Plum Fruit Perfection – The Ultimate Guide
All about Plum Fruits
Plums are in season in the late summer, and although they are lovely eaten fresh out of hand, they are also a tasty addition to your recipes.
There are thousands of varieties of plum, all differing in size, shape, color, and flavor—these rose family members originating from three main types – European, Japanese, and Western Asian.
The skins can vary from blue-black to purple, red, green, and yellow. They have a long season, and one variety or another is available almost all year round. All plums have smooth skins with a bloom and juicy flesh with plenty of acidities.
Dessert plums can be eaten independently; they are usually larger than cooking plums (up to 10cm/4in long) and are sweet and very juicy. Cooking plums are drier, with tart flesh that is ideal for pies, flans, and cakes.
History of Plums
Plums (Prunus domestica) date back in writing to 479 B.C. in the writings and songs of Confucius, including a listing of popular foods of Chinese culture. In 65 B.C., Pompey the Great introduced the plum to Rome’s orchards, and Alexander the Great eventually brought them to the Mediterranean regions.
Early American colonists found wild plums growing along the east coast, but today the common European plum has replaced the native wild plum in popularity and as a commercial crop.
The plum tree plays a significant role in Chinese mythology and is associated with great age and wisdom. Blossoms of the plum tree are carved on jade to signify the resurrection. Plums are now the second most cultivated fruit in the world, second only to apples.
Wild plums originated in Asia at least 2,000 years ago. They were first cultivated by the Assyrians, then adopted by the Romans, who hybridized them with great enthusiasm; the historian Pliny wrote of the vast numbers of plum cross-breeds available.
The Crusaders brought plums to Europe, where they became highly prized. Nowadays, they are grown in almost all temperate countries.
The Prune Connection
Plums are known as prunes in France, and in earlier times, it is believed that both plum and prune meant fresh fruit. Of course, in modern times, the prune is the dried version of the plum. Most plum prunes are made from the La Petite d’Agen varieties of plum brought from France in 1856 by French horticulturist Louis Pellier. The plum prune industry’s new movement is to market prunes as plum raisins or dried plums in hopes the new term will appeal more to younger people.
Varieties of Plum
There are over 2,000 varieties of plum, ripening at different times throughout summer and autumn, although only a dozen or so are available in the shops. Japanese varieties of plum are large, round, and juicy; they can be purplish-red with orange flesh or orange-yellow with yellow flesh. On the whole, dark-colored plums have bitter skins, while the red and yellow varieties of plum tend to be sweeter. Most dessert plums can be cooked as well as eaten raw.
- Denniston’s Superb One of the early varieties of plum, with medium-size green fruits, flushed with red. These plum fruits have an excellent, sweet flavor.
- Gaviota These large round plum fruits have yellow skins deeply tinged with scarlet and sweet, juicy, red flesh. They are best eaten raw.
- Marjorie’s Seedling These small purple plums with a green flush have bitter skins and sweet, green, almost translucent flesh. They are suitable for eating and cooking.
- Santa Rosa and Burbank Large and round, with bright red skins, these two North American varieties of plum are mainly grown in California. They have juicy, deep yellow flesh and a pleasantly tart flavor, making them suitable for cooking and eating.
- Victoria The most prolific of all dessert plums, Victorias, were first cultivated in 1840 from a stray seedling found in Sussex, England. These large oval plum fruits with yellow skins, flushed with scarlet, and sweet, juicy flesh have become ubiquitous since then. They are suitable for bottling and canning, stewing, or eating raw.
- Beach plums These small black plum fruits grow wild along the Atlantic coast of North America, especially near Cape Cod. They have dark purplish-black skins and tart flesh which makes them unsuitable for eating raw, but they make excellent jams and jellies.
- Cherry plums These tiny wild plums are round and grow on long stalks like cherries. They have black, red, or yellow skins, which can taste somewhat bitter, but all have sweet, juicy flesh. These plum fruits can be eaten raw but are best stewed or baked or made into jams, sauces, and jellies.
- Golden Mirabelle These plums are delicious in tarts and souffles and are also made into a plum eau-de-vie, called Mirabelle.
- Czar Large These varieties of plum are acidic dark blue-black with golden flesh. They can be eaten raw but are more usually used for cooking. They are best eaten straight from the tree.
- Quetsch Also known as svetsch or Zwetschen, these small purplish-black plums have a beautiful bloom. Although their flesh is sweet, they are seldom eaten raw but are used in Eastern Europe to make plum bread and Pflaumenkuchen, yeast dough topped with purple plums. Quetsch plums are also used for making slivovitz and other plum brandies.
Other Varieties of Plums
Angelino, Autumn Rose, Avalon, Circiela Queen Rose, Reeves Seedling, Stanley, and Sungold
Plum Fruit Benefits
Nutritional value of Plum Fruits
Plums contain more antioxidants than any other fruit. They provide about 40 kilocalories per 100g/33/40Z.
