There was a very old Satsuma plum tree growing right next to Devon Cottage, where great-aunt Charlotte lived. For many years it had provided fruit in season for family and friends.
Then in 1986, the year that Charlotte died at the age of 101, the old plum tree also died....except for just one limb, which continued to produce new shoots.
We asked our friend Hugh Sampson, who was a nurseryman, if he could try to graft a new tree from the branch, which he did, using peach rootstock.
The new tree was planted in the same spot as the old one, and over the years has grown into a magnificent specimen, producing long drooping branches, which carry so much fruit that they are clustered almost like bunches of grapes.
This year, the plum tree had become somewhat like a one-tree jungle, and anyone venturing into the centre needed a map to find their way out! So son John gave it a fairly savage pruning, reducing the size of the tree by about two thirds. Nevertheless, it has still produced a bounteous crop of blood-red Satsuma plums, and I have been busy making jam and sauce.
Plum sauce is a great favourite of mine, and is a most versatile addition to any pantry or store cupboard. It goes well with any meat, hot or cold, is a great tangy accompaniment to a curry, has a wonderful zest as a marinade or in a stir-fry, and adds a rich depth of flavour to a braised meat dish or a casserole.
Take about 2 kg (4lb) of chopped plums, with stones removed. You can add some apple/peaches/mango/ tomatoes (tinned or fresh) for flavour variation.
Add 2 - 2 1/2 cups of vinegar and 2 cups of sugar. I use white sugar and vinegar because the sauce then has a wonderful rich red colour instead of brown.
Throw in generous quantities of minced ginger and garlic, and boil it till it is good and thick.
Put into bottles/jars.
We have other plum trees at the cottage with different varieties, but the Satsuma is by far the best. All the others are sweet on the outside, but quite sour near the stone. I also make sauce from these, but it is definitely on the "tangy" side!
When I was a child in England, my great-aunt Sally lived next to a plum orchard in a village near Canterbury. She actually used to send us plums in the post. Parcels always arrived by the next day back then! I have nostalgic memories of eating plums with magical-sounding names like damsons, greengages and medlars.
Plums remind me of a lovely piece of fabric I was given by my friend Maggie, who knows I love fruit fabrics. It is a very rich fabric, ideal for blending and harmonising in a textile piece. Actually, a couple of years ago, I made a Crazy Patchwork quilt using fabrics from my rather extensive fruit and vegetable collection. It is draped over the back of the sofa in our lounge room, and is a cheerful addition to the room.