Plums: recipes and know-how

What is in season: plums

Click on recipe names for printable instructions...
Victoria plum streusel
Deep plum and almond tart
Roasted plums
Roasted mackerel with plum salsa
Damson-ripple ice cream

The best kind of plum is so ripe and luscious, it has to be eaten over the kitchen sink, its delightfully sticky juices running down your chin. Our temperate climate is perfect for growing the fruit but the season is short. It usually begins in late July with dessert varieties, such as Early Laxton and Early Rivers (for eating) and Pershore and Czar (for cooking).

Greengages are considered to be the sweetest and the finest of the dessert plums – they also make exceptional jam. In August and September, the red-skinned, yellow-fleshed Victoria plum is the type most often found in gardens and is equally delicious when cooked or eaten straight from the tree.

Damsons, bullaces and sloes, the tartest variety, are only suitable for cooking – find them in hedgerows from September to November. Sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn, are thought to be the only plum species native to Britain. They are too astringent to eat raw, so prick them with a skewer and infuse in a large covered jar with plenty of gin and sugar for a few months. By Christmas, the sloe gin will be ready to raise a glass in celebration.

What to look for
Choose firm fruit with good colour, a healthy bloom and a little give, which indicates ripeness; avoid any that are bruised or have soft mushy spots.

Which variety?
Plums vary in colour from yellow and green through to red, purple and bluish black; they can be sweet and juicy to mouth-puckeringly sour, such as sloes and damsons.

How to store
Place for three to four days in a cool place. Freeze whole or halved, then use for crumbles and pies. Firmer-fleshed plums, mostly the blue-black varieties, are ideal for bottling in sugar syrup or alcohol.

To prepare
Some cooking plums have tough skins that can be hard to digest: remove by immersing in hot water for 30 seconds, then peeling like a tomato. However, cooking softens most skins. Use in pies, crumbles and tarts; alternatively, poach or roast for a simple dessert. When preparing plums for making jam, crack open the stones and add the kernels for a pleasing almond flavour. If making damson preserve, don’t bother to remove the skins or stones; instead, skim from the surface just before potting.

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