Soft, sweet and juicy, there’s nothing like a perfectly plump British plum.
"British plums make it to the supermarkets within a couple of days of being picked"
And, according to Dan Masters, Procurement Manager at Norton Folgate, The Orchard Fruit Company, there’s a reason British plums taste so much better than any others.
“Unlike plums that are flown in from further afield, whether that’s South America or even Spain, British plums make it to the supermarkets within a couple of days of being picked,” resulting in a sweeter and more delicious fruit.
Norton Folgate is a fruit-sourcing company that represents four plum growers across England: three in Kent and one in Hereford. Thanks to Dan and his team’s work, independent fruit producers can get their produce into national supermarkets like Asda, promoting small businesses while also making sure customers receive the care and quality that only independent producers can give.
We spoke to Dan to find out a bit more about British plums and how the growers keep quality to a premium.
How do growers look after their plum trees?
“UK plums are a relatively low-input crop. Most plum trees are happy doing their own thing for most of the season, which also makes them great for gardens (if you’ve got the room!) The last couple of seasons have been good crops for our growers, which we put down to the weather, so British plums are at their finest right now.
When does prepping for plum season begin?
“Prep starts in the spring - after the trees blossom, the branches are pruned to make sure there’s the right amount of healthy wood on the tree to support the fruit, while also keeping it slimmed down enough to ensure all the trees get enough sunlight.
“Between six and eight weeks before harvesting, the fruit will start to bulk up. Growers have to go through and take off some of the plums in order to maximise the growth and sweetness of the ones that remain: this is called thinning, and can be a painful process for the grower because, at the end of the day, it means they produce less fruit, even though the fruit they do produce will be of a bigger and better quality. Sometimes a grower might have to discard as much as half of the plums starting to grow on their trees.
Why do producers need to ‘thin’ out their crop?
“There are three reasons why producers need to ‘thin’ their fruit. First of all, the more fruit there is on the tree, the greater the chance of the branch snapping, resulting in no fruit at all.
“Thinning also improves the flavour of the final plums: when you grow lots of fruit on one branch, the sugar is distributed between all of the plums, resulting in a fruit with a lower sugar content and therefore less delicious.
“And lastly, the more plums that grow on one branch, the smaller the plums will be and less likely to be up to standard."
How do growers harvest the ripe fruit?
“All of our growers’ plums are picked by hand. The best thing about British plums is they’re taken off the tree when they’re almost perfectly ripe and make it to the supermarkets within a couple of days of being picked. This means they can be harvested at a more mature stage when they’re riper with a higher sugar content and generally tastier.
What varieties are most popular and why?
"There are four main varieties our growers produce. The earliest one is called Opal, which is small and soft. After this, Jubileum comes into season, which is larger and firmer.
“Victoria plums come next (pictured below), which are medium-sized and generally the best for eating. You’ll tend to see these in stores from the first week of August until the first week of September. The last is called Marjorie. Marjorie plums ripen the latest of all of the varieties, so they have more time on the tree to grow and are relatively large.
“British plums tend to come into stores from late July to the middle of September. In Asda stores, the Victoria plum is the variety you're most likely to see. Luckily, these are the best eating plum and a true crowd-pleaser!”
What measures do your growers take to make sure the fruit is of the best quality?
“When the trees are flowering from late April until early May, our growers will introduce beehives into their orchards, or naturally try to attract bees and other pollinators into orchards, to try and encourage pollination and the best possible crop. Not only is it beneficial for our growers, but it’s also brilliant for the local wildlife and any local hives.
“Without the bees, there would be no fruit or vegetables at all, so it’s important both to our growers and our ethos that we do what we can to encourage local pollination on all our farms and in their local areas.”