Picking plums with purpose

October 13, 2004|By Ronnie Fein | Ronnie Fein,SPECIAL TO THE ADVOCATE

As summer goes by there's a pageant of plums in the markets. Green plums, black ones, red ones - sweet, succulent fruit giving forth nectar for warm-weather refreshment.

Bringing up the rear are Italian prune plums, the last of the lot, a harbinger of autumn. They're peewees compared to crimson-colored Rosas or dark-skinned Friars. And with their soft, matte finish, these small bluish-purplish types are a bit dull. Prune plums are only so-so for eating out of hand, too, not quite sweet and no gush of juice.

Here's what prune plums have going for them: They are the best for cooking. They're freestones, making them easy to work with. Split them in half and the pit falls out almost by itself. And prune plums perform perfectly in the heat, giving full expression to their tart green flesh. You can bake them into pies and cobblers or blend them with savory ingredients to make chutney. Prune plums tuck nicely inside tortes and quick breads, they're terrific for pudding, tops for fruit soup and superb for sorbet.

If you yearn for a treat that's ambrosial, try plain old poached plums, those soft, sweet-tangy morsels bathed in thick, velvety syrup the color and brilliance of amethysts. Poached plums are easy to prepare and the recipe is versatile.

Bring sweetened water to a simmer and add fruit. Cook plums for about 6 minutes to 8 minutes and let them cool in the cooking fluids. You can eat the plums as is, served with the poaching fluids. If you prefer a thicker sauce, remove the fruit from the fluid and boil the liquid until it thickens to the consistency of honey. Let the syrup cool before serving it.

You can vary the flavor by adding slices of lemon, orange or tangerine or strips of their peels to the cooking water. Crystallized ginger slices will provide tones of warmth and spice. Cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cardamom pods and dried allspice berries add a sweet taste and tantalizing perfume.

The Advocate is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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