Shirley-Kat and the best harvest ever

By TIM BEELAND,

When we were young and would travel “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” the roadsides and ditch banks seemed to be full of wild plums around this time of year. At my Mawmaw and Pawpaw Beeland’s old home place on Hays Road between Highway 21 and Sulphur Springs there was a whole hillside of orange, and red, and yellow plums and fresh plum jelly was a treat we enjoyed all year long.

As time went by and the old red dirt ditches began to disappear so did those plum trees. By the time Mawmaw died I don’t believe there was still a plum tree anywhere around. Today there is nothing left over there but a pretty green pasture and the two old Catalpa worm trees that used to provide plenty of bait for catfishing in the summer.

I always loved munching on those tangy, sweet, sour, jaw-locking treats fresh off the tree even though more than once, I think, I munched down on a juicy little worm as well. I missed those plums and I missed that jelly too. Store bought just isn’t the same.

So in the spring of 2005 I bought a plum tree and planted it in the front yard out by the mailbox. I had big plans for the coming years. Then in August of that year a storm named Katrina blew through and laid my plum tree flat over on its side. I propped it back up and staked it out but it never did straighten up completely so I named it Katrina after the storm.

Katrina lived although she is still leaning at about a 30 degree angle to the south. She’s grown a lot through the years and today reaches about 20 feet into the air. She would be even taller  were it not for that tilt!

The first couple of years we had a few blooms and perhaps a plum or two. Some years there was nothing to harvest at all and my biggest haul had been 18 big fat plums. Last year there were only three and I accredit that to some mischievous young neighbor girls.

This year we just barely made it past a late freeze and there was so much fruit on the tree that it prompted me to rename it. You see, my late sister-in-law, Shirley Gilmer, was nuts about plums. Most folks that knew her would probably say she was just nuts, but when it came to plums, green plums that is, she was extra nutty.

One year not long after I took over the reigns of The Scott County Times 10 years ago, Shirley was still alive and fairly healthy — healthy for her anyway — and still able to drive. One day she asked me to pick her up a basket of green plums from a farmer’s market near the Ross Barnett Reservoir the next time I ventured over that way should they have some for sale. I did and when she arrived in Forest to pick them up I proudly held out the little pint basket of green fruit and the look on her face told me I had done something, terribly, terribly wrong.

Shirley didn’t want a pint she wanted more like a half bushel. I learned a valuable lesson that day and the next time I went to the market I fixed her up just right.

Fast forward now to the spring of this year and as the limbs of Katrina grew heavy with green plums it reminded me of Shirley so I changed the tree’s name to Shirley-Kat. I don’t know if Shirley had anything to do with it from Heaven above or not, but this past weekend my wife and I picked 10 pounds of fat juicy plums from that tree just before a flock of big, fat, black crows claimed them.

We had warned the neighbor girls not to touch the tree this year and perhaps they got the message just like I did that time I brought home that pint of plums for Shirley.  Regardless of how or why my tree was fruitful this year, I’m just glad it was.

As of Sunday afternoon, the majority of those pretty red plums are now pretty red jars of jelly and I counted every one as the top popped and sealed. The rest of the harvest is in a bowl on the kitchen table just waiting for someone to walk by and grab a taste of instant lock jaw. 

Best harvest ever and I haven’t eaten a worm yet. Or, at least, not one that I know of and now I’ve got my eye on the pear tree, which is looking pretty promising, and I’m hoping the tomato vines are paying attention to what the fruit is doing too!