Tiny green French plums changed me. This may sound grossly cliché, but hear me out. I arrived in Grenoble at the tail end of a blazing summer and moved into a little apartment overlooking the train tracks. It had sweeping views of the Alps, giant French doors that opened onto a balcony, and ridiculously charming details throughout. Each morning, a sprawling open-air market would bustle under the train tracks below, and browsing through the stalls of local cheeses, produce, and freshly baked breads quickly became my favorite activity. This was 16 years ago now, but even then, I knew food would play a significant role in my future.
On one of my earliest strolls through the market, I was magnetically drawn to one of the fruit vendors. He must have had at least half a dozen varieties of plums, only one or two of which I recognized. Among them, the tiny green ones caught my eye — hardly the size of a golf ball, their pale green skins clouded over with a light bloom of natural yeast. I couldn’t figure them out from appearances alone. Sweet? Sour? I asked for half a kilo, and the man filled up a brown paper bag, adding a few extra for good measure. Back in my apartment, I curiously went to taste one. So ripe, almost liquid, it felt like it would burst in my fingers. I bit into golden-green flesh that melted away like butter, sweeter than a spoonful of honey. For the second bite, I popped the rest of the fruit in my mouth, spitting out the pit like I'd devoured an oversized cherry. My mind was blown. I’d never tasted a fruit like this before and it sent me into a tailspin. I thought I knew my fruits, and here I was having this transcendent experience with just a tiny green plum that, in its pure state, was the best thing I'd ever tasted. I'd buy a bag every few days and start eating them before reaching my front door. They grew riper and sweeter by the day, and then, one morning, they were gone. It had only been about two weeks; how was this possible? The vendor just shrugged and informed me that the season was over.
Looking back, eating these tiny green plums, known as Greengage, informed so much of how I approach food, recipes, cooking, and eating. The idea of seasonality wasn’t new, and the term was being tossed around quite liberally then (as it is now). But my fleeting affair with the precious stone fruit taught me that it’s not just about capturing the peak season of produce; it roots the eating experience in a very true time and place. Each season is an opportunity to experience the fleeting flavors, and then they sit soundly in my memory. Creating a new seasonal dessert is often an exercise in nostalgia for me. These plums, which I've since found in New York City, always bring me back to France in a way, but each year is another opportunity to create a lasting impression. That first bite of tiny green plum is, to this day, one of the best, most remarkable things I've ever eaten; and in some ways, it set me on a path. Delicious, ripe, sweet, and fully unadorned. A true time and place.
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Caroline Schiff is the executive pastry chef at Gage & Tollner, head chef of Slow Up, and author of upcoming cookbook “The Sweet Side of Sourdough.”
Joanna Neborsky Illustrator
Literary, frenetic, and bold, illustrator/animator Joanna Neborsky’s darkly humorous collage work has been featured in the New York Times, Travel + Leisure, and W magazine, and has attracted notice in Bookforum and the Paris Review. Her latest book, her own modern take on the Proust Questionnaire, was published in 2016. Neborsky lives in Los Angeles.