Plums, damsons, Zwetschgen and peaches

I know fruit and vegetable terminology is really confusing. We have a Polyglot Vegetarian, but where is the polyglot fruitarian?

For years I have known that Zwetschge is difficult to translate into English. The standard exemplar is sweet and can be eaten raw. It is commonly translated as damson because of its small size. But a damson is small and sour, and makes good jam. I suppose the best English translation is zwetsche (the G got lost, but it just indicates a diminutive). One also encounters damson plum, but I don’t know if that helps. And some people even throw the term prune into the mix.

But it seems I failed to define Zwetschge properly. I was thinking of taking some back to England for the neighbours, but I gradually realized that what I was seeing in the market as Zwetschgen were what I would call plums.

Yesterday at the market, at an organic veg stall with two types of Zwetschge, I was told that in everyday German, Pflaumen are round and Zwetschgen are oval!

Now I know that Californian plums are round, but Victoria plums are longish. But this is rubbish.

So no Zwetschgen for my neighbours in England. They would wonder why I was bringing plums all that way.

To be fair, I was told there are masses of different Zwetschgen.

Curiously, the Wikipedia entry for Pflaume does not link to plum, but to Prunus domestica. Perhaps that’s why Frau Albrecht was selling both Zwetschgen and Hauszwetschgen.

P. domestica ssp. domestica – common plums, zwetschge (including ssp. oeconomica)
P. domestica ssp. insititia – damsons and bullaces, krieche, kroosjes, perdrigon and other European varieties
P. domestica ssp. intermedia – egg plums (including Victoria plum)
P. domestica ssp. italica – gages (greengages, round plums etc.; including sspp. claudiana and rotunda)
P. domestica ssp. pomariorum – spilling
P. domestica ssp. prisca – zibarte
P. domestica ssp. syriaca – mirabelle plums

Zwetschge (Prunus domestica subsp. domestica)
Kriechen-Pflaume oder Hafer-Pflaume (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia)
Halbzwetsche (Prunus domestica subsp. intermedia)
Edel-Pflaume (Prunus domestica subsp. italica)
Spilling (Prunus domestica subsp. pomariorum)
Ziparte (Prunus domestica subsp. prisca)
Mirabelle (Prunus domestica subsp. syriaca)

In other news, I encountered the Roter Weinbergpfirsich.

It was sold as a Blutpfirsich.

Up to then I thought Weinbergpfirsich (vineyard peach) just referred to those flat peaches that have become so fashionable (Plattpfirsiche). But I was told that was not so – the term properly (if such a thing exists in fruit terminology) refers to old garden peaches that have furry skins and don’t keep well. I got some yellow ones too, but I have now eaten them, and I’ve converted the red ones into compote.

7 thoughts on “Plums, damsons, Zwetschgen and peaches

  1. I would have thought that in general terms bullace = zwetsch(g)e. I was unaware of these until introduced to them by my in-laws, who live in a part of Essex where there are lots of bushes. They are the bluey-purple of damsons, but sweet and edible straight from the bush. Not to be confused with the smaller (and bitterer) sloes!

  2. In the 1960s Zwetschen (Zwetschgen) were sold in England as “Kent Switchens” (or Switchins). They are widely available all over Europe for cooking, cakes, etc. They can be eaten raw but they are the only plum that does not go sour during cooking. Where have they all gone and can I possibly still buy some anywhere in this country?

  3. I know you can buy a tree in the UK. For instance, at Keepers Nursery
    they have
    Plum Prunus domestica Bohemian Zwetsche Late
    Plum Prunus domestica Pozegaca Zwetsche Late
    Plum Prunus domestica Quetsche d’Alsace Late
    Plum Prunus domestica Wangenheims Fruhzwetsche Mid-season
    Plum Prunus domestica Zimmers Fruhzwetsche Mid-season

    I do not remember the Kent Switchens. It may be worth looking at Borough Market and other outlets in September or October when the fruit should be ripe.

  4. My understanding (from Austria…Kaernten to be precise) is that Zwetschgen are long-oval dark purple plums with pointed ends and yellow flesh and a pronounced bloom on the skin which is practically iridescent.
    These are the same plums that I have seen on Youtube videos of Czechish Slivovits production.
    I saw a box of them outside an Eastern-European supermarket in London during the season…I’m wracking my brain as to where that was…

    • Goodness – a comment! Without checking my 2006 post, I know what you mean. The closest to what you describe are Victoria plums, which are larger. In Germany, however, they are not the only Zwetschgen I have seen in rthe market. I would be interested to see them in that location in London as I’m in London too – or at least, in Greater London. I know you can buy Zwetschge trees to grow here. – I think that Bühler Zwetschgen are rounder and darker. And here is a recommendation of types of Zwetschge in Bavaria: (I hope the link works). I think you are basing your conclusions on the most common type … in Carinthia and elsewhere!

    • You’ve cracked the mystery! The German word is a slightly mangled version of the Czech word Švestky. As far as I know it’s just Prunus domestica. Sometimes used in Germany to refer to cakes of Czech origin Zwetschgen Kolatschen aka Švestkové koláče. Slivovice is indeed made from these plums too where slíva is an older word for plums.

      • Thank you! I don’t think I want to investigate any further, because as I mentioned earlier, there are different forms of small plum denoted Zwetschge, at least on the German market. I will have a look at prunus domesticus.

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