Ark of Taste
Robe de Sargeant Plum
Prunus domestica v. “Robe de Sergeant”
This is an excellent all around prune plum. They are a medium sized roundish oval with deep purple to blackish coloring and a thick grey bloom. The flesh is freestone, greenish-yellow, juicy, very sweet and highly flavored and can be used for fresh fruit, drying and jam. The Robe de Sergeant prune plum ripens in mid-August to late September depending on the climate and location. The tree is naturally upright, small, and productive with willowing branches when laden with fruit. Robe de Sergeant is the best tasting prune plum. It has a complex, highly flavored and very sweet taste, with a rich mouth feel and lingering acidity. It is extremely juicy.
Our mother trees are growing in an 1890’s home garden in downtown Nevada City, California less than a mile from Felix Gillet’s Barren Hill Nursery. They bear profusely and nearly every year, despite the challenged location. They were introduced to California in 1886 by Gillet. Between 1880 and 1907 Felix Gillet, a young Frenchman who realized that miners arriving in California in the wake of the Gold Rush desperately needed food, imported many new varieties of fruit and nut trees from Europe. Gillet opened the Barren Hill Nursery in 1871, in Nevada City, California, the epicenter of the Gold Rush, and began selling his favorite varieties. Thus, Felix Gillet propagated in California some of the best fruit and nut trees and established the foundations for the major agricultural industries of the Pacific Western states.
Carlton Rouse, one of the founders of the Sunsweet prune co-op, and a grower of hundreds of acres of prune plums for over 70 years in the Santa Clara and Sacramento valleys, often remarked that the best prunes he ever grew were the Robes, as he called them, and he was saddened to see the inferior, but more productive, Improved French prune (aka Clairac Mammoth D’Ente, also a Gillet variety) take over the prune industry that he had helped found. Although once widely planted in the prune growing regions of California, the Robe de Sergeant is no longer of commercial importance due to its lower yield than the Improved French prune. It is still occasionally found in very old prune orchards in the Sacramento Valley, but there are no recent plantings, and it is rarely found in homesteads of the Northern Sierra. Additionally, it is no longer produced commercially in France, where it originated.
The mother trees have been producing for over one hundred and ten years with no fertilizing, pruning, spraying or irrigation. These trees show no sign of decline, still produce abundantly in good weather, and are resistant to all pests excluding bears.