How to Use Plums in Cooking

Plums, with their juicy sweetness and slight tartness, are a versatile stone fruit that can enrich a variety of dishes.

When ripe, their soft flesh and rich flavor become a wonderful addition to both sweet and savory recipes.

The key to using plums in your cooking is to select the right type for your recipe.

Firmer plums are excellent for baking and cooking, as they hold their shape well, while softer varieties are ideal for sauces and jams where a smooth texture is desired.

Plums being sliced, pitted, and cooked in a pot with sugar and spices. A chef tasting the sauce and pouring it over a dish

Incorporating plums into your meals can add a unique twist to your routine.

Whether you are considering a buttery tart or a savory sauce, plums can seamlessly integrate into the dish.

They can also serve as a substitute for other fruits in recipes, such as replacing apples or peaches in tarts.

With a pinch of sugar or a sprinkle of spices like cinnamon or cardamom, plums can elevate the flavors of pastries, crumbles, and pies.

On the savory side, combining plums with meats like pork chops introduces a delightful contrast to the palate, proving that plums can go beyond traditional uses.

As you explore cooking with plums, don’t hesitate to experiment with different cooking techniques.

Baking plums can intensify their flavor and sweetness, while grilling them can bring out a smoky dimension that complements their natural tanginess.

From a simple plum salad enhanced with black pepper and parmesan to a luscious mascarpone pie, plums offer a range of possibilities to enhance your culinary repertoire.

Types and Selection of Plums

A variety of plums displayed on a wooden table, some whole and others sliced. A cookbook open to a page about plum recipes, with ingredients and utensils nearby

Plums are versatile stone fruits celebrated for their delightful variety.

When selecting plums, you’ll come across different types that range in flavor from sweet to tart, and textures from soft to juicy.

Here’s a brief guide to help you choose the best for your culinary needs:

European Plums:

  • Flavor: Often sweet and firm
  • Texture: Typically dense flesh, ideal for baking and drying
  • Use: Best for jams, desserts, and as dried plums (prunes)

Japanese Plums:

  • Flavor: Balance of sweet and tart
  • Texture: Juicy with a tender bite
  • Use: Excellent eaten fresh or in salads
VarietySkin ColorFlesh ColorBest Use
Black RubyReddish-brownYellow-orangeFresh, salads
Prune PlumsVaries, commonly darkMainly yellow, sometimes greenBaking, jam-making

When seeking ripe plums:

  1. Look: Choose plums with vibrant, unblemished skin.
  2. Feel: Ripe plums yield slightly to gentle pressure.
  3. Smell: A sweet aroma indicates ripeness.

Storage Tips:

  • Store unripe plums at room temperature until they lose their glossy sheen and become mat.
  • Keep ripe plums in your refrigerator to maintain freshness for up to 4-5 days.

Quick Tip: Before using, wash plums thoroughly and remove pits, especially if you’re preserving or freezing them, as pits can impart a bitter taste.

Basic Preparation Techniques

Before you can create any plum-inspired dish, knowing the proper way to prepare plums is essential.

Properly washed and pitted plums ensure hygiene and ease of consumption, while slicing and chopping give you the versatility needed for different recipes.

Washing and Pitting Plums

Your first step with fresh plums should always involve washing them thoroughly under running water to remove any residues or dirt on the plum skins.

After washing, the pitting process helps in removing the hard stone inside without compromising the flesh:

  1. Hold a plum under water, gently rub the surface to cleanse.
  2. Pat the plums dry with a clean towel.
  3. Cut a slit around the natural seam of the plum then twist the halves to separate them.
  4. Gently remove the pit, sometimes a gentle wiggle might be required; if it’s stubborn, use a knife to cut around its edges.

Slicing and Chopping

Once your plums are pitted, they are ready to be sliced or chopped depending on your recipe requirements. Precise cuts can influence the texture and flavor release in your dish:

  • Slicing: For salads or garnishes, slice plums into thin wedges to expose their juicy flesh.
    • Cut the pitted plum into half, then into quarters.
    • Slice these quarters thinly, keeping the size consistent.
  • Chopping: If you’re making jams or compotes, you’ll need to chop the plums into smaller, even pieces to ensure even cooking.
    • Cube the quarters by making horizontal and vertical cuts.
    • Ensure pieces are of similar size for uniform cooking.

Incorporating Plums into Desserts

When ripe, plums offer a sweet and tart flavor ideal for various desserts, from cakes to frozen delights. Harness their unique taste to create sumptuous treats that will impress any palate.

Plum Desserts Overview

Plums enhance desserts by contributing moisture and a deep, fruity flavor.

Whether you’re using them fresh, canned, or overripe, plums can be transformed into a vast array of desserts.

Here are some popular ways to include plums in your dessert recipes:

  • Roasted Plums: Halve and pit the plums, roast with a sprinkle of sugar until caramelized, and serve with vanilla ice cream.
  • Plum Pudding: A classic dessert where sweet plums are the star, often enjoyed with a dollop of cream.
  • Streusel-topped Plum Cake: A fluffy, baked cake topped with a crumbly, sweet streusel layer.

Baking Plum Cakes

When baking plum cakes, you should choose ripe but firm plums that will hold their shape during the baking process. Here’s a quick guide:

  1. Preheat your oven to the correct temperature, usually around 350°F (175°C).
  2. Pit and slice the plums, then arrange them on your cake batter.
  3. Mix a topping of sugar, butter, and flour to sprinkle over for a crumbly finish.
  4. Bake until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Plum cakes can range from simple tea cakes to elegant desserts suitable for special occasions.

Making Plum Sorbet and Ice Cream

For a refreshing treat, plum sorbet or ice cream is an exquisite choice. Follow these steps:

  1. Puree ripe plums with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice to balance the sweetness.
  2. Strain the mixture to remove skins and achieve a smooth consistency.
  3. Chill the mixture thoroughly before you churn it in an ice cream maker.

Enjoy your plum sorbet on its own, or pair your plum ice cream with warm pies or cakes for a comforting dessert experience.

Plum-Based Sauces and Jams

Crafting exquisite plum-based sauces and jams is a delightful way to capture the essence of plums, a luscious stone fruit.

When making these spreads and condiments, balancing the tartness of the plum with complementary flavors ensures a superb result.

Cooking Plum Jam

To begin your plum jam journey, start with perfectly ripe plums.

Remove their pits and chop into fine pieces. In a pot, blend your chopped plums with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice to add a bright note.

For a richer complexity, infuse the jam with a hint of ginger or dashes of nutmeg.

Cook this mixture over medium heat, stirring intermittently, as it thickens to the right consistency.

Plums1 kg
Sugar750 g
Lemon Juice2 tbsp
Ginger1 tsp (optional)

When the jam has thickened, it should coat the back of a spoon easily. This indicates that your homemade plum jam is ready to cool down and be transferred to jars.

Creating Savory Plum Sauces

Moving beyond sweet preserves, plums also lend themselves to splendid savory sauces.

Whether it’s a barbecue glaze or a reduction to pair with roasted meats, the key is to enhance the plum’s natural flavor without overpowering it.

Combine plums with ingredients like balsamic vinegar or orange zest to achieve a perfect balance of sweet, acidic, and fruity notes.

A basic plum sauce might include a puree of plums, sugar to taste, a dash of salt, and a splash of balsamic vinegar to introduce a tangy twist.

To depth to the flavors, consider adding finely chopped onions or garlic when you cook the sauce.

Simmer the sauce over low heat until it’s thickened, stirring regularly to prevent it from sticking.

PlumsBase for the sauce
SugarSweetness adjuster to taste
Balsamic VinegarAdds acidity and depth
Orange ZestFor a citrusy lift

Your final sauce should be glossy and thick, perfect for marinating, dipping, or as a glaze for various dishes.

Savory Plum Dishes

Incorporating plums into savory dishes brings a delightful contrast of sweet and tart flavors to your meals.

During summer, juicy plums can elevate meat dishes and salads with their rich, vibrant taste.

Plums in Meat Dishes

When cooking with plums, their inherent sweetness can counterbalance the savor of meat, creating a harmonious blend.

Here are some ways to incorporate plums into meat dishes:

  • Pork: Glaze pork chops with a plum sauce combining reduced plum puree, honey, and a touch of vinegar for an irresistible sweet and tart finish.
  • Chicken: Create plum-glazed chicken thighs by marinating them in a plum mixture, amplifying the dish with spices like cumin for a bit of warmth.

Use this table as a quick guide to pairing plums with different meats:

Meat TypeCooking MethodPlum Use
Pork ChopsGrilledGlaze with a plum reduction
ChickenRoastedCook in a plum-spice marinade

Plums in Salads and Sides

Plums add a burst of flavor to salads and side dishes, complementing greens and cheeses beautifully:

  • Salad with Plums: Toss sliced plums with arugula, crumbled goat cheese, or feta, and garnish with red onions for a refreshing and colorful salad.
  • Plum Chutney: Serve a tangy plum chutney as a condiment; it pairs exceptionally well with a range of savory dishes, enhancing their flavor profile.

