OULLINS GAGE Also called Falso Washington. It was a chance seedling found by a nurseryman, Massot of Oullins, near Lyons in France. Introduced to England by Rivers' Nursery pre-1856, the large round creamy yellow fruit is ready in mid-August. Juicy and sweet with a good flavour for dessert; it was also popular for cooking. Partly self fertile, the trees are vigorous and upright. Good crops. Middle flowering.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

QUETSCHE An old cooking plum, much favoured in Eastern Europe but known and grown in this country too, for many years. Customers have frequently enquired whether we grow it, so we have now added it. It is not particularly juicy or soft, which makes it useful for the traditional use of drying, but it is sweet. In Germany it was canned in some volume. The fruit is purple skinned and longish, and is freestone. Our wood was kindly given by Fulham Palace, who originally had it from the East Malling collection. Ripe in September.

 

 

REINE CLAUDE DE BAVAY Also called Bavay's Greengage. It was introduced around 1843 having been raised by a Major Esperen (one of Napoleon’s former officers) in 1832 and named after M. Bavay, Director of the Horticultural Station at Vilvorde, Belgium. It was brought to England by Thomas Rivers in 1846. Trees are moderate growing, self fertile and crop well in isolation. The fruit is slightly larger than that of the Old Greengage (called Reine Claude in France) from which it was bred, possibly with some plum in its ancestry. It is green to straw yellow when fully ripe, with a rash of red and white dots. Flesh is deep yellow, juicy and richly flavoured. Fruit mid-September. Middle flowering.

 

 

REINE CLAUDE VIOLETTE Also called Violet Gage or Purple Gage. An old plum of uncertain history. The dessert fruit is medium sized, round and with a skin of purple violet and a violet bloom. The flesh is firm, sweet and rich with an excellent flavour. Fruit is ripe in early September. Trees have a neat, round headed shape, are partly self fertile and good croppers. Middle flowering.

 

 

 

 

 

SHEPHERD’S DELIGHT An excellent, large, sweet and juicy dessert plum, richly flavoured and with a dark purple skin. It is ripe in August. The variety name, if it ever had one, has been lost and the lone tree, now old and ailing, is in the garden of Mr Leslie Shepherd of Goring, Berkshire. His daughter Louise, of Didcot, Oxfordshire, brought the tree to our attention and when she brought us some fruit we could see why she remembered it so fondly from her childhood. The new name was chosen by Leslie and Louise.*

 

 

 
             

 

SHROPSHIRE PRUNE The Shropshire Prune became popular in the 18th century. It was first mentioned in 1676. It is also called the Shropshire Damson, the Prune, The Long Damson and The Cheshire and Cheshire Damson (both erroneously). It has been considered native to Britain but is probably just long naturalised. It is still found in many old fields, hedgerows, and orchards in the West Midlands. The fruit has a good flavour, rich when cooked, and the tree produces regular crops, though these are not heavy. The damsons are quite sweet when raw, and bitterness, rather than sharpness, only tends to develop when cooked, perhaps coming from the skin. Self-fertile. Ripe in September. Middle to late flowering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEWKLEY RED A first class plum, unknown except locally, and introduced to us by Victor and Christine Scott of Aston Abbots, the owners of several old trees. We are grateful for their help and for providing all the history and knowledge of it. Victor died recently and has been remembered by the people of Aston Abbots in a large new orchard – the Vic Scott memorial orchard. Originally Stewkley Red was from nearby Stewkley, Bucks (though it was also known in Leighton Buzzard, Beds) but is now mostly found around Aston Abbots, where the oldest known tree was reckoned by Mr Scott’s father to be about 100 years old, so we can assume the variety is 19th century or earlier. The trees have a naturally arching habit and probably grow to little more than 15ft on their own roots. They are vigorous, with quite large leaves, and come into fruit within 4-5 years. The dessert plums are large and produced in volume, in mid-August. They are yellow, developing bright amber and red marks, going carmine when fully ripe. The flavour is excellent, they are very juicy and soft and have the added virtue of cooking and preserving well, even after freezing. The blossom is attractive too, and frost resistant. Crops are reliable. Middle flowering. *

 

TRAM HILL Another damson growing wild on Brill Hill, close to the old historic tramway. As with ‘Damson North Hills’, it is very durable given the exposed and frosty conditions on Brill Hill in winter. Good, sharp flavour. Middle flowering. *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
             

 

VICTORIA Also called Alderton, Denyer’s Victoria and Sharp's Emperor. The Victoria is one of the most famous plums, principally because it is one of the heaviest and most regular croppers, with large fruit, and may be eaten for dessert or used for cooking. The traditional and long-repeated story is that it was a chance seedling found wild in a wood at Alderton in Sussex. Christopher Stocks, in his recent book ‘Forgotten Fruits’ has pointed out that there is no Alderton in Sussex. We have found no record of a past or present village by that name in any southern county. Sharp's Emperor was the original name, but then the plum was sold to a nurseryman called Denyer who introduced it around 1840 as Denyer's Victoria. The large, reddish purple fruit has a good but not excellent flavour, compared with some plums and gages. Fruits are ready late August to early September. It has a tendency to become biennial with age. Self-fertile. Middle flowering.

