At their height, French prune-plum orchards covered nearly 20,000 acres of Sonoma County. Centered around Healdsburg, it was as staple crop, along with apples, walnuts and canning cherries beginning in the late 1800s (and bolstered by Luther Burbank) until the late 1970s.
Ripped out to make way for vineyards, they’re difficult to find these days, cropping up wild on farm lots and often ignored altogether. But finding that rare untended gem is something of a minor miracle, and worth seeking out.
Recently, I visited the Rincon Valley farm of Ariel and Jeff Russell from Redwood Empire Farm. They’re two of my absolute favorite farmers, with Jeff’s family working the same land for several generations. I stumbled over one of their plum trees, and took a picture, astonished by its beauty when forager/chef John Lyle pointed it out to me.
Available only a few weeks each year (and so delicate they’re almost impossible to keep for more than a few days), Redwood Empire Farm has some available this week at their farm stand, which is open Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 6 pm and Wednesday from 10 am to 2 pm just off of Hwy 12 at 55 Middle Rincon Road, in east Santa Rosa. Or online at redwoodempirefarm.com.
(They’ve also got some incredible sweet and hot peppers and of course, tomatoes for sale right now.)