Plum, a stone fruit in the genus prunus, is widely planted in central Europe, the
U. S. A , China and Middle East.
The Crusaders, returning from Damascus, originally introduced the grafted version into Agen, southwestern France. Later Benedictine monks at Clairac perfected the process of turning plums to prunes. They piled straw under trees to prevent bruising when the ripe fruits fell off the trees. Plums were laid out on long, tear-shaped, slatted, wooden trays and left to dry in the sun or in cooling wooden trays and left to dry in the sun or in cooling bread ovens. Once dried and boxed – traditionally between layers of bay leaves – the fruit kept all through the winter.
France is the second largest producer after the U S A.
Agen seems to be the best location to grow plums and was granted appellation controllee status.
Today growers use cultivars – Damson, Greengage, Mirabelle, Satsuma, and Golden just to name a few.
Floyd Zaiger, and American scientist, crossbred plum and apricot producing a fruit that has subtle apricot flavors and a lighter colour than the common dark purple plum. This fruit varies in shape from oval to round, and may have considerably different textures. Plums are rich in fiber and antioxidants.
Dried plums are called prunes, and due to their richness in fiber are used for relief of constipation.
Today in France and the U S A plums are machine harvested by shaking the tree five to six times encouraging ripe fruits to fall. Generally, plum trees have a time span of 50 years but mechanical harvesting shortens the life expectancy by several years. After harvesting, plums are washed, sorted, and shipped to market.
The majority of the harvest is dried in huge ovens either for 20 hours or in developing countries sun dried for a few days.
For every tree kilograms of fresh fruit one kilogram of prunes are obtained.
Semi-cooked (mi-cuit) prunes are dried for 18 hours. They are softer, and juicier, but have a shorter shelf life.
Plums are sweet, juicy, and lend themselves well to pies, tortes, jams, drying, liqueurs, distillation (slivovitz), wine, and in the production of pharmaceutics.
In Agen prunes are preserved in Armagnac and attractively packaged.