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It’s been said that the plum was one of the first fruits to be domesticated, and considering how delicious, nutritious, and versatile plums are, it’s hardly surprising that past generations made their best efforts to actively cultivate them. So beautiful are the trees that some are even grown solely for their pretty flowers and ornamental qualities; some people also use the wood to make musical instruments, cutlery handles, inlays for furniture, and a host of other things. But it’s the plum that’s the true crowning glory of the tree. Some are best when cooked or pickled, and others are best eaten fresh, for their flesh is naturally juicy and sweet when ripe.

1. Hello, my name is plum

Plums, genus Prunus, grow on deciduous trees and are part of the Rosaceae family. Their sweetness and tartness vary according to species and subspecies (of which there are many), as do their colors, which could be anything from a dark bluish-purple to a vibrant red, sunshine orange, golden yellow, or jade green. Plums with red flesh tend to be sweeter than varieties with yellow flesh, and plums, in general, are known to be a great source of vitamins C and K and to contain an impressive amount of dietary fiber.

The plum is a drupe (or stone fruit), like all Prunus fruits, which means they’re thin-skinned and contain a central seed to which the flesh is attached. They usually grow best in temperate climates and need sunlight and fertile soil with good drainage, although many varieties have adapted to a range of soils and climatic conditions. The common European plum (Prunus domestica) and the Japanese plum (P. salicina)—which apparently originates from China—are the most common varieties grown and sold for their sweet, juicy fruits. They’re great for eating fresh and for cooking.

Mirabelles also belong to the Prunus domestica species, but more specifically to one of its subspecies. Their characteristics are quite different as they tend to be smaller, oval in shape, deep yellow or yellow with red flecks, smooth textured, and firmer-fleshed than many other plum varieties. In Lorraine, France, mirabelles are an essential part of the region’s culinary history and traditions. They even have protected origin designation, which makes it more difficult for certain countries, like the U.S., to import them. However, since mirabelles are extremely popular and grow wildly, they’re also cultivated in other countries, including America. The red-flecked mirabelles are the sweetest and most delicious when eaten fresh; the yellow ones are better for cooking and distilling.

2. When (and how) to buy perfect plums

Generally, plums and mirabelles tend to be most abundantly available from around May to October, although that may differ depending on your location and the species of plums. However, the period of availability can be wider and sometimes all year round (location dependent), due to imports from other countries with different harvesting schedules.

Because plums are in high demand across the world, they tend to be easy to find in all major supermarkets, independent grocery stores, farm shops, and markets. Additionally, when they’re in season in your area and you have local farms that grow and allow people to pick them, you could pick some directly from the source.

When buying or picking, look for plums with smooth, taut skin (never wrinkled) and firm (not hard) flesh that has a little give when pressed. Also, a sweet scent and a light, white, waxy coating on the skin indicate ripeness. Avoid any fruits with bruises or gashes, as a rotten specimen will quickly spread the rot to any others it’s stored with.

3. How to store fresh plums

Use ripe plums and mirabelles immediately or refrigerate them to prevent rot and overripening. Once refrigerated, they should keep for 3 – 5 days. Unripe plums can be left to ripen at room temperature for 1 – 2 days, and helped along, if necessary, by being stored in a closed paper bag to trap the ethylene (a plant hormone they release), which speeds up the process. Ethylene can encourage other fresh produce to rot, so try to store plums and mirabelles away from other fruits and vegetables, whether in the fridge or not.

If freezing, select firm but ripe fruits, wash and cut them as desired, discard the pit (which should not be ingested as it contains a harmful compound), and put them in a freezer-safe container beforehand.

How to prepare plums

  • 01:20 min.

4. All the ways to enjoy plums

There are myriad ways to enjoy plums and mirabelles, whether as a snack, as an ingredient in a savory dish, or as the star of a dessert. They’re fantastic in jams, jellies, compotes, ice cream, pastries, cakes, savory and sweet sauces, salads, served with roasted meats, distilled into brandy (schnapps or eau de vie), or even pickled! This fruit can be dressed up, down, or any way you like it. With all these possibilities, you can simply let your creativity run wild.

5. What to make next

Already enjoying your piece of plum crumble cake or busy making your first jar of plum marmalade? We have more for you! All week long, we’ll be featuring new plum recipes on Kitchen Stories. Check back to see what’s new, then try one for yourself! Here’s where to start:

Schupfnudeln (German potato dumplings) with poppy seeds and plum jam

Schupfnudeln (German potato dumplings) with poppy seeds and plum jam

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Sweet potato grain bowl with caramelized plums

Sweet potato grain bowl with caramelized plums

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German plum-semolina cake

German plum-semolina cake

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