We were discussing different European plums and one dimension that might get a bit lost today is the group the plum came from. So, below is an except from Plums of New York on the different groups of plums. One of my aims is to have one or two good plums from each group. Note these are just the domestica groups, the mirabelles and damsons are separate species in their own right. There are several good gages, e.g. Green Gage, Bavays, and Transparent. Of the Yellow Egg plums, Coe’s Golden Drop is most excellent. For prunes I prefer Agen aka French Prune/Petite/Improved.
##The Reine Claude or Green Gage Plums.
This group is so distinctive in several characters that some botanists and pomologists separate it from other Domestica plums as a sub-species or species and in common parlance its numerous varieties are very generally grouped together as " green gages " as if it were quite a distinct fruit from other plums. It comprises a considerable number of relatively small, round, mostly green or golden plums of so high quality as to make them standards in this respect for all plums. The Reine Claude is one of the oldest types of which there are records. Its varieties reproduce themselves without much variation from seed though there are a few sorts, possibly crosses with some other group, which are doubtfully referred to the Reine Claudes. The later history of these plums is most interesting and is reliable, for the group is recognized and discussed by almost every European or American pomologist who has written in three centuries. The early history is not so well known.
The name Reine Claude, all writers agree, was given in honor of Queen Claude, wife of Francis I, the fruit having been introduced into France during the reign of that monarch which began in 1494 and ended 1547, these dates fixing as accurately as possible the origin of the name. Green Gage, the commonest synonym of either the Reine Claude group or of the variety, comes from the fact that this fruit was introduced into England by the Gage family. Phillips gives the following account of its introduction into England:
"The Gage family, in the last century, procured from the monastery of the Chartreuse at Paris, a collection of fruit trees. When these trees arrived at the Mansion of Hengrave Hall, the tickets were safely affixed to all of them, excepting only to the Reine Claude, which had either not been put on, or had been rubbed off in the package. The gardener, therefore9 being ignorant of the name, called it, when it first bore fruit, the Green Gage”
Because of the high esteem in which the plums of this group have always been held in England the early English colonists probably brought seeds or plants of the Reine Claudes to America. This supposition is strengthened by the fact that Prince, in his efforts in 1790 to improve plums, chose the "Green Gage/’ planting the pits of twenty-five quarts of plums of this variety. McMahon, in his list of thirty varieties of plums, published in 1806, gives the names of at least seven varieties belonging to this group. The varieties of the group first came into America, without doubt, under one of the Green Gage names, but afterwards, probably in the early part of the Nineteenth Century, importations from France brought several varieties under Reine Claude names though the identity of the plums under the two names seems to have been recognized in American pomology from the first.
In appearance the trees of this group are low and the heads well rounded. The bark is dark in color and cracks rather deeply. The shoots are thick and do not lose their pubescence. The leaves are large, broad, more or less wrinkled, coarsely crenate and sometimes doubly serrated, a character not usually found in Domestica plums, and bear from one to four glands. The fruit is spherical or ovoid, green or yellow, sometimes with a faint blush, stems short and pubescent, suture shallow, bloom thin, texture firm, quality of the best, flesh sweet, tender, juicy, stone free or clinging.
The leading varieties of the Reine Claude plums are: Reine Claude, Bavay, Spaulding, Yellow Gage, Washington, McLaughlin, Hand, Peters, Imperial Gage, Jefferson and Bryanston.
In western America plum-growers usually speak of any plum that can be cured, without removing the pit, into a firm, long-keeping product as a prune. Such a classification throws all plums with a large percentage of solids, especially of sugar, into this group. But in Europe the term is used to designate a distinct pomological group.1 Since we have a number of varieties of plums long known as prunes and to which no other term can be nearly so well applied, it seems wise to follow the established European custom of using the term as a group name as well as for a commercial product which is made for most part from these plums.
The prune, as an article of commerce, all writers agree, originated in Hungary in the Sixteenth Century and was at that time a very important trading commodity with Germany, France and southern Europe. If, as Koch surmises (see page 17), the prunes originated in Turkestan or farther eastand the statements of other botanists and writers tend to show that his view is correctthe spread of the varieties of this group westward is readily explained. In the migrations of the Huns, from western Asia to eastern Europe, in the first thousand years of the Christian era, some Magyar or Hun intent on cultivating the soil brought with him the prune-making plums which, finding a congenial home, became the foundation of the prune industry of Hungary in the Sixteenth Century. In subsequent commercial intercourse with western Europe the latter region was enriched by these prune-making plums from Hungary.
In America this group is now by far the most important one commercially, though prunes were not introduced into this country until comparatively recent years. The early lists of plums do not include any of the prunes and even as late as 1806 McMahon only mentions in the thirty varieties given by him but one, " the Prune Plum." William Prince in 1828 speaks only of the “monstrous prune,” but in such a way as to lead one to believe that neither it, nor any other prune, was then cultivated in America. In 1831 William Robert Prince in his Pomological Manual describes from this group only the German Prune and the " Agen Date," or Agen. Indeed, it was not until the beginning of the prune industry in California, about 1870, that the varieties of this group began to be at all popular though an attempt was made by the United States Patent Office to start the prune industry on the Atlantic seaboard by the distribution of cions of two prunes in 1854.
