Bergamot. Sqirl we able to get 30 pounds this year.
“Are we crazy enough to drive there and come back the same day?”“Yes. I think we are.”We left Los Angeles at 5am, the two of us on different missions. He, to be present on the official first day of the Reine-Claude Dorée harvest - otherwise known as the traditional Greengage - “Brought to France during the reign of King Francis I (1515-1547), it was named in honor of his queen, Claude.” Back in 2002, he wrote that if he couldn’t find an orchard of true greengages that he was grow it himself. A man of his word David co-founded Bunyard Orchard in Morgan Hill, CA with Andy Mariani of Andy’s Orchard where they’ve planted traditional greengages as well as the Jeffersons, Mirabelle De Metz plums, Alameda Hemskirke and Moorpark Apricots. Celebrating their forth and most prolific year of harvest to date by next year they could have enough to sell at markets.My presence was education. The greatest English book on fruit, Edward Bunyard’s The Anatomy of Dessert With a Few Notes on Wine (written in 1929) describes varieties of true greengages as Kings, Queens and Presidents. Bunyard thinks quite highly of the fruit considering, “a glass of Yquem is the benediction a supreme gauge requires.”Bunyard (who the Orchard is aptly named after) also confines the Mirabelle De Metz as destined jam, “but a fruit or two fallen on the grass from sheer repletion of sweetness will not be out of harmony with the reflective stroll round the garden, for which the interval between tea and dinner seems so happily to have been designed.” I wanted to have such an experience.Since the good fortune of traveling to Moissac, France has escaped my life up till the present where, “the chalky clay soil of the hillsides produces the best greengages,” and these varieties have been pretty much inaccessible in the United States (they are not imported into the country), it was a chance to taste, to see, to understand what the crooning was all about. And it makes sense that Mariani - with over 100 varieties of stone fruit on his own orchard and speaks as a winemaker like Jean Foillard does of terroir and the influence of soil on taste - would be the first one to cultivate a large enough planting to bring these illusive varieties to our inquiring palettes.The greengages were tiny globes - at it’s most perfect moment they’re crisp with a marked crunch when bitten. The fruit - holds an electric yellow flesh with variegated white lines throughout - taste of honey, of acid, of tannin - uniquely grape-like with syrup intensity. It’s the finale of a meal, requires no manipulation, perfect as it is. WIth it’s firm texture and resilient skin I wonder how it will hold up to preservation, perhaps they’re better in the moment and as a yearly memory. A test batch in the fridge should provide some insight into that question. Making my way to the Mirabelle De Metz trees, Bunyard was right. This is the Preserver’s fruit. Even smaller than the tiniest of greenages, their softer texture, thinner skin, elegant acid, less forward sweetness allow the fruit to soften and accept the addition of sugar and acid for the desired transformation. I filled my box, leaving two out for an orchard stroll. The boxed fruit is now steeping in the fridge after their initial cook - the fridge’s scent so fragrant that you’d be surprised to see the fruit in containers covered by secured lids. As I drove ‘Stella’ home, I considered Michael Pollan’s thoughts on Alice Waters. She’s always felt, “the true genius resides in the farmer who grew the thing; the chef merely celebrates that genius by seizing on the moment of moments and setting it off between the quotation marks of a menu.” Yes, that narrative is so important, especially in California where the fortune of weather and land allows for a great variety of produce - a place where the who what where when why can provide a beautiful story - and that right moment within the right moment can be a crucial choice as well. Even in something as simple as a preserve.