Lewes Farmers Market
What's in Season?
Plums come in many guises - tart or very sweet; for cooking or for eating; and in a range of rich hues from light greens and yellows to dark reds and purples. When we cooked Sugar Plums (see recipes) the golden orange flesh melted and mingled with the crimson skins to form a striking 'sunset on a plate' that tasted every bit as good as it looked.
The oldest of the numerous plum varieties is thought to be Prunus salicina, known as Japanese plum although it was originally introduced to Japan from its native China. The European plum has been cultivated since ancient times and probably originated in central or south-eastern Europe. The Greeks imported plums from Syria and they were later introduced to northern Europe by the Romans.
Plums have been eaten in England for centuries. They were grown in the gardens of medieval monasteries and are referred to in the writings of Chaucer from the fourteenth century. The ever popular Victoria plum was first cultivated in Sussex in the 1840s.
There are now more than 300 varieties of plum in Britain and they grow in temperate regions across the globe.
The common European plum, Prunica domestica, is closely related to the cherry and is a member of the rose family (other members include the nectarine, peach, apricot and sloe).
Damsons and greengages are also types of plum, although in culinary usage the term plum is generally used exclusively to describe the sweeter varieties that can be eaten raw.
Plums should be plump, smooth and well coloured. Ripe plums yield to gentle pressure and have an inviting aroma. Firmer plums will ripen and soften at home. If you are going to be using plums in cooking, choose ones that are just on the firm side of ripe.
Keep unripe plums at room temperature to ripen. Ripe plums can be refrigerated for a few days (allow them to reach room temperature before eating). Plums freeze well; halve and remove the stones first to prevent the flavour from being impaired.
Plums should be washed before use. The skin is generally sharper than the flesh and it is often best to leave it on but, for a mellower, sweeter flavour, plums can be easily skinned as you would a tomato (cut a small cross in the skin and blanch in boiling water for 10 seconds before peeling).
Roasting, stewing or poaching are all excellent cooking methods.