What is a plum?
Poached sweet, juicy plums can be enjoyed piled high over vanilla ice cream, tossed on breakfast cereal or eaten raw at the height of summer. Poached blood plums served with their thick dark syrup do not even need that dollop of whipped cream to taste like a true delicacy. Plums also add richness to traditional Christmas plum puddings and are baked into classic plum tarts sold in French pastry shops during the summer.
The European plum is believed to have been originally cultivated in western Asia, in the Caucasian mountains near the Caspian Sea. The Japanese plum has been traced to China, where historical records document its use. The plum reached Japan sometime in the 16th century. In the 1800s it was cultivated in the USA and plums were eventually introduced to Australia early in the 19th century.
Plum trees are popular and are found in many Australian backyards.
In Australia, plums are classified as either Japanese or European varieties. The plums may also be ‘freestone’, where the stone easily separates from the flesh or ‘clingstone’, where the flesh clings to the stone. Depending on the variety, plums ripen in early summer or late autumn.
Japanese plum varieties are usually larger than the European types and most have red skins. Japanese varieties include the blood plums (such as the red-fleshed Satsuma and Mariposa), the yellow-fleshed, tart-flavoured Santa Rosa and the Gulf Ruby.
The European varieties have skin colours ranging from green to yellow to deep blue. Their flesh is usually yellow and sweet. The European varieties include the yellow-fleshed Angelina, the green-skinned Green Gage and the blue-skinned Tegan Blue.
Why plums are good to eat
- Plums contain some vitamin A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system), C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- Plums also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and calcium (which is important for strong bones).
- Plums contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of plums supplies about 120 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
The plum tree is deciduous and loses its leaves every year. Plum trees grow best in mild to warm climates. Trees can reach 12 m in height and 10 m across, but the ones that are grown for commercial purposes are usually pruned so that they are only 5 to 6 m high. Plum trees are grafted onto a rootstock (a plant that has an established root system) and not grown from the seed (the stone) of the plum.
Plum trees produce white flowers, and when these are pollinated they develop into fruit. The tree usually produces fruit about three or four years after planting. Plums are harvested by hand to protect the skin of the fruit, which is easily damaged.
Plums are picked either when they are ripe or when they are firm and then ripened off the tree. The skin of the fruit usually feels soft when the plum is ripe. Plums come off the tree easily when they are ripe. You only need to twist slightly and pull and the fruit will come off the branch.
Select plums that are plump, firm (but are slightly soft when you gently squeeze the fruit) and have smooth skin. Avoid plums that are hard (the fruit is immature) or overripe (they are very soft and sometimes leak juice) and those with cracked or split skin. Plums with brown spots, bruises or other discolouration on the skin should also be avoided.
How to store and keep plums
Store unripe plums at room temperature. Once they ripen, store them in your fridge. They will keep for one or two days when refrigerated.
How to use
- Serve a chilled soup – simmer plums with raspberries, white wine, sugar, fresh tarragon sprigs and water, then blitz in a food processor and serve chilled and garnished with diced plums, raspberries and tarragon.
- Make plum chutney – simmer halved plums with chopped red onion, red chilli, cider vinegar, curry powder, ground ginger and water until the plums are soft and the liquid is syrupy, then spoon over grilled chicken or fish.
- Try a plum sauce marinade – cook plums with cloves, allspice, black peppercorns, brown sugar, minced fresh ginger and white wine vinegar, strain the mixture and whisk in Dijon mustard, chopped garlic and fresh rosemary leaves, then brush over lamb or pork and roast until tender.
- Enjoy a simple dessert – sprinkle vanilla bean-infused sugar and lemon juice over halved plums, dot with margarine and bake, then serve alone or spooned over ice-cream.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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