Ever wonder how the dried plums in your lunch bag got there? Read on to find out.
- Bees are no fun when they sting you, but they’re the heroes of the prune plum orchards in early spring, when they pollinate fluffy white prune plum blossoms so the fruits can start to grow.
- Farmers water their orchards and add nutrients to the soil—kind of like giving a vitamin to the prune plum trees. As the prune plums ripen, they turn from green to the dark purple you’re used to seeing in the grocery store.
- It’s harvest time! A mechanical harvester grabs the trunk and shakes the fresh prune plums onto a fabric-covered frame set up under the tree. From there, the fruit takes a ride on a conveyor belt to the bins.
- After weighing and washing, the fresh prune plums are stacked onto trays and rolled into large tunnels, where they dry in hot air. When this is done, they can officially call themselves dried plums. Congratulations!
- But wait! They’re not ready just yet: The newly dried plums still have to get sorted, steamed, pitted and packaged before you can eat them.
- Finally! It’s snack time for you, your friends and California Dried Plums.
Where Do Dried Plums Come From?
If you think California Dried Plums come from the grocery store, you’re only half right. The special type of trees on which they grow actually come from western Asia, near a huge lake—the biggest in the world—called the Caspian Sea. Way back in the Middle Ages, the Crusaders brought these special prune plum trees from Asia to western Europe.
Dried Plums Strike Gold
When Louis Pellier, a Frenchman, came to California during the Gold Rush, he didn’t find much gold. So he and his brother Pierre decided to try growing prune plums in the state’s rich soil instead. When they attached part of a French plum tree called the Petit d’Agen to a wild American plum tree—a practice that farmers call “grafting"—they created the California Dried Plum that’s famous today. These trees grew so well that other growers soon caught on, and orchards began popping up all over California, from the Santa Clara and San Joaquin Valleys to Sacramento, Sonoma and Napa.
No Monkey Business
At first, farmers picked the fresh prune plums by hand and dried them in the open air and sun. But in 1905, one farmer thought it would be smarter to bring 500 monkeys from Panama to pick his fruit instead. (Maybe he thought he could pay them in bananas.) He organized the monkeys into groups of 50 and set them loose in the orchards—with a human supervisor, of course—but while the monkeys were great at picking the prune plums, they were also great at eating them. Soon enough, they’d eaten every prune plum in sight!
Needless to say, the monkeys got fired. These days, humans or machines pick the fresh prune plums, sending them to plants where they’re dried in mechanical dehydrators.
Winter Christmas Tale-Little Jack's Plum Pie
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner
Eating his Christmas Pie.
He stuck in his thumb,
and pulled out a plum,
and said ‘what a good boy am I,
Yes, what a good boy am I!’
What makes California such a perfect place for growing—and eating—dried plums? The rich valley soils help, as do long, warm growing seasons, lots of sunshine, irrigation water and modern farming techniques that let the prune plums ripen perfectly. That’s why California Dried Plums have great flavor, size, texture, sweetness, smooth small pits—everything that makes a dried plum delicious.
Today, California grows 48 percent of the world’s dried plums—almost 100,000 tons that go to more than 50 countries each year. Put another way, that’s enough dried plums to circle the earth more than six times!