November 24, 2017

Sweet Stanley is a Peach Among Plums

The tag shows the potential for Stanley the plum tree.

Janine Pineo Photo | The tag shows the potential for Stanley the plum tree.

• By Janine Pineo •

I got hooked a couple of years ago while perusing the offerings at the Orono Farmers Market.

There they waited, glowing like jewels nestled in cardboard boxes.

I purchased several containers because I had to have them. Then more the next week.

I ate. I cooked. I baked.

All for a plum.

Lots of plums.

My favorite, it turns out, is a plum called Stanley.

And now I have my own little Stanley.

I discovered him on Mother’s Day weekend at the nursery just a mile from my house, Ellis Greenhouse in Hudson. I always visit the tree and shrub section to see if anything might tempt me, and there it stood, its label fluttering at me with a come-hither flair.

I hardly could believe my eyes, so I read the tag and thought, “I could buy this.”

But I reserved judgment until I had asked owner Kirby Ellis a few more questions about my little Stanley, still awaiting his fate among the plums, flowering crab apples and other assorted trees.

How tall might it grow? About 10 feet.

Really, it self-pollinates? Yes.

It really is that cold-hardy? Yes.

How much? Less than $30.

Sold.

Stanley caught a ride to his new digs the next morning, which prodded me to figure out what I was dealing with.

No, I don’t have a master plan — or even a hint of a plan — when it comes to the garden and yard. I just know there are things I want to add to the mix when I get the chance. And I couldn’t let Stanley get away.

Stanley is a European plum, or Prunus domestica, that probably first popped up in the Caucasus-Caspian Sea region, according to Encyclopedia Britannica online. P. domestica is likely at least 2,000 years old.

The National Gardening Association says that European varieties are the most widely planted type of plums in the United States, with the others being the Japanese varieties and the newer American hybrids. The reason for that is undoubtedly that the European varieties have the most desirable traits for the most regions.

First, it is hardy to Zone 4, which means it should survive in my neck of the woods. Its fruit, with its purple-black skin and yellow-orange flesh, tends to be uniform in size and quality.

The tree is self-fertile, which means I only have to figure out the space for one tree and not two if I ever want to see a crop. Sure, I would get more if I had more trees to cross-pollinate, but when I read that a full-grown specimen could produce 2 bushels of plums, I thought, do I really need more than 2 bushels of plums?

Even a bushel would be OK.

Stanley is tasty fresh — believe me when I say that you have never had a plum until you have had a plum picked just hours before. But it also cooks well (I made an old cookbook recipe called Plum Crunch that was an instant favorite) and it cans well (I also made plum preserves).

European varieties are easier to maintain than the Japanese ones, which need to be pruned more often and require “fruit thinning” where you actually have to remove young fruit from the tree if you want a decent crop.

The association also says that the fruit on European varieties stays on the tree longer and then lasts longer after being picked.

So far, I haven’t found much that is detrimental to Stanley’s cause. I read that I should expect the “spring drop” but not to panic when nearly every other fruit falls off the tree. It’s natural and normal.

I may need to worry about a pest called the plum curculio, a type of beetle that can lay eggs, which grow into larvae that tunnel into the fruit.

But for now, visions of sugarplums are dancing in my head.

First published in the Bangor Daily News in May 2009.