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Monday, April 11, 2011
GREENGAGE, CALLED ALOOCHA IN URDU - HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS: GREENGAGE - VANILLA JAM RECIPE
Greengages are basically wild green plums that have been domesticated over the centuries. They have a difficult to research past, and seem to have re-emerged in Britain in the 18th Century having been introduced from France by the gage family who resided at Hengrave Hall, outside Bury St. Edmonds.
It is believed that the Romans first introduced the green plum into Britain, but all the material I have read says that these trees mysteriously disappeared after the Fall of the Roman Empire, so that must have been sometime in the 5th century as Rome was captured by the Germanic general Odacer or Odovacar in 476 AD. After this period Europe fell into the Dark Ages as the early Middle Ages were called. However no one has linked (as far as I can tell) the “Cataclysm” of 535 AD with the disappearance of these wild plum trees from the British Isles. It is known that there was a period of climate change from 535 to 565 or 575 due it is thought to a comet or meteorite impact or more likely the eruption of the Super Volcano Krakatoa which caused a similar weather phenomenon in the 1880s.
Certainly the climate became colder at this time as scientists have found from examining tree rings around the world. This could have caused the death of the wild plum trees, or they might have been affected by disease which might also have been brought about by a volcanic eruption.
The wild green plums continued to be grown in Italy and were known in Britain in the early 17th century although they were called Verdoch, undoubtedly from the Italian name for them, Verdocchio. John Parkinson, (1567-1650) was the apothecary to James I of England (James VI of Scotland) refers to these plums as Verdoch, so they were known in Britain before they were reintroduced from France in the 18th century.
On her marriage to Francis I of France, (1499-1524) Queen Claude took trees of green plums with her from Italy to France. There they became known as Reine Claude (Queen Claude) after her. These are still grown in France with the best said to come from Moissac.
There are several stories as to how greengages arrived in Britain in the 18th century, but all of them relate to the Gage family. A John Gage, an English Catholic priest, was studying in Paris in 1724 and sent some trees to his brother at Hengrave Hall. In transit the fruit trees lost their labels and the gardener planted them as green Gage in honour of his employer. British horticulturists developed these fruits until they became the green gages we have today. William Coxe (1747-1836), an English historian said of them, they are ‘universally acknowledged to be the finest plumb of this or any other country.” Other eminent men have also commented on the sweetness of this “exquisite” fruit.
Greengages are a type of plum and related to other trees in the rose family such as the apricot and almond. They have similar health benefits to other plums being rich in vitamin C and the mineral potassium.
In Pakistan there is a wild green plum aloocha, which is from the genus Prunus aloocha, which may be a close relative of the Italian variety. It is generally believed that greengages came from Armenia, although clearly the wild green plum that grows in Pakistan is a native species, or has become naturalized, perhaps having the same Persian origins as the aloo Bukhara or Persian plum.
Greengages are best eaten as a fruit and do not take well to being pickled or made into chutney. They are good in jam (see recipe below), pies, tarts, fools and sorbets and the jam goes well with vanilla ice cream or spooned into custard.
1½ kilos greengages
1½ kilos sugar
2 vanilla pods
15 gr unsalted butter
Wash the fruit and pick out any blemished fruit or over ripe squishy ones. Slightly under ripe ones are OK.
Put them whole in a pan with 250 ml water and the 2 pods of vanilla. Simmer the mixture gently for about ½ an hour until the fruit is extremely soft.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar, stirring constantly until it dissolves.
Return the pan to the heat and add the butter. Stir and bring back to the boil.
Allow it to boil for about 10 minutes, and by then the stones from the fruit should have risen to the top so that they can easily be scooped out with a slotted spoon.
Continue boiling until setting point has been reached. (When you drip a small amount from the back of a metal spoon onto a cold saucer and it gels, it is set.)
Skim off any scum from the top of the mixture and ladle into hot sterilized jars.
Remove the vanilla pods, rinse and dry them then put in a jar of sugar and bury them in it. This will give you vanilla sugar to be used for desserts in future. You can also reuse the vanilla pods in another dessert after they have been in the sugar.
This has Taste and is a Treat.