plums are a pleasantly juicy snack, but they should not be overlooked
as a savory ingredient in stuffings, stews and meat sauces, too.
HistoryPlums have played a role in Chinese culture since at least 497 B.C., serving both as a popular food and as a mythological emblem of wisdom. Already used as the symbol for the ancient Chinese city Nanjing, the plum blossom was also named the national flower of the Republic of China in 1964, and even Taiwan has begun to use the plum to symbolize the Republic of China.
Varieties• European plums are the most widely-grown in the U.S. Their skin ranges in color from deep red to the more common dark purple, and their flesh is a light yellow. Due partly to their rich sugar content, these plums are frequently dried into prunes.
• Japanese plums can have a similar red or purple skin-color to the European plum, but they also come in a yellow-green. These plums are less evenly-rounded than the European variety, coming to a point on one end.
• Damson plums and the dark yellow Mirabelle plums are small and very tart, and they are thus used primarily in jam or compote recipes.
• Other varieties include the Santa Rosa, Satsuma, Laroda, Elephant Heart, El Dorado, Greengage, Golden/Yellowgage and Casselman plums.
A commonly-found alternative to fresh plums are dried plums, commonly known as prunes. While prunes are a sweet and nutritious snack, the prune industry is plagued by the popular impression that the fiber-rich dried fruits function solely as a quasi-laxative for the elderly. In an attempt to sidestep the stereotypes and to appeal to a more widespread range of consumers, there has been a recent marketing move to change the name of prunes to “plum raisins” or “dried plums.”
Buying TipsFresh plums are usually available starting in late spring and ending mid-autumn.
Choosing the best plum can be a delicate task. Look for plums that are both firm and tender: plums that are too hard can be bitter-tasting, but overly-ripe plums are mealy. Error on the side of firmness as the plums can be “softened” on your kitchen counter later.
Select plums with smooth, blemish- and bruise-free skin, and seek fruits that are covered in a whitish haze, a natural powder referred to as the “bloom.” A plum that retains its bloom is preferable because it has probably had little handling.
Storage TipsIf plums are purchased before fully ripened, they can be very hard and should be softened before eating. While plums won’t technically “ripen” off the tree like some fruits can, they can soften when left at room temperature for a couple days inside a loosely-closed paper bag. Sticking an unripe banana in the bag alongside the plums may speed the process along.
Soft, ripe plums can be kept for 3-4 days in the