My brother has an orchard in Zeeland, the Netherlands, with plums, apples and pears. It was my dad’s before and it is nice to see that the land stays in the family even though it is tough making a living in agriculture these days. In a few seconds a years work can be destroyed. Spring frost can freeze all of the flowers so you’re left will nothing or very little and just have to wait till next year. Hail will damage the fruit so that it is only good for making apple sauce at best or go to waste at worst. Rain will make the plums crack if it falls in big amounts at the wrong time of the riping stage, so you can’t sell these anymore.
But when the harvest is good ad the prices are right you can make up for the bad year. Of course working outdoors in each season is a reward too.
I was just at my brothers when a large batch of plums was collected. The scent in the barn, when full of freshly picked plums, is intoxicatedly good. By the time I thought of the idea for this blog they were gone, but imagine the collection of containers with full crates instead of empty ones. These are ready to be filled the next day. Each container goes on a little wagon and several wagons make up a little train that is pulled through the orchard so there can always be empty crates near the pickers.
The plum pickers use buckets which they wear on their shoulder to collect the plums. They look at the color and they feel the softness to judge if it’s ready to pick. The older trees are taller and they use step ladders to get at the higher plums. Also if the weather is warm, as it should be in this season, you’re always nicely in the shades of the trees when picking.
Once the bucket is full they are carefully emptied into the crates. The plums have a layer of wax on them, which gives them a lovely satin/silk finish. Some people think it’s residue or put on by the fruit grower but it isn’t, it’s natural. You can eat them like that or just give them a polish if you prefer them looking that way. I think it’s a bit like with white and brown eggs, one of those other misconceptions. You hardly see any white ones any more, cause brown ones look more healthy and free range by themselves, but they’re just laid by brown chickens. I feel sorry for the white chickens and that their eggs are liked less just because they’re white.
Anyway once the plums are picked they are sorted into big ones, small ones, good ones and bad ones (damaged or too ripe). This is done by emptying a crate onto a rolling platform. One person is emptying crates while two others stand on each side and sort the plums into other crates according to size and goodness. Then the crates with the sorted plums go to the auction to be bought by traders and from where they go to supermarkets and so on. The plum season has just started, but there are different varieties ripe at different times, so you’ll find the in the shops for a good few weeks now.
So go get those lovely fresh plums :-)