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Plums

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

If you like variety in your snacks, plums are the fruit for you. More than 140 varieties of this colorful fruit are sold fresh in the United States. Plums provide some fiber and vitamin C.

The plum is a drupe--a pitted fruit--related to the nectarine, peach, and apricot, but it is far more diverse than its relatives, coming in a wider range of shapes, sizes, and, especially, skin colors. Its flavors also vary from extremely sweet to quite tart. Some plum varieties are specifically bred so that they can be dried and still retain their sweetness, to later become prunes. The varieties that we call plums are mainly eaten fresh, but they are also canned or processed into jams and jellies.

One of the most influential American plum breeders was the horticulturist Luther Burbank, who developed a variety called the Santa Rosa, which now is about one-third of the total domestic crop.

Varieties

About 20 varieties dominate the commercial supply of plums, and most are either Japanese or European varieties.

European-type plums, or Prunica domestica, are small, dense, egg-shaped fruits; their skin color is always blue or purple, and their pits are usually freestone, meaning they separate easily from the flesh. The flesh is a golden yellow color. These are the plums that are made into prunes. Though most European-style plums are turned into prunes, a few varieties are sold fresh and are called fresh prunes, or prune plums. The bulk of European plums are grown in the Pacific Northwest, but some varieties are successfully cultivated in eastern states. European plums generally lack the flavor of Japanese varieties, and so are better suited for baking or stewing. Among the better-known varieties are Italian, President, Empress, Stanley, and Tragedy. Damson plums are a small, tart European-type variety used mainly for preserves.

The Japanese varieties originated in China and were introduced into Japan some 300 years ago and from there, they were eventually brought to the United States. These plums are basically spherical; some are heart-shaped, with a point at the bottom. They have yellow or reddish flesh that is quite juicy and skin colors that range from crimson to black-red (but never purple). These are clingstone fruits--that is, their flesh clings to the pit. Santa Rosa and Red Beaut are two of the more popular varieties; others include El Dorado, Freedom, French, Friar, Nubiana, Queen Rosa, Casselman, Laroda, and Simka. Elephant Heart is a large red-fleshed plum that is good for cooking. Kelseys and Wicksons are green-skinned Japanese plums (which may be marketed as "greengage" plums) that turn yellow or bronze as they ripen.

Availability

The domestic plum season extends from May through October, with Japanese types coming on the market first and peaking in August, followed by the European varieties in the fall.

Shopping

Plums should be plump and well colored for their variety. If the fruit yields to gentle pressure, it is ready to eat; however, you can buy plums that are fairly firm but not rock hard and let them soften at home. They will not, however, increase in sweetness. Ripe plums will be slightly soft at the stem and tip; avoid those with shriveled skin, mushy spots, or breaks in the skin.

Storage

To soften hard plums, place several in a loosely closed paper bag and leave them at room temperature for a day or two; when softened, transfer them to the refrigerator. Ripe plums can be refrigerated for up to three days.

Preparation

Wash plums before eating or cooking them. They will be juiciest (and to most palates taste sweetest) at room temperature. To pit Italian prune plums and other freestone types, cut the fruit lengthwise in half, twist the halves apart, and lift out the pit. To slice or quarter clingstone plums, use a sharp paring knife and cut through the flesh toward the pit.

Japanese plums are most commonly eaten raw, although they can be poached. European plums are better for cooking as they are easier to pit and their firmer, drier flesh holds up well when heated.

Cooked plums are usually eaten with the skins on, but if you need to peel them, first blanch them in boiling water for about 30 seconds.

Baking: Place halved, pitted plums in a baking dish and sprinkle with sugar and spices to taste. Add a few spoonfuls of fruit juice and cover. Bake in a 400°F oven until tender; check during baking and add more liquid, if necessary. Cooking time: about 20 minutes.

Poaching: Plums can be cooked whole (prick them with a fork first), halved, or sliced. For serving whole, cook the fruit unpeeled to preserve its shape. Place the fruit in simmering juice, wine, or a mixture of water and sugar, and cook until tender. Cooking time: three to eight minutes (European plums cook much faster than Japanese plums).

Nutrition Chart

Plums/2 medium fresh

73
Total fat (g)
0.8
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.5
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
2
1
Carbohydrate (g)
17
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
0


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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