Stone fruit and I have had an up and down relationship throughout the years. Plums, apricots, peaches you know… the fruit with that rock hard pit in the center. As a child I was never particularly fond of them. I can’t remember exactly why or even if I ate enough of them to have really formed that a legitimate opinion. They rarely if ever found their way into my lunch bag and when they did I traded them for something… anything… sometimes even for a food to be named later. At the dinner table peaches and plums sometimes appeared but always neatly cut up, sans stone, and cleverly disguised – usually covered with mayonnaise in my Mom’s version of Waldorf salad. One theory, posited by my fiancée, on why I wasn’t given them to eat out of hand is that my mother got tired of removing plum juice stains from my shirts – stone fruit (and I) can be a bit messy . The only place I remember really loving them was after dinner, cooked to a smooth soft mush with a crunchy cobbler crust and vanilla ice cream on top. I’m pretty sure, however, that anything with cobbler crust and ice cream would have gotten the thumbs up from me so I can’t actually say I was fond of the fruit.
I don’t have great memories of the dried versions of the fruits either. Prunes, as dried plums are strangely called (more on that later), were viewed by me as basically medicine suitable only for the old, the infirm, or the constipated. As I was none of these things they served no purpose to me. Dried apricots were a bit better but not much. The dried apricots of my childhood bear little resemblance to the ones sold in the store today. Back then the ingredient list for dried apricots was apricots… just apricots, cut in half and dried on someone’s Ronco food dehydrator. They usually were a little bit sweet, a little bit brown, a little bit like… well let’s face it, rawhide. As a brief aside… the current version of commercially available dried apricots are a bit scary too but for entirely different reasons. I don’t know exactly what “medium chain triglycerides (from coconut and/or palm kernel), Sulfur Dioxide and/or Sodium Bisulfite and/or Potassium Sorbate” do but they sure make what used to be a fruit look a bit like a gummy treat and/or something else that nature never intended. With all that said those leather like dried apricots of my youth occasionally made it into a batch of trail mix (also not sold in stores back then) where they provided a tarter and chewier counterpoint to the nuts and chocolate.
All in all my memories of stone fruit as a kid are a bit…well ambivalent. I didn’t hate them, and there were definitely foods that I HATED – but I didn’t love them either. Yet for some reason, when I left my childhood home for good I completely forgot they even existed. I can honestly say that between 1995 and 2010 I never once intentionally ate an apricot or a plum. Again I bore them no malice; they were just like, well… romance novels or paper napkins for instance. I walked by them every time I bought groceries but never really noticed them let alone purchased them.
So skip forward to the present, or at least the recent past. When I finally decided to eat better… or at least healthier one of the first changes I made was to eat fresh fruit… a lot of fresh fruit. Word on the street is that it’s good for you. The ONLY slight drawback to fruit is some of them are a bit high in calories. If you are a petite woman this may cause you to watch your consumption a bit, but as a not petite not woman who needs at least 4000 calories a day to maintain my weight I can pretty much eat as much fruit as I want. The healthfulness of eating fruit should not be news to you. It’s one of those basic nutritional truths that everyone from your mother to your metaphorical big brother, the FDA, has told you. Face it if fruit is noticeably absent from your diet it isn’t because you haven’t heard that it should be…. now eat your vegetable too
But back to the fruit… with my new found frugivorous diet it quickly became necessary to widen the variety I was eating. Apples and bananas had served me well for many years but let’s face it they can get pretty boring pretty quick especially when you’re eating them four or five times a day. I worked my way through the tropical fruits: papaya, mango, pineapple etcetera. I sampled the citrus from kumquat to pomelo and everything in between. Grapes, melons, berries, pears all became regular additions to my grocery basket and subsequently my belly. Slowly I ate my way through the fruit section checking off foods I had forgotten one by one until I pretty much had tried all that the local grocers had to offer.
In this day and age we’ve sort of forgotten that foods, especially fruits and vegetables, have seasons. Apples, formerly a fall treat, never vanish from the shelves. Asparagus, the harbinger of spring, is now just as comfortable accompanying the Thanksgiving turkey. Tomatoes, strawberries, even (formerly) exotic wonders like mangoes appear at all times in nearly every store in the U.S. of A. They may all taste like cardboard but yearlong availability has clearly won out over quality. So it was a pleasant surprise when about mid-summer new things started to appear in the fruit section… strange things… things I literally had never seen – or at least noticed before. Pluots… apriums… plumcots… apriplums what the heck are these things. I’m bright enough that I wasn’t really stumped for all that long. It was obvious from their names and appearance that they were all at least marginally related to apricots and plums. The fact that they sat directly between the apricots and plums on the fruit display provided another clue to this mystery… see I told you I was bright. What wasn’t clear to me was whether these new fruits were a happy accident of nature or part of some bigger conspiracy – an evil plot by evil big food companies involving geneticists and/or Dr. Frankenstein. I was also at least vaguely curious as to what they taste liked.
Well unfortunately for the story, but fortunately for my belly, a quick trip to Google seems to reveal that there is little or no conspiracy – at least not an evil one… just a bunch of fruit growers trying to get a little more space on the shelves. Plums and apricots along with cherries, almonds, peaches and many more are all members of the Prunus species and thus fairly easy to cross breed. That also, incidentally, solves that whole “why is it called a prune?” question I had been asking. Plant a few orchards and move a few beehives and voila you have a new and never before seen fruit… repeat ad infinitum. According to the Wikipedia, which is of course never wrong, plumcots and apriplums are first generation hybrids of the original plum and apricot trees… one looks like a plum and tastes like an apricot and the other… well this should be obvious. Pluots and apriums, on the other hand, are the fruit that results from trees grown directly from the seeds of plumcots and apriplums and their seeds will produce more pluots and apriums. But what would happen if you cross pollinated an aprium tree and a pluot tree… would it revert back to the original plums and apricots or would you end up with a new fruit – an apripluotum if you will. And what if you cross pollinated that with… now my head is beginning to hurt. Throw cherries and peaches into the mix and the possibilities grow logarithmically.. apricherriotmond any one. Given the length of time it takes for a fruit tree to mature this is not an experiment that you can finish in a weekend or a decade so we will all have to wait patiently to see what is next. But given infinite time and infinite bees there are an infinite number of new stone fruits to be grown and devoured. It all makes me feel very, very small and insignificant.
So in the name of science I’ve eaten them all and I have to say that they are pretty good, even without the mayo or cobbler crust. What do they taste like? Well… fruit- sort of like a plum… sort of like an apricot… but not exactly. I hope that clears everything up. My recommendation: go buy one of every variety you can lay your hands on and eat them. Hurry though because they won’t be here for long and in case you haven’t heard they’re good for you.