Halfway Through May

Kage Baker adored Santa Rosa plums. They were her favourite fruit in all the world, and she waited impatiently all winter and spring long for the first ones to appear in markets.

Santa Rosas are an excellent plum, but they are also small, and have a relatively brief season. They are an old variety, often hard to find among the bins of newer, stranger, larger, more brightly coloured and more durable fruit – plums and pluots the size of softballs, with polka dots and stripes and viral streaking, that will – for suspiciously unexplained reasons – stay hard as a rock for two weeks on the kitchen counter … Kage, an aficianada and a long-time fan of the venerable Luther Burbank ( who first bred them) would settle for nothing but Santa Rosas.

They sometimes showed up as early as half-past May. Other years, they didn’t surface until Kage’s birthday in early June, and rarely made it as far as my own in early July. But when they were around, Kage lived on them.

We found them for one blessed week in 2009 – just one week. She ate dozens in that time, though. I never saw a single Santa Rosa last year, not though I searched fruit stands and farmers’ markets and Whole Food stores galore – no Santa Rosa plums anywhere. Which saddened me; I wanted some to eat in her memory, and also I very much like ‘em myself. I was forced to be content with interesting varieties of pluots and apricots, and somehow bore up under the strain …

But now I am beginning the hunt again. I would be very sorry to learn that Santa Rosa plums have somehow vanished south of Pismo Beach. Maybe there is some metaphysical reason they no longer roam where Kage once walked. Maybe I have to go North to find them – the Safeway in Novato, where we once found black apricots, or Mr. Burbank’s own gardens in Santa Rosa itself (where Neassa and Carol Skold are both on staff, he he he …) I will, if I have to.

I’m a devout Californian; I eat fruit that grows here. No December strawberries from Chile for me! I wait for the Oxnard fogs to yield our own berries; I track strange apples down in the canyons of San Luis Obispo, and buy cherries from plywood stands under the olive trees in Gilroy. Damn near everything in the world will grow somewhere along our 1,000 mile long coast – Kage and I hunted from Fort Bragg to San Diego in our time, and I know where all the interesting bushes and trees and vines are … places where you wonder if the green-eyed young man who hands you your overflowing bag of plums is quite human. Shaded hollows under eucalyptus trees where you really rather hope he’s not …

Many’s the time we drove away from some such fruit stand (at least one wall made of an ancient billboard advertising motor oil or chewing tobacco) and Kage would say, “I think he was a yendri.” Then she’d take a mouthful of a Santa Rosa plum, blood-warm from its time in the sun and no more than a quarter hour off its tree, and say, “Yep. Only a yendri could grow this.”

She’d always throw the pits out the car window, to have their chance to be trees. I need to drive up those ways soon, and see if any of her trees are bearing fruit this year.

About Kathleen Bartholomew

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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9 Responses to Halfway Through May

  1. Carolyne says:

    Living as we do in Sebastopol, the community where Luther Burbank had his farm and did his actual hybridization work, we’re blessed with farmers’ markets that carry the literal fruits of his labor. Besides Santa Rosa plums we can find July Elberta peaches, white raspberries, pineapple quinces…and so many, many more. If you find your way up here, you might enjoy visiting the farm, as well as his home in Santa Rosa. http://www.wschsgrf.org/page3/page3.html

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    • Kate says:

      Thank you, Carolyne! I am thinking I really must come up to Santa Rosa for this all-important errand – as I do have friends on staff at the Luther Burbank House, and I can go to Sebastapol as well. Not to mention the farm! Plus there is The Cheese Factory outside Novato, of which I am insanely fond. All sorts of reasons to come up for a visit.

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      • Neassa says:

        You know you have several choices for where to stay! Come soon!

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      • Kate says:

        I should, Neassa. I shall. Didn’t I leave a pillow and a sleeping bag at Mike and Kelly’s In December? I think I did … I could get my stuff out of their attic, which would be nice of me after 5 months!

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  2. Mark Shanks says:

    In re. Santa Rosa plums: I’d try the Santa Monica farmer’s market early on a Saturday morning…there were several vendors who carried them as of a few years ago. If you want to go further afield, there are orchards of Santa Rosa Plums, local Peaches, and lovely sweet Bing Cherries up in Banning Pass (past Redlands) (http://www.riosfarm.com/) that still sell to passers by….and truck them into L.A.’s series of farmer’s markets. Or if you are looking for your SLO fruit, almost certainly the best can be found in the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market in Santa Barbara, which may be the best farmer’s market in Southern California, if not the entire state. (….not the least of which because it can be combined with their Sat. *fisherman’s* market 5am-9am only 1/2 mile away)

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    • Kate says:

      Thanks, Mark. Last year, for some reason, none the Los Angeles area farmers’ markets I explored had the real deal – though several had plums they said were Santa Rosas, they all turned out to generic red plums or Queen Rosas, a more recent hybrid. Mind you, there is no such thing as a *bad* plum! But I must make a trip North and see what may be seen in Santa Rosa and Sebastapol.

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  3. Catharine says:

    I’ve asked my mum in Santa Barbara, who regularly haunts all the fruit stands and Farmer’s Markets in that town, to keep her eyes peeled. She does love the hunt also.

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  4. Chris says:

    Really good local strawberries can be had closer than Oxnard. The farm stand on the east side of Rosemead Blvd. just north of Beverly Blvd. is open now. In the former flood plain where the battle of San Gabriel was fought before the Treaty of Cahuenga.

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  5. Kate says:

    Chris – the Tapia Brothers in Encino have wonderful berries, too. I just like going out to Oxnard from time to time, because we used to go out when we were little girls. We’d get up before dawn, the grownups would drive us through the fog of the Valley – No freeway! No Highway 101! – and as the sun rose out of the mist, there would be the rolling strawberry fields of Oxnard. Where we would proceed to eat ourselves sick …

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