Plum Fruits Health Benefits
Plum Fruits contain a lot of Peonidin, which is a strong antioxidant that fights free radicals. Strong antioxidant catechins can prevent the development of the tumor’s blood vessel.
Plums are also a strong source of large quantities of flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants. They help to fight against free radicals derived from oxygen and reactive oxygen (ROS) species which play a role in the processes of aging and various diseases.
A decreased risk of death from any cause is associated with the consumption of vitamin C. Plum fruits and plum prunes, perhaps because of their vitamin C content, improve iron absorption into the body. Furthermore, to create healthy tissue and a good immune system, the body requires vitamin C. A little extra vitamin C is a healthy thing around cold and flu seasons, and it can also benefit those with chronic ear infections.
Plum fruits are a strong vitamin A supplier. Vitamin A is important for good eye-sight. The use of vitamin A-rich natural fruits like plums will prevent the growth of lung and oral cavity cancers. Eating a few plum fruits a day will reduce the risk of age-related degeneration and vision loss.
These fruits are a good source of vitamin K and help reduce Alzheimer’s disease.
Buying and Storing Plums
Plums are delicate, so make sure that the ones you buy are unblemished. They should be plump and firm, but never squashy, and they should be fully colored for their variety. Plum fruits should always have a pleasant aroma.
These fruits ripen fast and quickly become over-ripe, so store them in the fridge for only a day or two. For cooking at a later date, plums can be frozen: halve the fruit and remove the stones. Place on trays and open freeze, then pack the fruit into polythene bags and seal.
Uses of Plum Fruits
Plums can be used in a wide variety of recipes – check out these plum recipes for some delicious suggestions.
However, their uses do not end there. The laxative effects of the plum fruit both fresh and dried as prunes are very well known.
But what is perhaps less well known is the cooling lubricant properties of the fresh flesh, although we do not recommend rubbing them on any wounds!
Preparing and Cooking Plum Fruits
Dessert plums are delicious eaten on their own. Dual varieties of plums (suitable for eating and cooking) and cooking plums make excellent pies and tarts, compotes, crumbles, dumplings, sauces, mousses, and souffles. They can be poached, baked, or stewed, either whole or in halves or slices.
It is not recommended that varieties of plums with tough skins are cooked in the microwave, as they will not soften in the short cooking time. Cook plums until just tender; do not let them disintegrate. Plum fruits make tasty ice cream, and the poached fruit goes very well with ice creams flavored with spices like cardamom, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Plums go extremely well in savory dishes. The Chinese make them into a thick sweet-sour sauce to serve with Peking duck, lamb, or pork. Spiced stewed plum fruits are good with gammon, cured meats, terrines, and poultry. Plum fruits add a special flavor to beef or lamb casseroles.
Plum fruits also make superb jams and jellies. They can be preserved in many different ways; dried (as prunes), crystallized and candied, bottled, or made into wine and liqueurs like slivovitz and plum brandy.
There are many ways of preserving plums, the best-known being by drying them as plum prunes. In Spain, Elvas plums are partially dried, then rolled in granulated sugar.
The Portuguese candy-sweet greengages, while Carlsbad plums are a specialty of the Czech Republic. These varieties of plums (usually Quetsch) are candied in hot syrup until shriveled, then halved and stuffed into dried damsons. The process gives them a very intense flavor. Carlsbad plums are considered a great delicacy and are packed into attractive wooden boxes.
These wrinkled dried purple or red plums can be prepared in various ways. The plums can be left to dry naturally on the tree, but are more often sun-dried. They can also be desiccated in a low oven.
The finest variety of plums for “pruning” is the Agen, which is grown in France and California. These plum prunes are sold complete with stones and must be soaked overnight before being cooked.
Nowadays, stoned no-soak plum prunes are also widely available, but they tend to be flabbier than the traditional variety. Apart from their famed laxative qualities, plum prunes have other healthful properties. They are said to be an excellent cure for hangovers, give a great energy boost, and are purported to be an aphrodisiac.
Soaking Plum Prunes
Plum Prunes must be soaked for at least 4 hours before use. Place in a bowl and cover with cold water or tepid weak tea for added flavor. Leave overnight if possible to plump up.
For compotes and purees it is not necessary to soak the plum prunes; cook them directly in wine, water, or fruit juice until they are very tender.
Culinary Uses of Plum Prunes
Cooked plum prunes are traditionally served with custard, but they are equally good with thick cream. They make excellent ice cream, especially when combined with Armagnac.
Plum prunes are often used in savory dishes, particularly in Middle Eastern cooking, and they go extremely well with pork and chicken. They are an essential ingredient in Scottish cock-a-leekie soup. They go well with citrus flavors and can be made into a compote with red wine and orange or lemon zest.
Pureed plum prunes can be sweetened, then spiced up with a little ground cinnamon or nutmeg, and served as a sauce with vanilla ice cream.
Plum Cultivation – How To Grow Plum Trees
Plums are popular for cooking, jam-making, and bottling or canning, but the sweeter varieties of plums are among our most delicious dessert fruits.
