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Plum the Depths of Summer

Three ways to revel in abundance



My brother has one of those plum trees that's positively profligate with fruit. It's like a woman who just had octuplets — overwhelmed with fecundity. Sitting under that tree, which is sweetly scented and buzzing with gorged flies and reaching up to grab a warm plum that drips if you pinch is the epitome of fruited summer luxury.

Summer fruits seem almost bacchanalian this time of year. After months of gumming bananas and pasty winter apples, I dreamed of juicy abundance, and lo, it appeared in daunting quantities. I can't just go to the farm and get a few figs, I have to get a crate of figs. I have a pile of summer peaches lathered with fruit flies because I can't bake cobblers fast enough. Like Napoleon and Josephine, I want it so badly when I can't have it, and then fruit's imperious demands become almost impossible to keep up with.

I immensely prefer Santa Rosa plums. Call me old-fashioned but I am a patriotic Californian. None of these Italian prune plums for me! Give me wine-colored, tart-skinned, honey-fleshed Santa Rosas every time. Well, almost; I wish there were more varieties to try locally. I like Greengages for their delicacy, and I'd love to try other light-skinned varieties; there is a French one called Mirabelle that's supposed to be intensely sweet and has orange and apricot hues.

There are lots of things to do with plums, not as many as with peaches, but plenty. You can grill them, or make them into a salsa. You can make a very nice grilled cheese with plums, too. No need for a recipe because what isn't good in a grilled cheese? A recent combination of goat cheese mixed with sage and black pepper, thinly sliced good quality ham and sliced plums on rye bread grilled in butter was unsurprisingly delicious. But there are two ways that are best, in my opinion: straight off the tree and as jam.

I assume everyone who is into real canning already knows how or has a crafty relative or chum. You can make a sort of quick plum jam by just mashing plums with quite a lot of sugar, about twice as much as the volume of plums, and a little lemon juice and salt, simmering it and stirring often until it thickens (only about 20 minutes if you are using 5 or 6 plums). Then you can refrigerate it and eat plum jam for a week. But if you want it to keep, you have to can, and maybe add pectin. Crack the whip.

It you are too lazy for that, you can pretend it's Victorian times and stew them to have with cream like my dad does, or over vanilla ice cream like every other American.

Stewed Plums

Ingredients and method:

4 plums, pitted and cut into 6-8 slices

½ cup sugar

One pinch salt

Enough water to almost cover the plums

Put all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until it simmers. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring often, for 20 minutes. Serve over angel food cake, ice cream or yogurt. Makes about a cup.

Grilled Plums

These are nice as a side dish for grilled lamb or pork.

Ingredients and method:

Whole plums

Lemon juice

Sugar to sprinkle

Cut the plums in half and remove the pits. Brush the halves with vegetable oil. Place them on a hot grill and cook them skin-side down for 5 or 6 minutes, until grill marks appear, then flip and grill them on the other side for 5 minutes more. Serve sprinkled with lemon juice and sugar and a dollop of ricotta, if you like.

Plummy, Plummy Salad

Ingredients and method:

1 pound Santa Rosa plums, pitted and chopped into ¼ wedges

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces

1 red pepper, chopped

1 handful of parsley, chopped

1 ½ tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

½ a small jalapeno, seeded and minced

¾ cup feta, crumbled

Toss everything and let it sit for at least half an hour. Taste for seasoning before serving.


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