Please note that this blog is a work of fiction.
Greengage plums were a favorite of my grandparents. I’ve never seen them in the US, which doesn’t mean they are not here. Greengages are green plums, a bit tart –I didn’t like them as a child. My grandmother used to boil them down into a compote with cinnamon and a bit of sugar. She’d serve it to me over ice cream. She and my grandfather used to have it in small cut-glass dishes without ice cream. I used to mash mine up with the ice cream trying to kill the taste of the plums. I hope they did not notice that. They were so proud of their greengages. They had two trees in the garden and my granddad tended them carefully. Don’t know if I actually saw this or it’s a reconstructed memory (or a figment of my imagination) but I picture him in dark trousers, a white shirt, braces (aka suspenders to you Americans) and dark shoes lovingly pruning those trees.
I can say with certainty that my grandfather never owned a pair of jeans or sneakers in his life. Goodness, I don’t think he even ever slouched. He was always dressed in a way that would be considered oddly formal now (or fashionably eccentric) but was not intended by him to be formal or to make a statement. His clothes were carefully chosen. These were tended as carefully as the trees. My grandmother did the washing and mending but he did his part by treating the clothes with respect. His shoes he polished every Saturday of his life. And he would brush them when coming into the house after a day at work or in the garden.
Greengages, like a lot of fruit, originated in Asia Minor but the first cultivar of what we know today as the greengage plum comes from France. It was imported to England in the early eighteenth century by a rich man named Gage—hence the name. The most common variety of greengage is known by the French name Reine Claude Verte. Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew them on their respective estates.
At the southern end of my orchard I am going to put in a few greengage trees. I’ll research which variety can withstand New York winters. I will put a bench there as well. There are nice views to be had from the southern edge. The Adirondacks begin in earnest just a few miles away and their appearance always commands respect.
When I was a child I loved my grandparents but visiting them was a chore. The TV was never on while there were visitors in the house. The food was stews with potatoes and carrots. They had ice cream for me. They would take me around the garden showing me the vegetables they grew, the fruit trees, and my grandmother’s favorites—her dahlias. I was bored, so bored—and I didn’t take in anything they said.
If I could turn back time I would go back there and listen, really listen, to every word.