'm a bit fed up with seeing rock hard, imported plums on sale in supermarkets. What’s the point? They sit in the fruit bowl taking ages to ripen, then they go off after a few days.
What’s wrong with our home grown plums? We grow plenty of varieties here, from the well-known Victoria to the lesser-known greengage. In France, green plums like Reine Claude (named after Queen Claude) and little mirabelles will be prominent in markets and on menus, while on home soil we tend not to use them unless the proprietor happens to have trees in his or her garden and feels obliged to preserve the fruit for the out-of-season months.
It doesn’t have to be this way – the uses are endless, from snacking on, eating with cheese, using in a game sauce, sticking in puddings, and making a cheap and healthy addition to a salad.
Greengages were apparently introduced to England in the early 1700s from Armenia when Catholic Priest John Gage sent some trees from France to his brother William Gage, who lived in Hengrave Hall near Bury St Edmunds. The labels got a little tattered in transit and the gardener labelled up the new fruit trees as “Greengages”. Here’s how you can use these delightfully named little critters.
Charles Campion's sweet pickled greengages (makes 4 –5 ½ litre kilner jars)
Years ago an old friend gave me a jar of his home made pickled greengages, which were a real treat and a perfect addition to a cheeseboard or plate of cured meats. To this day I still use his recipe in the restaurants and at home (thanks, Charles).
What you need:
• 2kg greengages, halved and stoned
• 1l white distilled vinegar or cider vinegar
• 500g granulated or caster sugar
• The seeds from 20 cardamom pods
• 2tbsp green peppercorns
• 5g mace blades
• 12 dried red chillies
What to do:
• Pack the greengages into the sterilised kilner or preserving jars with an equal proportion of the spices in each. You may need more or less depending on how tightly they are packed.
• Boil the vinegar and sugar for a couple of minutes, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
• Pour the hot liquid into the jars, seal the lids turn the jars upside down for 15 minutes or so to seal the lids, then turn back up, leave to cool and store in a cool place for up to 6 months.