What kind of music does a plum charmer play? Anything by the Stones or Deep Purple

Matthew Bell visits Pershore, the UK’s plum capital, where farmers anxious about this year’s crop have reinstated a rural tradition


The plums are green and hard. The drizzle is setting in. But thanks to the plum-charmer of Pershore, “Summertime” is here. Paul Johnson is playing Gershwin on a B-minor clarinet as he wanders the rows of stumpy trees. His robes are papal purple, and his hat is a black tricorn, edged with gold brocade.

Normally, on a Tuesday morning, you will find Paul grinding through wills at a solicitors’ office in town. Today, he is providing a more pastoral service, by making sure this year’s plum harvest gets off on the right note.

“I want to remind the plums it’s summertime,” he explains, “so that they’d better get growing.” If that doesn’t work, he’s brought a synthesizer that plays clock chimes – “to make the point time is passing!”

Like many rural traditions, the history of plum-charming is part folklore, part pub claptrap. What we do know is that wassailing – the practice of singing to orchards – has gone on in apple-growing areas, like Somerset, since medieval times. The idea was to scare off evil spirits and ensure a good crop.

Here in Worcestershire, no evidence has yet surfaced that plums prefer clarinets. “They do respond to the music,” says Mr Johnson, 51. “Somebody told me that if you can get the right key, and make the water molecules vibrate within the fruit, it will resonate and promote the ripening process.”

Plums are important to the people of Pershore. Originally from the Middle East, via France, they have grown here since at least the 1830s, when the landlord of the Butcher’s Arms found a new variety growing in the woods, and named it the Pershore Yellow Egg.

During the First World War, the town responded to the national food shortage by distributing tons of fruit by train. Great Western Railway thanked them by naming an engine The Pershore Plum. At the racecourse, now defunct, the “Land o’Plums Chase” was always the most popular race.

By the 1970s, orchards were deemed unprofitable, and EU subsidies encouraged farmers to scrub them up.

Richard Allen, 63, a retired engineer who now tends this 11-and-a-half acre orchard, remembers it well. “It broke my father-in-law’s heart,” he says. “He was paid to dig up his whole life’s work.”

The orchard we’re in, crowning a hill five miles outside the town, was bought by a local syndicate 14 years ago, and forms part of the so-called Blossom Trail for tourists.

For without plums, what is Pershore? “We don’t have an Alton Towers,” as Angela Tidmarsh puts it. She’s the tourism officer and chair of the annual plum festival, which was resurrected in 1996 by two local historians. In 1920, it was advertised as “the largest plum show on earth”. It can probably claim the title once again, as it now lasts the whole of August, and includes shop-window competitions, coach tours and markets selling plum-related produce, from sausages to soap. “We do go a bit plum crazy,” says Mrs Tidmarsh.

Today, the plums still look like bullets, but there are six weeks to go. The Hermans and Opals come first, followed by Oullin’s Gage, Blue Tit, and the Blaisdon Red. “With this year’s late summer,” says Mr Allen, “the season will probably go on into October, ending with the Marjorie’s Seedlings.”

That sounds like a band. Surely  they should play to the plums. Or maybe that would be too weird, even for Pershore.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral