Kea plums

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Kea plums

Kea plum

The Kea Plum is a jamming plum around the same size of damsons. Too sharp to eat fresh, it is loaded with pectin, making it ideal for jam. There are four distinctive varieties of the plum: Red, Black, Crystal and Grey. The Red Kea Plum is the earliest and is estimated available from 10th August to 24th August., while black Kea Plums, which applied for the European PGI status, make up the main harvest from around 21st August to late September. The plums are not picked in the conventional way but are gathered from a series of ‘shakes.’ Four shakes are usually required to harvest the best plums, and the first shake is discarded. Often these fruits were combined with windfall apples and made into a common or garden jam, if you could get the sugar. The plum, which takes its name from the village of the same name, grows in rambling orchards and even on the beach, where it is not affected by the salt-laden rain and south-westerly winds. Kea Plums are only found in a single valley in Cornwall, located just off the Fal Estuary. For years the only access to the estuary was by river. Indeed the plums have only been accessible by road for the last 60 years. Before this, the plums were collected by boat, with the trees being shaken so the fruit fell into the boats. Kea plums are typical of the homonymous parish of Kea (in Cornish named Lanndyge, Landege or Landegey), is situated in the Deanery and Hundred of Powder. It is bounded on the north by Kenwyn, on the east by the River Fal, which separates it from St Clements and St Michael Penkivel, on the south by Feock, Perranarworthal, and Gwennap, and on the west by a fetched portion of Kenwyn and St Agnes. The name is taken from an Irish Saint, Kea, who, after floating from Ireland on a granite boulder, is reputed to have landed where old Kea church stood. The parish is mainly agricultural, and is noted for giving its name to the damson-type Kea plum.The River Fal flows up to Truro past Kea church and there is a short tidal creek inland here. Malpas is on the opposite bank where the river splits into two, one branch going to Truro and the other to Tresillian. There was a foot ferry here once upon a time and it was popular crossing place avoiding a long inland journey around the heads of the creeks. The estate of Lord Falmouth at Tregothnan is also across the water. Malpas (anciently named Mopus) is said to be the place where the bride intended for King Mark of Cornwall fell in love with her escort. It is a very pretty spot, sheltered and warm which is why the plums do well. The damsons also grew wild here and many families combined a day out with a little fruit gathering in the autumn. Historically the plum has represented an important contribution to the livings of the villagers of Kea, Coombe, Cowlands and other Fal villages. They were taken by boat to Truro and sold and there were dozens of farm-gate stalls all around the estuary system. The plums are only found in an incredibly small and unique location. Whilst the plums are currently being used for products, this is by a single company, and the size of the orchard is a mere 20 acres. It is quite possible that if the plums were to fall out of favour then the variety may be lost. There was even a small canning factory set up specially to deal with the Kea plum, but as these fruits only tend to crop every other year the business was soon abandoned. The product, though, is still available on the market and it has recently spread outside Cornwall.

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