The growth of the prune industry on the Pacific Coast is one of the most remarkable industrial phenomena of American agriculture. About 1856, Louis Pellier, a sailor, brought to San Jose, California, cions of the Agen from Agen, France. Some time afterward a larger plum, the Pond, was also imported from France, supposedly from Agen, and to distinguish the two, the first was called Petite Prune, by which name it is now very commonly known in the far west. The first cured prunes from this region were exhibited at the California State Fair in 1863; commercial orchards began to be planted about 1870, and the first shipments of cured prunes were probably made in 1875.3 In 1880 the output per annum was about 200,000 pounds; in 1900 the yearly capacity was estimated to be about 130,000,000 pounds, valued by the producers at $450,000.
The typical varieties of this group are the Italian, German, Agen, Tragedy, Tennant, Sugar, Giant, Pacific and the Ungarish.
The distinguishing characters of the group are to be found in the fruit, which is usually large, oval, with one side straighter than the other, usually much compressed with a shallow suture, blue or purple, with a heavy bloom, flesh greenish-yellow or golden, firm, quality good, stone free. The trees are various but are usually large, upright and spreading with elliptical leaves having much pubescence on the under surface.
##The Perdrigon Plums.
The Perdrigons constitute an old but comparatively unimportant group of plums. The name comes from an old time geographical division of Italy. The Perdrigon plums, especially the varieties having this name, have been grown extensively for two centuries about Brignoles, France, where they are cured and sold as Brignoles prunes. Since they are much grown in what was formerly the province of Touraine, France, they are sometimes called Touraine plums. The early pomological writers, as the Princes, Kenrick, Coxe, and even Downing, described White, Red, Violet, Early and Norman Perdrigon plums, but these are not now listed in either the pomologies or the nurserymen’s catalogs of this country though the group is represented by Goliath, Late Orleans and Royal Tours. These plums might almost be included with the Imperatrice group, differing only in the smaller and rounder fruits.
##The Yellow Egg Plums.
There are but few varieties belonging to this group, but these are very distinct, and include some of the largest and handsomest plums. The origin of varieties of this group can be traced back over three centuries and it is somewhat remarkable that the size and beauty of the Yellow Egg Plums have not tempted growers during this time to produce a greater number of similar varieties. Rea, in 1676, described the Yellow Egg under “Magnum Bonum or the Dutch Plum” as “a very great oval-formed yellowish plum, and, according to the name, is good as well as great.” The Imperial, which afterward became the Red Magnum Bonum, is mentioned by Parkinson in 1629 as " Large, long, reddish, waterish and late." Earlier names in France, how early cannot be said, were Prune d’Oeuf, yellow, white, red and violet, or the Mogul with these several colors, and the Imperiale with the three or four colors. Later the name d’Aubert was applied to the Yellow Egg. Though this fruit was first known in England as the Imperiall, and later as the Magnum Bonum, it has been grown for at least two centuries in that country as the Yellow Egg, and under this name came to America in the latter part of the Eighteenth Century. Koch 5 places these plums in the Date-plum family. The varieties of this group now grown and more or less well-known are Yellow Egg, Red Magnum Bonum, Golden Drop and Monroe.
The characters which readily distinguish the Yellow Egg group are, the large size of the fruit, possibly surpassing all other plums in size, the long-oval shape, more or less necked, yellow or purple color and the yellow flesh. The plums are produced on tall, upright-spreading trees.
##The Imperatrice Plums.
This is a poorly defined assemblage of varieties, of which dark blue color, heavy bloom, medium size and oval shape are the chief characters. It is impossible to trace the origin of the group or to refer varieties to it with accuracy. The Imperatrice, of which Ick-worth is an offspring, seems to have been one of the first of the blue plums to receive general recognition, and can as well as any other variety give name to the type. This group contains by far the greatest number of varieties of any of the divisions as here outlined, chiefly because the color, the size, and the shape are all popular with growers and consumers. This has not always been the case, for in the old pomologies, blue plums are comparatively few in number, Parkinson, for instance, giving in his list of sixty in 1629 not more than a half-dozen Domesticas that are blue.
Among the varieties that fall into this group are: Ickworth, Diamond, Arch Duke, Monarch, Englebert, Shipper, Arctic, Smith, Orleans and Quackenboss.
About the only characters that will hold for this large and variable group are those of the fruits as given above, though to these may be added for most of the varieties included in the division, thick skin and firm flesh, clinging stones and poor quality. The trees vary much but are usually hardy, thrifty and productive, making the members of the group prime favorites with commercial fruit-growers.
##The Lombard Plums.
Just as the blue plums have been thrown in the last named group, so we may roughly classify a number of red or reddish or mottled varieties in one group. If the oldest name applicable to this group were given it should be called after the Diaper plums, well-known and much cultivated French sorts of two and three centuries ago. Since they are no longer cultivated, and as the Lombard seems to be a direct offspring of them and is fairly typical of the division, the name chosen is as applicable as any. These plums differ but little from those of the preceding group, except in color and in having a more obovate shape, a more marked suture, smaller size and possibly even greater hardiness and productiveness, and if anything, even poorer quality, though to this last statement there are several marked exceptions. In this group are no doubt many varieties which are crosses between some of the old red plums and varieties of the other groups given.
The following sorts may be named as belonging here: Lombard, Bradshaw, Victoria, Pond, Duane, Autumn Compote, Belle, Middleburg