My mother-in-law was born in Surrey in 1914, and although only five years older than my own father, she had a foot in a different world, a pre-world war world. Also, although my father was very much a country boy, growing up on the edge of Cambridge which apart from the university was very much a market town, she grew up in the small villages of Nutfield and Bletchingley, right in the heart of the Surrey countryside.
I was always interested in things she told me about her life as a child, and she used to talk about the wild fruit they would pick, blackberries, sloes, crab apples, and also bullaces… of which I had never heard. being interested in food, in hedgerow foraging, dragging the children off to pick hips and haws for a recipe I’d come across, going out with bags for blackberries, and although I’d read a lot of fiction and factual stories about the English country, I’d never ever heard of bullaces.
Even now, although I’m so interested in them,, I’ve never found any and never tried any. I think I know where a wild tree grows, but it’s on a very buys trunk road and inaccessible. I have a very interesting book, called Forgotten Fruits, by Christopher Stocks, and I’ve had a look to see what Mr Stocks says about bullaces. He starts off his chapter on plums ‘There is something rather bewildering about plums’ it’s not just the origins and ancestry of the fruit, but what they have been called over the years. he gives the example of apples always being called apples, but a plum, he says ‘can also be a damson, a bullace, a greengage or a mirabelle… a cherry plum or a prune‘. there is a whole chapter about plums but here is a summary of their origins, according to Mr Stocks:
- bullaces and cherry plums are probably derived from a wild plum, prunus cerasifera for cherry plums and prunus institia for the bullace
- bullaces are probably the ancestors of damsons and mirabelles
- ordinary plums, dessert plums, are probably a hybrid of cherry plums and sloes from the blackthorn bush, prunus spinosa, but maybe not, maybe it’s just the cherry plum!
- prunes and greengages are just different varieties of ordinary dessert plums
I had never heard of mirabelles either, until I read one of the Inspector Wexford novels, by Ruth Rendell where there is a character who has mirabelles in her garden – which she calls miracles.