There’s a reason why a great opportunity is often referred to as a “plum job.” Juicy and perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, plums are a summer favorite, available from May to October peaking during the warmer temperatures of July and August. The rock-hard pit in the center is a giveaway that plums come from the stone fruit family, some of which include peaches, nectarines, cherries and apricots.
Thousands of plum varieties are grown worldwide, each with a unique color, flavor and even shape – in the U.S. alone, there are over 140 varieties available. The two primary varieties are black and red plums. Black plums actually have dark, purple-tinged skin with yellow-toned flesh, and are round in shape while their red counterparts come to a point on one end. The skin of red plums can range from a light pink-red to darker crimson with a light yellow interior. Flavor wise, black plums are sweeter and are good when dried into prunes, while red plums are more tart.
Choosing the best plum involves several characteristics. A heavy plum with minimal skin blemishes and no cracks that gives just slightly to pressure is ideal. Once picked, plums will not sweeten further, but the acid balance changes, making the fruit less sour and therefore more sweet. Ripe plums can be stored in a plastic bag for up to five days in the refrigerator. To ripen plums faster, place them in a paper bag with vent holes along with an apple for a day or two. The light gray film covering the plum’s skin is natural and doesn’t affect the taste or quality.
With a mildly sweet flavor, plums can be used in a wide range of dishes, from savory appetizers to delectable desserts. Given their encompassing cultivation, plums are featured in many cuisines, from Chinese and Japanese to French and English. They are eaten fresh out of hand (no need to peel them, just wash thoroughly before eating), canned, juiced, jellied or dried (prunes). For a delicious summer treat, sauté sliced plums in a little butter, sugar and ground cinnamon just until they begin to soften, then spoon over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
No matter the variety and preparation, don’t miss the “plum” opportunity to enjoy these juicy summer gems while they’re at their peak.