Aug 2, 2019
by Kelly Smith
Recently I got a call on our farmers' market number wondering if Petaluma Plums were available. I had to correct the caller, who was from Sacramento, that what he was truly looking for was Santa Rosa Plums. I also had to let the caller know that as far as I know there are no Petaluma Plums. If I am wrong please let me know. It would be great to discover a new fruit after working at farmers' markets for over 20 years!
This phone call made me think about the plum and where it came from and how Luther Burbank came up with the Santa Rosa plum. I am sure most readers are familiar with who Luther Burbank is but in case you just started following horticulture or are new to the area, Luther Burbank was a local botanist & horticulturist who developed over 800 strains and varieties of grasses, plants, and fruit over the 55 years of his work.
First, we must know, where did the plum originate? According to Wikipedia plums were one of the first fruits to be domesticated by humans. Three of the most abundant cultivars are not found in the wild, only around human settlements: Prunus domestica has been traced to East European and Caucasian mountains, while Prunus salicina and Prunus Simonyi originated in Asia. Plum remains have been found in Neolithic age archaeological sites along with olives, grapes, and figs.
So how did Luther Burbank create the Santa Rosa plum? The exact lineage is unclear. As it’s known now, the Santa Rosa Plum tree has roots from wild plums in Japan (which originally came from China). It is said to have been a “complex hybrid” that Burbank developed. So, in my search, it was difficult to find out more how Burbank created such a well-loved plum. The key traits that Burbank sought out, and consequently, everyone fell in love with are; superior taste, resistant to disease, abundant yield, transports well and keeps a long shelf life.
Soon after Burbank developed this variety, it became a huge favorite, and quickly spread throughout the country. The name came from its origin in Santa Rosa, California. A place that Burbank himself declared “God’s gift to fruit growers.”
This is one of the most popular varieties of plum that you’ll see growing in backyards and available for purchase from farmer’s market growers. People love it because of it’s sweet, juicy flesh, and its versatility in eating right off the tree, or harvesting a few days early to be baked or canned.
2.5 lbs of ripe juicy plums, quartered and pitted
½ cup Zinfandel
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2/3 cup of sugar
1 piece star anise
1 pinch ground clove
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt plus more to taste
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (optional)
4 cloves finely minced garlic
In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, bring all ingredients except garlic and cayenne to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook at a simmer. Stir frequently, mashing plums as you go for 20 minutes or until the liquid is very thick and syrupy- verging on a jammy texture.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes, remove star anise and cinnamon stick and then blend in a high powered blender or food processor until completely smooth.
Return to the saucepan, adding garlic and cayenne. Cook on medium-low, and keep at a bare simmer until the ketchup is as thick as (well) ketchup. Five to Ten minutes should be just about right.
Pour into a glass mason jar and enjoy anywhere you’d enjoy ketchup or barbecue sauce.
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