“A right down hearty one
he be as’ll make some of our maids look
And the worst time of year for such work too, when the May-Dukes
and the Hearts a-colouring!”
—Crusty John in Alice Lorraine.
The Vale of Evesham has the credit of being the birthplace of two most valuable plums—the Damascene, and the Pershore, or Egg plum. These both grow on their own stocks, so require no grafting, and can readily be propagated by severing the suckers which spring up around them from the roots of the tree. The Damascene, as its name implies, is a species of Damson, but coarser than the real Damson or the Prune Damson. They are not so popular on the London market as in the markets of the north, especially in Manchester, where they command prices little inferior to the better sorts, as they yield a brilliant red dye suitable for dying printed cotton goods. When really ripe they are excellent for cooking, and are not to be despised, even raw, on a thirsty autumn day. In years of scarcity these have fetched 30s. and over per “pot” of 72 pounds.
The Pershore is a very different plum, green when unripe, and attaining a golden colour later; they are immense bearers and very hardy, frequently saving the situation for the plum-growers when all other kinds are destroyed by spring frosts. They are specially valuable for bottling, and it is rumoured that in the hands of skilful manufacturers they become “apricots” under certain conditions. As “cookers,” too, they are perhaps the most useful of plums, for they can be used in a very green and hard state. It is a wonderful sight to see them being despatched by tram at the Evesham stations, loaded sometimes loose like coals in the trucks for the big preserving firms in the north. The trees grow very irregularly and are difficult to keep in shape by pruning, as they send forth suckers from all parts when an attempt is made to keep them symmetrical. The only purpose for which the fruit is of little use is for eating raw, they are not unpleasant when just ripe, but that stage is soon passed and they become woody and unpalatable.
I planted a thousand of these trees in a new orchard, and took great pains with the pruning myself, for it was curious that in that land of fruit at the time no professional pruner could be found. I sought the advice of a market-gardener and plum-grower, who, in the early stage of their growth, gave me an object-lesson, cutting back the young shoots rather hard to induce them to throw out more at the point of incision, so as to produce eventually a fuller head; while he reiterated the instruction, “It is no use being afraid of ’em.”