Damsons ripen a little later than most varieties of plums. The plum fruits are small, oval, and richly flavored, but not really sweet enough for the general taste for eating raw. They are, however, excellent for cooking, preserves, and bottling.
Bullaces are small round plum fruits, which ripen even later and are useful on that account to lengthen the season. Bullaces can be eaten raw but are excellent for cooking.
Gages are simply a variety of plum with a characteristic, and particularly delicious, flavor. Gages, bullaces, and damsons are all grown in the same way as plums.
Where do Plum Trees Grow?
Plum Trees will grow in most parts of the world but as they flower early they are very vulnerable to spring frosts. The choicer kinds deserve the protection of a wall where protection from frost (and birds) can more easily be given. They do best in areas where the annual rainfall is between 50 and 90cm (20 and 35in). Damsons will succeed in areas having higher rainfall, and less sunshine, than plums, will tolerate.
What’s the Perfect Soil for Plum Trees?
Plum trees need well-drained soil and one containing plenty of humus to hold moisture during the growing season. A very acid soil should be limed, but an alkaline soil should not be planted with plums. Plums (and other stone fruits) do need calcium but they will not prosper in alkaline soil. Plum trees planted in thin soils overlaying chalk often suffer seriously from lime-induced iron deficiency.
Plum Tree Rootstocks
No really satisfactory dwarfing rootstock has yet been found for plums. The two least vigorous are common plum and St Julien ‘A’; the former, however, is only compatible with certain varieties of plums. Plum Trees grown on these rootstocks are sometimes described as ‘semi-dwarf’ but, even so, a standard or half-standard would be too large for the average garden, and even a bush-type plum tree requires a spacing of 4-5m (12-15ft) (on Brompton or Myrobalan ‘B’ rootstock, 6-7m [18-20ft]).
As plums do not produce fruiting spurs as apples and pears do, they are not so amenable to training and are seldom satisfactory as cordons or espaliers. They may, however, be grown as fans, for wall-training or with the support of posts and horizontal wires, but root-pruning will probably be necessary every five years or so to restrain growth and maintain fruiting. A fan tree on St Julien ‘A’ rootstock should be allotted at least 5m (15ft) of wall space.
Plum Tree Pyramids
Plums may also be grown as semidwarf pyramids on St Julien ‘A’ rootstock and this is a form, which is best for the small garden. Such a tree requires a spacing of 3.3m (10ft) and, as it will never be allowed to grow much over 3m (9ft) in height, it is possible to arrange some kind of cage or netting over the top of the tree to keep off birds, which will otherwise damage the fruit. An additional advantage is that the branches of a pyramid seldom break and there is thus less likelihood of infection by disease.
For training as a pyramid a maiden should be planted in the usual way and the following March it should be headed back to 1.6m (5ft). Any laterals above 45cm (18in) from soil level should be shortened by half and any arising lower down the stem should be cut off entirely.
Towards the end of July or early in August, when new growth has finished, cut back branch leaders to 20cm (8in), making the cut to a bud pointing downwards or outwards. Cut laterals back to 16cm (6in). Repeat this procedure annually. Leave the central leader untouched in summer but in April of the second year cut it back to one-third of its length. Repeat this annually, cutting the new growth back by two-thirds until a height of 3m (9ft) is attained. After that shorten the new growth on the central leader to 2.5cm (1in) or less each May.
When To Plant Plum Trees?
Plant plums in the usual way between November and March, the sooner the better, always provided the soil is friable. Stake securely and put down mulch to preserve soil moisture.
An established plum tree needs plenty of nitrogen but, until good crops are being carried, on most soils it will be sufficient to give a light mulch of rotted farmyard manure or garden compost in spring, and prick this lightly into the surface the subsequent autumn.
How to Grow Plum Trees?
When good crops are being borne, the yearly mulch may be supplemented with 28g (1oz) per dressing of Nitro-chalk and 14g (0.5oz) per sq. m sq. yd) of sulfate of potash, given in February. Every third year, add 28g (1oz) per sq. m sq. ft) of superphosphate. Where no manure or garden compost is available, peat may be used as mulch and the dose of Nitro-chalk doubled.
The wood of plum trees naturally tends to be brittle and branches often break in late summer gales when the crop is heavy. Thinning of the plum fruit will help to prevent this form of breakage, and it is also advisable to arrange some kind of support for extra-heavily laden branches on bush-type plum trees.
Wooden props may be fixed beneath branches (well padding the point of support) or a tall, strong central pole can be erected and branches supported from this by ropes, maypole fashion.
Dessert plums should be left on the tree until quite ripe and then picked by taking hold of the stalk so that the place. They will keep for a couple of weeks or so.
How to Grow Plum Trees From Seed?
There is a really great video tutorial on how to grow plum trees from seeds. We did not make this video, but as we really appreciate the work behind the video and found it useful, we will link the video down below. Feel free to leave a comment on the video if you have any suggestions for the producer of the video.
Now that you have learned just about all there is to know about plums, why not check out our other articles about fruits down below?