to me how this process works. One minute it is a hot, stiffling New England summer day… then, as if by magic, there is a whiff of the New England autumn ahead with its preview of gusts and dismay about the return of the winter that tests us all so sorely, the more so if Social Security is your metier. This touch of autumn is Nature’s wake-up call… and, unless you are clueless on such matters, you get the point and do the necessary. Thus I was walking to the Market with a friend who said, “I knew I should have worn my sweater.” He really didn’t need it… but Nature’s clues resonate more with some than others. Moreover since he is not of hardy stock, he needs a call more clarion than I do. And he got it.
“Done for the season, sir.”
Last week there were white peaches, blueberries and a few blackberries, too. I asked how long the fabulous whites, an exquisite liquor in a soft skin, would last. The young woman behind the counter, overly plump and too young to catch her breath as often as she does, was cavalier. “We’ll have them for another month at least.” But today, just a few days after her confident pronouncement, there were no whites to be had, no more to come, and so I was disgruntled. The only white peaches now were in my head with many a long day to pine for them and wish them sooner here….
But when God, they say, closes a door, He opens a window. And that was nothing but the truth this day… for there before me was a deep purpled fruit I had, in my lamentation for the whites, forgotten. But the fruit had not forgotten me. “Try the plums, sir. They’re oozing and ready to pop in your mouth. No waiting!” Thus the young woman, who any 18th century English novelist would have correctly described as a “saucy wench”, thereby in some measure regained the good opinion of Yours Truly… and so, by the merest touch, I confirmed her evaluation… eyes engaged for color… fingers to test for perfect readiness… only mouth yet to call into action… and that, once accomplished, lead to a dozen ready to take home and devour without ceremony.
And so with the plum I had regained my equanimity and good cheer. I knew exactly how Little Jack Horner must have felt when he, plumless one minute and chagrined, had by deft digital movement extracted a beauty from his Christmas pie. Plums have been coming to the rescue just like this for centuries and so boys like Jack “Sitting in the Chimney-corner” know that a single plum at just the right moment can make a world of difference and that old grannies should be reminded of this whenever the world is too much with us, late and soon.
Facts about plums.
A plum or gage is a stone fruit tree in the genus Prunus. It is a diverse group of species including peaches, cherries and bird cherries, amongst others. Prunus is distinguished from its relations because its shoots have a terminal bud and solitary side buds (not clustered), with flowers in groups of one to five together on short stems, and the fruit having a groove running down one side and a smooth stone (or pit.)
Mature plum fruit may have a dusty-white coating that gives them a glaucous appearance; this is easily rubbed off. This is an epicuticular wax coating and is known as “wax bloom”. Dried plum fruits are called dried plums or prunes, although prunes are a distinct type of plum and may have antedated the fruits now commonly known as plums… but universally regarded as the best.
Plum: the best part of anything.
You have only to eat a plum to understand why they are regarded as “good”. But you need to know something of its long history and association with mankind to understand why the very word itself has passed into our language meaning “the best part of anything,” for to call a thing “plum” is to call it the very best it can be. The question is, how to put this “bestness” to work for our greatest pleasures.
Uses for plums.
Plum fruit tastes sweet and/or tart. The skin, for instance, may be particularly tart. It is juicy and can be eaten fresh or used in jam-making. Plum juice can be fermented into plum wine; when distilled this produces a brandy known in Eastern Europe as Rakia. In the English Midlands, a cider-like alcoholic beverage known as plum jerkum is prized.
In considering how plums are used you must remember that refrigeration is a very recent development in human history. One feature very much in the plums favor is that it dries well and keeps its flavor. Dried plums (called prunes) are sweet, juicy, and contain several antioxidants. They’re widely known for their laxative effect, particularly with elderly people suffering from constipation. How to handle this aspect of what the prune can do has produced sharp disagreement among plums, all of whom have an opinion on the matter.
On the one hand, plums are glad to be helpful, especially to old folks who have eaten plums and been loyal to them for a lifetime. On the other hand, plums wish to develop their reputation for being a celebrity fruit, edgy, cool, the favorite of trend-setters and calorie conscious fashionistas. This split, so distressing to plum lovers everywhere, after many acrimonious years now seems on the road to reconciliation thanks to recent developments in a thing which initially wasn’t a plum at all… sugar plums.
“Visions of sugar plums danced in their heads”.
A sugar plum is a piece of drage’e candy that is made of dried fruits and shaped in a small round or oval shape. But “plums” here mean any dried fruit, such as dried figs, dried apricots, dried dates, dried cherries, etc. The dried fruit is chopped fine and combined with chopped almonds, honey and aromatic spices, such as anise seed, fennel seed, cardamom etc.; then rolled into balls, to be coated in sugar or shredded coconut, thence to go into expectant mouths and such gems of our culture as ” ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (1822) ; Eugene Field’s poem “The Sugar Plum Tree” (from “Poems of Childhood”, 1904) and, of course, Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece “The Nutcracker” (1892) where the Sugar Plum fairies and their brilliant theme still enchant despite being egregiously overplayed every Christmas. (Even some plums concur). As for the plums, every time they hear it, they get angry… for their name and flavorful renown have been usurped to sell… apricots! And cherries! And that will never do.
Check your sugar plums… make sure there are plums there. Accept no substitutions.
Since launching this campaign, plum sales have soared… and plums, gathering to extol themselves upon this success, have forwarded any number of additional ideas to keep the ball rolling. The best is to rework Jack Horner’s presentation. Abercrombie and Fitch has been approached for one of their comely lads to hold a strategically placed plum… and nothing more. Kinky.
The Plum Book.
No story on the plums and their great reputation would be complete without a reference to what automatically becomes the most popular book in Washington, D.C. the minute the television networks project the next President. Its actual name is “United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions”; it is, however, universally called “The Plum Book.” It contains over 9,000 civil service leadership and support positions (filled and vacant) in the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal Government that may be subject to noncompetitive appointments, in other words political appointments.
Are you of an upwardly mobile and competitive disposition? Then imagine this: whilst scanning The Plum Book for something geared to your genius, you nibble an authentic sugar plum whilst listening to the great melodies of the sugar plum fairies. If you’re a plum lover it gets no better than this… go to any search engine now and, with Tchaikovsky’s help and an appointment from the president turn today into Christmas, the plum itself in all its manifestations the best present of all.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today at http://www.Worldprofit.com