Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It's a Miracle

Many years ago the Tongva community lived in Southern California, including the place that is now called Montebello. When the Spanish came, the Tongva peoples and their language were nearly decimated. There are no more Tongva speakers left; the last died sometime in the middle of the 20th Century. But, before this last Tongva speaker died, someone discovered oil in Montebello, then someone discovered agriculture in Montebello, and then the Japanese were sent away, and sometime in there, Frederick H. Howard, born in 1874—according to this article—settled in Montebello.

I don't know where Frederick H. Howard was born. I don't know his family history or what happened to his descendants if he had any. What I do know is that there is an avenue named Howard now in Montebello, cutting north from Beverly Blvd across Lincoln, eventually dead-ending into a road named Jefferson, up near hills still dotted with bobbing bird-head oil wells. I do know, according to patents that are floating around, that he hybridized a variety of ornamental and food plants.

I also know that he developed and patented a plum that bears his name. According to David Karp's article, when Mr. Howard patented his plum tree, he claimed it was a cross between a European greengage and an Asian satsuma, a genetically improbably cross. Also according to Karp, Howard was likely incorrect, and mistook a Japanese green-fleshed plum to be a greengage. The dreamy part of me wants to believe Karp wrong, though the scientist part of me knows he's got to be right.

Here is the description of the tree found in Register of New Fruit and Nut Varieties: 1920-1950, by Reid M. Brooks and H. P. Elmo:
My mom, who recommended this tree to me as a plum she enjoyed as a kid, originated near the same time in near the same area as this tree; it's practically family.

My young Howard Miracle plum gave me its second crop this year, a dozen fat, big-as-a-big-peach plums, fully flushed red with yellow flesh. Picked firm and unripe, this plum is painfully acidic and sour, but left to ripen on the tree until the flesh yields to pressure, this plum is remarkable. If you took honeysuckle and honey and ripe pineapple and another good plum, then blurred them together into a beautiful package, you might get something that tastes like a Howard Miracle. In my yard, it ripens now, mid-to-late July, after the peaches have finished up but before the Elephant Heart plums soften.

I've never seen this plum in a market, though I've read articles that refer to finding it in markets. In fact, I've never seen this plum anywhere other than on my tree, or in my hands, or on a plate, and on its way into my mouth.

Thank you Mr. Howard, for your miracle.


Pasadena Adjacent said...

I know a fair amount about Montebello having completed a public art project for the city, but the Howard plum was not part of my knowledge. Very interesting

Christina said...

Hi PA. In your research, did you come across the old Howard's Nursery in Montebello? That is how Mr. Howard made a living; the fruit and rose hybridization appear to be hobbies. I can't find exactly where the nursery was, but my mom remembers going to it as a child. She grew up on the hills in Whittier.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Check out the street Portrero Grande Dr over near San Gabriel Blvd and the 60. Some large scale nurserys still operate around there