Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
Plums are a diverse group of stone fruit, with colours ranging from green, through yellow, red, purple and blue/black. Their size is variable and their acidity goes from very sour to super-sweet. The most available plum varieties in the UK are the early crimson and gold Victorias (we have these direct from the farm now) and Opals, followed later in the season by bloomy, red-purple Marjorie Seedlings. These are good croppers and are reliable but we also seek out other varieties for our customers. We source plums through much of the year but the best come with the European season from late July. Truly ripe plum varieties arrive throughout August and September and some can go into October.
Tiny yellow, sometimes red-blushed, Mirabelles have been arriving from France for a couple of weeks now. They need no help to bring out their sweetness but we will only have them when price and quality are right. The English Greengage comes in several varieties and progresses from dark green to pale green-gold. When truly ripe, they can be almost translucent and daubed with a silvery rose-pink. The French Reine-Claude, from which the Greengage derives, is similar. Both have a rich, honeyed flesh when at their ripest. They are a fantastic eating plum but also make a good frangipane tart when the fruits need cooking.
Plums are the perfect fruit for a crumble, with just the right amount of structure and juiciness. As they are high in pectin, a natural jelling agent, they make wonderful jams. The astringent Damson, or Damascene Plum, and the closely related Bullace make, we think, the very best jams. You don’t need to bother to remove the stones as they will rise to the surface on cooking and can be skimmed off. They also make delicious fruit ‘cheese’. It’s early but we do have Damsons this week. Plums pair well with nuts, particularly almonds and hazelnuts and they love spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger or star anise. They make a good chutney to go with cold meats too and will bring a juicy acidity to a grain-based salads like tabbouleh.