Growing & Harvesting
Grabbing a pack of dried plums at the supermarket is such a snap that it’s easy to forget that those juicy little nuggets didn’t get there overnight. The California Dried Plum’s long journey from plum to package makes for a compelling tale, and it all starts with a seedling …
In the Orchard
When growers plant a prune plum tree, they’ve got a four- to six-year wait before they see their labors bear fruit. Even then, a tree needs 8 to 12 years in the ground before it reaches full production capacity of 150 to 300 pounds of raw fruit per year. At that point, an orchard can look forward to about three solid decades of commercial productivity, during which time it yields the fine-quality fruit that consumers know and love.
From Winter Rest to Summer Sun
The prune plum tree is deciduous, which means that it goes dormant during the winter months. But this “quiet time" for the trees gives the grower a chance to prune, regulating shape, controlling fruit size and maintaining a healthy growth pattern.
When spring comes 49,000 acres of California orchards are covered in a fragrant blanket of white prune plum blossoms – while the rest of the nation still shivers under a blanket of snow. But enjoy it while it lasts because after as little as a week, the blossoms drift to the ground and the orchards’ palette shifts to a deep chartreuse as new fruit forms and leaf buds burst.
During summer, California gets very little rain, so growers irrigate the thirsty orchards. By irrigating the land instead of relying on rain the growers have more control over the quality of the fruit. They give the trees just the amount of water they need to top off what’s available underground.
The Time Is Ripe
By mid-August, the orchards are ready for harvest—a job that usually takes about 30 days. Prune plums are tree-ripened so growers determine harvest time by checking fruit firmness and sugar content with a tool called a light refractometer.
Once upon a time, growers smoothed and softened the soil beneath the trees and let the prune plums drop before gathering them to take to the dehydrator. This method required three to four “pickings" to strip an orchard completely of fruit
In order to become more efficient and deliver consistent top-quality fruit, harvesting today is largely done by machines. A mechanical shaker grabs a tree’s main limb or its trunk and, in a matter of seconds, shakes the fruit onto a fabric catching frame spread underneath. From there, it’s a quick conveyor ride to bins destined for the dehydrator.
Dried, Packed and Ready to Go
Processors waste no time transferring their freshly harvested fruit to the dryers, where three pounds of fresh fruit become one pound of dried plums. After thorough washing and placement on large wooden trays, the fruit is dehydrated in a sequence of scientifically determined, fully automated and strictly sanitary operations that maximize efficiency while protecting product quality. Super-sensitive thermostats keep temperatures under tight control to yield the uniform high-quality fruit that make California Dried Plums famous
From the dehydrator, the newly dried plums go to state-of-the-art packing plants, where trained personnel inspect them, grade them for size and store them ahead of final processing and packaging. Because dried plums store best at 21 percent moisture—a point at which they’re known as "natural condition dried plums"—post-harvest dehydration targets this level. There they remain, in cool storage facilities, until needed for further processing.
Unlike the majority of processed fruits, most dried plums are packed to order, whereupon they’re rehydrated, sterilized, put through a final inspection and packaged for shipping. Such is the standard procedure whether the order calls for 25- or 30-pound bulk cases or the 1- to 2-pound packages you see on grocery store shelves.