Wednesday, September 01, 2010
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.
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.
Plums are a good source of potassium, fibre and vitamins A and C. They are rich in antioxidants and also contain the amino acid tryptophan which is used by the body to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin.
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.
Certain types of plum are dried to make prunes. The best prunes are generally acknowledged to be prunes d'Agen from south-west France, which feature in a number of meat and game dishes of the region such as Lapin aux pruneaux (rabbit with prunes).