Posted on

Pickling Plums and Other Indigestibles

My cloak is come home. I like it very much, and can now exclaim with delight, like J. Bond at hay-harvest, “This is what I have been looking for these three years.” I saw some gauzes in a shop in Bath Street yesterday at only 4d. a yard, but they were not so good or so pretty as mine. Flowers are very much worn, and fruit is still more the thing. Elizabeth has a bunch of strawberries, and I have seen grapes, cherries, plums, and apricots. There are likewise almonds and raisins, French plums, and tamarinds at the grocers’, but I have never seen any of them in hats. A plum or greengage would cost three shillings; cherries and grapes about five, I believe, but this is at some of the dearest shops. My aunt has told me of a very cheap one, near Walcot Church, to which I shall go in guest of something for you. I have never seen an old woman at the pump-room.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
June 2, 1799

In his work on period fruits, Mark Harris provides the following information:

“Plums (Prunus domestica) originated around Armenia in Asia Minor and are only botanically distinguished from cherries by their size. Plums were first cultivated in western China. Wild plums, the Bullace (Prunus instititia), Cherry Plums (Prunus cerasifera) and the Sloe (Prunus spinosa) now grow wild throughout Europe and have hybridized extensively. Cultivated plums arose as a cross between the sloe and the cherry plum in the Caucasus region. Damsons are a variety of bullace plum well known in Roman times, and imported from Damascus in Syria, hence its name. At the time of Cato, Romans were familiar with prunes but not the plum tree itself. Besides the Damson, Pliney described 12 varieties of plums growing in Italy in the 1st century A.D. Plums have been cultivated in Europe since the 8th century and are recorded in England from the 13th century. Chaucer described a garden with “ploumes and bulaces” in 1369; “Damaske or damassons” (damson) plums are mentioned in the 1526 Grete Herball of Peter Treveris.

Blue Pérrigon or the Précoce de Tours was both a blue-black prune and dessert plum grown in Italy and France near the Basse Alps. It was first imported to England in 1582.

Another French bullace was the Reine Claude (103), dating in France from the reign of Francis I (1494-1547). It came from Italy, where it was called Verdocchia (104); it came to Italy from Armenia via Greece. This plum is better known by its English name of Greengage.”

To preserve this delicious summer fruit, one could either dry them, creating prunes, or pickle them, as the following recipe from Martha Lloyd’s Household book records:

To Pickle Dutch Plum or White Damsons and Orleans Plum
(also melons and cucumbers)
To a gallon of white wine vinegar put 3 pints of mustard and heads of garlick, a good handful of shallots, a good handful of horse radish, when it is sliced, three races [roots] of ginger sliced, half and oz of Jamaica pepper, and what salt you think fit. The plums must be gathered before they are quite ripe, when they are turning yellow. They must be cut a little on one side to let in the liquor. Put them in a row. Your mustard must be made as to eat. You may do melons or cucumbers the same way, only take ou the inside and rub them with salt.

Pickled Damsons or Plums
2 lb Damsons or Plums
1 lb Granulated sugar
½ pint Malt Vinegar
½ Lemon, zest only
2 Cloves
1 Small Piece Root Ginger, peeled and bruised

Place all the ingredients except the fruit in a saucepan.

Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly, strain.

Return the vinegar to the saucepan and bring to the boil.

Prick the fruit, place into a deep bowl, pour over the vinegar.

Cover and leave in a cool place for 5 days.

Strain the liquid into a saucepan, bring to the boil.

Pour over the fruit.

Cover and leave in a cool place for 5 days.

Strain the liquid into a saucepan, bring to the boil.

Place the fruit into jars, pour over the boiling liquid.

Immediately seal with airtight lids.

Leave for 6 weeks to mature before using. Serve as a side to cold meats.

Recipe reprinted with Permission from The Foody.

Enjoyed this article? Browse our giftshop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk for Regency recipe books!

Want to read the full article?

Sign up for free Jane Austen Membership or if you are an existing user please login

Existing Users Log In
   
Sign up here to become a Jane Austen member
captcha
*Required field