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The last plum

"The season for plums is short and precious. The plum like the fig is a fruit on which to gorge. But unlike figs they are relatively cheap, probably because the shops need to get them sold." Nigel Slater

Today I ate our last plum - a real plum from the shops not the wild plums of pre-Christmas that are turned into jam that my family all clamour for throughout the year.

It was not a perfect plum. It had been in the fridge for a while and it was past its best and moreover it was just a supermarket plum, not a super organic, farmer's market, lovingly raised and plucked by hand. plum. Just an ordinary plum. But nevertheless just lovely. Particularly when it's a fasting day and you aren't going to be eating much more.

You may be able to still buy plums somewhere, but at great cost and they will definitely not be at their best. They are best when bountifully in season, and we regularly buy them then. They are a fruit that is still very seasonal. Their season, as Nigel Slater says, is relatively short. I don't think anyone has worked out how to grow them indoors somewhere yet.

Of course you can cook many wonderful things with plums, and indeed I have, but really I think it is a fruit best eaten as is and probably from the fridge, like cherries, and unlike gooseberries or rhubarb. Or as the aforesaid jam, although I think the sourness of my barely ripe wild plums makes better jam than perfect plums from the market or the supermarket. Perfect plums demand to just be eaten.

"A perfect plum, its flesh deepest gold, its juices honey-sweet and quick to escape, is a thoroughly good thing" Nigel Slater

So it was a sad pleasure to eat this last plum and with it's loss realise that winter is almost upon us - next week in fact. Summer and autumn gone, although simultaneously on their way back. The autumn leaves have almost all fallen, and the red ones have turned from orange to yellow, with some becoming brittle and brown.

I wasn't quite sure what I was actually going to write about other than the above, but before I leave plums as a food, I will just remark that Jane Grigson in her Fruit Book gave me the impression that she really doesn't like plums. Well the plums that are sold to us all - and she mentions Victorias -

"the apotheosis of a long reign is a flood of bland, boring plums ... Victorias are canning. Victorias are for plums and custard, that crowning moment of the school, hospital, prison and boarding house midday meal: I reflect that Mr. Bird invented his powder round about the time that Victoria plums were beginning their career. Indeed, Mr. Bird could be seen as the discreet love, the husband's best friend, the front man, in a Pooteresque ménage à trois."

Which makes one rather ashamed of liking them. There are indeed better ones - those very dark-skinned ones are perhaps my favourite, but the ones that at least look like Victoria's are pretty nice too. No, Jane Grigson is a fan of the greengage, which she describes as:

"golden plums of a beauty that holds your eye and a subtle charming flavour that has managed to survive the exigencies of transport.''

We don't seem to be offered those here, although one of my wild plum trees offers golden fruit. Are they greengages I wonder?

I guess it's ultimately just a matter of taste.

Anyway before I began I was looking for some suitable quotation when I came across something completely different which was yet another demonstration of the strange, weird and wonderful things happening in language and social media these days. An almost alien world to me I have to say. It all springs from this poem, by William Carlos Williams and apparently very, very well known to all Americans, and perhaps less so to the rest of us:

This is just to say

I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox

and which you were probably saving for breakfast

Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold

Almost not a poem you might say. But sort of - well nice. So I decided to feature it. And oh what a world of cultural invention that brought to my eyes.

Initially the poem which is taught in high school in America and often suggested as an example of how to write poetry began a whole lot of parodies in songs, and so on. 'This is just to say' became one of those phrases that catch on in all sorts of different ways - what is now called a 'meme'. What is a meme?

"an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations." Oxford Languages

Then I found this rather wonderful article by Aja Romano on the website Vox - This is just to say we have explained the plum jokes in your Twitter feed. It seems that the plums, the icebox and 'this is just to say' have now combined with Ernest Hemingway's equally famous six word novel "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." From which came the meme 'baby shoes'. The article was written back in 2017 so I have no idea whether it is current or not and whether people are still playing on them.

If you are at all interested in words and language do give the article a go. In a way it's a supreme example of how you could write a thesis on just about any tiny little unimportant thing. It's mildly amusing, mildly serious and thought provoking about how language is plundered and used, mildly uplifting at the sheer inventiveness of ordinary people, and very interesting in how it demonstrates how social media creates a kind of loose world-wide community of voices riffing on just a few words about plums, baby shoes and a fairly prosaic phrase such as 'this is just to say'.

All from one plum of which just the stone remains. I shall have to wait until next Autumn before I taste another one. Well the end of summer perhaps - not quite so far away.

Or travel to Europe in the winter.

No can't do that. No passport - which is about to be renewed, but who knows how long that will take. Not in time for the European summer anyway.

Goodbye plum.



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