Of Plums and Iceboxes


Our Daily Correspondent


A watercolor of the Wickson plum by Deborah Griscom Passmore, 1896

Because my neighbors were out of town, I had been offered the gift of their weekly fruit and vegetable share from Community Share Agriculture. And because they are a family of four, when I came home from the nearby church where the produce is distributed, it was with bags heavy laden with corn, summer squash, celery, peppers, and stone fruits. It was more than I could eat.

The soft little sugarplums were especially ripe—several had burst in one of my totes on the way home—and clearly needed to be dealt with quickly. In that moment, I realized that I had no idea whether one can refrigerate a ripe plum. I knew, of course, that it had to ripen at room temperature—but what about afterward? Did it go horrible and mealy, like a tomato? Or was it stable and delicious, like a grape? It wasn’t that I’d grown up without fruit—in season, there was always a large bowl in the kitchen. But we ate them all so greedily and quickly that the refrigeration issue (at least in my memory) never came up. 

And then, of course, I thought of William Carlos Williams. Obviously, he—or his wife—believed in refrigerating plums. But presumably a 1934 icebox wasn’t as glacial as a modern fridge. And in any case, does Williams ever say, explicitly, that the plums were whole? Maybe they’d been sliced and cooked, thereby stabilizing their sugars? People were awfully into prepared fruits in the first half of the twentieth century. 

Poetry has helped me in many ways over the years: providing solace and comfort in hard times, and food for thought always. It has challenged me and confused me and gladdened me. But I rarely turn to it for practical kitchen advice—at least, not since reading about Edward Abbey’s “pinto bean sludge” in the confusingly named (but fantastic) John Keats’s Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets(The “poet cookbook” genre is actually not a small one. Let’s just say, as a rule, that there’s an awful lot of vague, bohemian whimsy.) And symbolist cooking has always seemed to me particularly risky.

On the other hand, Allen Ginsberg’s borscht is pretty good.

It’s occurred to me that since William Carlos Williams was a doctor, he, of all people, would have known about any negative molecular consequences of plum refrigeration. At the end of the day, he calls the plums “delicious,” and that—even as one knows that the line is saying more, that the illicit defiance is sweetening the snack, that this is quotidian intimacy and also intimacy cheapened by thousands of anthologies—is a ringing endorsement.

In any case, the Internet agreed: refrigerated plums were a go. So I refrigerated them. But far from devouring them, my husband and I have not seemed to want to eat them at all. So there they sit, maybe sweet and cold and delicious, but maybe just rotting a little more slowly.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.