Kage Baker loved Santa Rosa plums above all other fruits of the earth. Even the enormous spectrum of apples was not so dear to her palette as this one, old-fashioned plum. Every summer saw a new steely-eyed hunt for them, and them a couple of weeks where she essentially ate nothing else.
There was a Santa Rosa plum tree in the front yard, when we were kids; its harvest was ferociously defended by Kage, like some sort of enraged squirrel. Even after she left home, she’d go back up to Momma’s every day for the brief Santa Rosa season, methodically stripped the tree and doing her very best to eat every single plum.
This wasn’t always received especially well – she wasn’t the only one to prefer the delicate succulence of the Santa Rosa – but Kage was adamant, indomitable, and also not distracted by the charms of other fruit trees. Peaches, nectarines and apricots also grew in the yard, but her heart belonged only to the plums: which was all right with me, at least, because I was an apricot fiend, and that left more of them for me.
Oh, the blissful summer afternoons … lying in the grass on the few sloped lawns amid the flower beds, laps full of fresh-picked fruit! We’d eat ourselves into stupors, companionable quiet comas broken by slurping and the sound of pits being spat down the hillside. Not even stories went on then – Kage’s mouth was full and I was in an apricot daze, all other senses turned off to appreciate the overwhelming golden trove I was eating.
We were the freaking Lotus-eaters, then.
Santa Rosa plums are still regarded in most plumcentric circles as THE plum, the ultimate, Norvana-flavoured stone fruit. But they have fall en out of favour commercially – it’s harder and harder to find them in supermarkets, because they have a short ripe season. The trees bear well, but not explosively; the fruit is large but not enormous. There are plums that are “better”, if your only criteria are having them available for 2 months at a time and being able to pack them like pool balls in boxes. But nothing else compares for fragrence, flavour, or colour.
Every year it’s gotten harder to find them. The year Kage died, we found them at a local fruit stand for only one week – but she was happy enough with that, and lived on them for those 7 days. Last year, I never found any at all; though my search did reveal many new and enchanting pluots, which were a nice dividend.
But today – ah! We went to the local Farmers Market, Kimberly and I, and found that the Santa Rosas are finally in season! It’s late for them here, but we found them; from small orchards in Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita, the first glorious Santa Rosas! We immediately bought pounds of them and scarpered home, cackling like loons. The gentlemen sort of looked at them and said Oh. Plums. Nice.
Oh, Santa Rosas … their wine-red skins that break in the mouth as crisp as blown glass, speckled with a dusting of golden spots under the blue bloom. The perfume that rises from them, and the taste – ! Ruby red flesh, juicy enough to spurt over your chin when you bite into them, the mingled tastes of tart cherry and warm dust and honey that are the essential nature of PLUM … man, there is nothing else like it in the world.
Our friendly fruit farmers say there is at least another week’s worth still ripening on the trees. Maybe two. So we can eat all these, and then sate ourselves with white nectarines and black apricots, with elephant-heart and dinosaur-egg pluots for the rest of the week. And then next Sunday – back for more!
Now, it’s really summer. I can feel Kage’s dreaming spirit. The Santa Rosas are in.