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Dried prunes are experiencing something of an identity crisis.

Nomenclature used to be more predictably standardized than it is now. When I write about how it works, I compare it to the names of cars. For example, ‘General Motors’ is just a family. ‘Buick’ is a genus. ‘Electra’ is a species. ‘Limited’ is a variety. Well, my Sebring was labeled as a Chyrsler but made by Mercedes Benz. Modern horticultural nomenclature is no more accurate.

With all the promiscuity going on nowadays, it is impossible to know who the parent of some of our favorite plants are. Many are interspecific hybrids. Some are intergeneric hybrids. Some are so complicated that their species names are merely omitted; and no one seems to notice! That is like driving a Mercury LS without knowing or caring if it is a Grand Marquis or a Lynx.

So, now we can grow such aberrations of traditional stone fruit as as aprium, apriplum, pluot, plumcot, nectaplum, pluerry and peacotum. The first half of the names supposedly indicate who the promiscuous maternal parent is. The second half refers to the male pollinator. Parents who contributed fewer letters to the name were supposedly already hybridized prior to breeding.

For example, an apricot pollinated by a plum creates an aprium; and an aprium pollinated by a plum creates an apriplum. The apriplum gets an extra letter from plum ancestry because it is %75 plum and %25 apricot. A plum pollinated by an apricot creates a pluot; and a plum pollinated by a pluot creates a plumcot. There are, of course, many other complicating combinations.

Sure, the resulting fruit is very good; but is it any better than what it was bred from? If everyone could have tasted the simple, traditional and exemplary stone fruits that formerly grew in the vast orchards of the Santa Clara Valley, there would be no need for all this hooey. Besides, why is there all this interest in creating new and weird fruit while eliminating some of the old?

Prunes and plums, as I explained earlier, are two distinct types of fruits. Japanese plums are the richly flavored and typically more brightly colored fruits that were more popular in home gardens than in orchards, since they are not easy to transport. European prunes are the sweeter but mildly flavored freestone fruits that grew in orchards, generally for drying and canning.

Apparently, the name of ‘prunes’ was not appealing enough . . . or was actually considered to be unappealing. Almost twenty years ago, prunes were consequently reclassified as plums. Dried prunes are now known as dried plums, as if they are dried versions of the classic ‘Santa Rosa’ plums that so many of us grow in our home gardens. Some of them just might be! Who knows?!

Plum juice could be extracted from Japanese plums, which actually make excellently rich juice, but is more likely from fresh (not dried) French or Italian prunes. However, there is still such a beverage that is known as prune juice. It is extracted from, of all things, rehydrated dried plums . . . or dried prunes. These unfortunate fruits get dehydrated, rehydrated, and then juiced!

The juice of rehydraded dehydrated plums or prunes might be the only remaining application of the word ‘prune’. At least it is useful for that; in the sense that it designates the source of the juice as rehydrated dehydrated fruit of some sort, rather than fresh fruit of some sort. Whether such fruit is a plum or what was formerly known as a prune remains something of a mystery.

15 thoughts on “Horridculture – Dried Plums?

    1. The traditional ones had simple names. I grow the ‘French prune’ because it was the most common in the Santa Clara Valley, and what formerly grew where I used to live. I might eventually add the ‘Italian prune’ because it was the second most common. The prune blossom is the Official Town Flower of Campbell. Plums were not common in orchards, but ‘Santa Rosa’ plum was the most popular for home gardens, and is what I prefer. I grow none of thee weird hybrids.

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      1. Following Doris’s thought, the Santa Clara Valley was truly a spectacular sight a century ago, when the vast fruit orchards were in bloom. Long after urban sprawl and the tech industry had changed the landscape, my husband’s great aunts could not understand why he wouldn’t want to settle down with his family in such a gorgeous place. Nothing could replace the experiences and images that had filled their minds, and we were glad for them.

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      2. If it were not my home, it is not a place that I would relocate to. I sometimes wish it were not my home, so I could go someplace better. It is saddening to see what has happened to the region that used to be so idyllic. My great grandmother could remember when the population of Sunnyvale was not much more than 3,000.

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  1. That’s interesting. I thought prunes were always dried plums; disgusting things you were forced to eat as a child, often with rice pudding to keep you ‘regular’. But in French the word for plum is ‘prune’ and a dried plum is ‘pruneau’ so no confusion there.

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  2. I always thought the push to call prunes “dried plums” was the association of “prune” with one’s grandmother, which goes against the glorification of youth culture. This is an enlightening glimpse you give into just how complicated (and promiscuous 🙂 ) the whole hybridizing world has become.

    My husband’s large family lived in the Santa Clara Valley for many generations, and naturally were part of the agricultural scene. Most everyone (from the youth to the grandmothers) was a prune picker at one time or another!

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      1. Oh, of course. Multiple generations did not likely live in the same place.
        New Almaden was known simply as ‘Almaden’ as long as I can remember. Downtown later became known as ‘Old Almaden’, and then jokingly known as ‘Old New Almaden’. Those who are displeased with the monster homes and tract house that are there now might refer to it is ‘New Old New Almaden’.
        My ancestors established a foundry in Alviso, at a time when Alviso was still known to some as New Chicago, . . . and there were at least two other towns known as New Chicago in California.

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    1. I don’t think that isn’t totally untrue.
      To me, dried prunes sounds sort of redundant, just because that was how we always knew them. We were surrounded by prune orchards, but never at prunes fresh. They were always dried, or maybe canned. The plums that grew in home gardens were only eaten fresh, but never dried.

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