 

WARWICKSHIRE DROOPER A variety of uncertain date, not appearing in the literature until after the Second World War. It is reckoned only a fair dessert plum but a good cooking and preserving plum. In fact, the fruit is a very good eating plum in some years. The fruit is egg-shaped and pale yellow, speckled with tawny red, and covered with a thin bloom. Fruit is ripe in mid-September. The trees have a distinctly weeping habit, are vigorous and sucker freely when grown on their own roots. Early flowering and self fertile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHITE DAMSON Given to us by the Tann family, fruit growers at Aldham, near Colchester, and possibly the Shailer’s White Damson (of Hogg); possibly the white damson written of by Parkinson in 1629. It does not have the full tang and acidity of a traditional damson and is more greenish to pale gold, with a bloom, rather than white. Sometimes the fruit is dotted with red. The flavour is sweet and excellent raw, but it does not develop any extra flavour when cooked. Ripe in early September and a regular cropper. Middle flowering.

 

 

 

 

 

 
             

 

WINTER CRACK This mysterious old plum was introduced to us by David Wilson, co-owner of the respected Whitelea Nursery, specialists in bamboo plants, at Tansley, Derbyshire. His neighbour Frederick Hopkinson (and his father before him -also called Frederick, with both simply answering to Fred) owned a garden where several plum trees, dating from before the 1940s came into their ownership along with the name of ‘Winter Crack’. There were and still are several growing in a line against a long stone wall. The mixture of ages suggests these are suckers from an original tree, already gone before the 1940s. It was commonly the custom not to graft, but to root plums – and pass the suckers to friends and neighbours, the suckers being genetically the same as the parent tree. The name Winter Crack was unknown throughout the fruit literature of the ages, but a few external references exist and this plum is an important rediscovery. In 1877 Edward Peacock who lived in Brigg, Derbyshire, wrote in–‘A Glossary of Words Used in the Wapentakes of Manley and Corringham, Lincolnshire’, “Wintercrack, a small green plum, the fruit of which ripens very late.” In 1898 Thomas Ratcliffe from Worksop, Nottinghamshire, wrote in ‘Notes and Queries’, “A fair-sized round, yellowish plum, only fully ripe in November, is known in Derbyshire as the winter-crack. They are called ‘cracks’ because with the first frost the fruit cracks on one side, being then fully ripe.” The great Nottinghamshire author D.H. Lawrence wrote in his ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’ in 1911, “There were many twiggy apple trees, winter-crack trees, sinister looking bushes, and ragged cabbages.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WINTER CRACK-continued
It is a great surprise that this very old plum has been mislaid for so long. Given that it can still be bearing its fruit into December, astonishingly late, it invites the speculation that it might be the Winter Creke of John Parkinson’s herbal of 1629. He said “The Winter Creke is the latest ripe plum of all sorts, it groweth plentifully around Bishops Hatfield.” –Bishops Hatfield was the name in use for Hatfield, Hertfordshire, in the time of Parkinson. The extreme lateness of the season and the proximity of name (given that fruit names do commonly drift over centuries) suggest, but could never prove, the case. Creke was the early spelling for Creek; in nature, a crack or split in the land (or a crack in the fruit?). The history of this plum, excluding the possibility of Hertfordshire, appears fairly local to Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Roach in ‘The Cultivated Fruits of Britain’ has suggested that Winter Crack is a synonym of the Black Bullace, while David Wilson has discovered that a UK nursery claims to sell it seed grown, as a strain of Prunus Insititia. Neither of these can be correct. The plum is not a black bullace and the foliage bears no similarity to that of Prunus Insititia. The plum seems self fertile and has quite large, pure white flowers, later in the season. It starts flowering as Victoria (middle flowering) finishes. In August and September the plums are green/yellow and quite sour. In October they become golden with red blushes developing over the gold, the sourness fades, and plums are very pleasant to eat, though not quite equal to the best of summer plums. Cooked, the fruit still develops acidity. In November, the improvement has continued and the flavour mellowed. It is perhaps best suited to cooking. It appears to be a generous cropper, sometimes producing bunches more like grapes. We pass our thanks to David Wilson and Fred Hopkinson for their help with the background, photos and scionwood, for keeping Winter Crack going and for sharing it with us.