Try this simple list format to remember key ingredients for a savory plum salad:

  • Arugula
  • Red Onions
  • Plums (sliced)
  • Goat Cheese/Feta (crumbled)
  • Dressing (olive oil, sherry vinegar, honey, black pepper)

Preserving and Storing Plums

When it comes to plums and other stone fruits, proper preservation ensures that you can enjoy their flavors year-round. Canning, freezing, and drying are optimal methods for long-term storage of ripe plums.

Canning Plums

To can plums, begin by making a sugar syrup—a critical step in the canning process. Here’s how to prepare it:

  • Heavy Syrup: Mix 3 cups of water with 2 cups of sugar.
  • Medium Syrup: Combine 3 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar.

Next, fill sterilized jars with halved, pitted plums and pour the syrup over them, leaving some headspace.

Process in a boiling water canner for the time recommended by your elevation and jar size. This method is ideal for creating plum butter or preserves.

Freezing and Drying Plums

Freezing is straightforward and preserves the fruit’s taste and nutritional value:

  1. Wash and dry your plums.
  2. Cut them into wedges, removing the pits.
  3. Arrange the wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  4. Once frozen, transfer your plums to a freezer bag or an airtight container.
  5. Label with the date and return to the freezer.

For drying plums:

  1. Preheat your oven to 200˚F (93˚C), using convection if available.
  2. Pit and place the plums on a rack over a lined baking tray.
  3. Bake, checking every hour, until they reach your desired dryness level.

Dried plums, also known as prunes, are a healthy snack and can also be used in various culinary applications.

Beverages and Cocktails with Plums

Plums, with their natural sweetness and juicy flesh, are excellent in beverages ranging from refreshing juices to sophisticated cocktails.

When used in drinks, plums contribute a depth of flavor that complements a variety of ingredients.

Plum Juices and Smoothies

For a non-alcoholic treat, you can make Plum Juices and Smoothies with ripe plums, which add a natural sweetness, thus reducing the need for added sugar. Here’s a simple recipe to try:

  • Ingredients:
    • Ripe plums
    • Lemon juice
    • Sugar (optional)
    • Ice cubes
    • Fresh ginger (optional)
  • Directions:
    1. Wash your plums and cut them into halves, removing the pits.
    2. Place the plum pieces into a blender, adding a squeeze of lemon juice and a slice of ginger for a zesty twist.
    3. Blend until smooth, taste, and if you prefer a sweeter drink, add a little sugar.
    4. Add ice and blend again to chill.
    5. Pour into a glass and enjoy immediately.

Alcoholic Plum Concoctions

If you’re in the mood for something stronger, Alcoholic Plum Concoctions can range from a simple plum-infused liquor to elegant plum cocktails for special occasions:

  • Plum-infused Alcohol:
    • Submerge ripe plums in your choice of clear liquor, such as vodka or sake, along with sugar and spices like star anise for a deep, aromatic profile. Let the mixture infuse for several months before enjoying.
  • Plum Cocktails:
    • Rosemary’s Plum Gin Cocktail:
      • Muddle plums with fresh rosemary to release their sweet and aromatic qualities.
      • Mix with gin and a hint of lemon for a refreshing and sophisticated beverage.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you’ll find some of the most common inquiries about using plums in cooking, along with practical tips and recipe ideas that highlight their versatility.

What are some delicious dessert recipes that incorporate plums?

Plums make a great addition to desserts. For a simple treat, slice plums and layer them over puff pastry, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, and bake to create a delightful tart. Or consider baking them into cakes, pies, or making a plum crumble.

How can plums be prepared for making a savory dish?

For savory dishes, plums can be grilled or roasted to bring out their natural sweetness and used as a complement to meats such as pork chops. They can also be chopped and mixed into a relish with fresh herbs to top off dishes like grilled salmon.

Is it necessary to peel plums prior to cooking with them?

Peeling plums is not typically necessary as their skins soften with cooking and add color and texture to your dishes. If the texture of the skin is a concern, you may score and blanch the plums to easily remove the skin.

Can I preserve whole plums through freezing for later use?

Yes, you can freeze whole plums. To do so, simply halve the plums, remove the stone, and freeze them on a baking sheet before transferring to a freezer bag. They’re perfect for smoothies or as a topping for oatmeal or yogurt.

What flavors pair well with plums in recipes?

Plums have a sweet yet slightly tart flavor that pairs well with cinnamon, vanilla, citrus, and almond. In savory dishes, they complement flavors like ginger, basil, and balsamic vinegar.

How do you make stewed plums?

To stew plums, halve and pit them. Then cook with a small amount of water and sugar to taste until they are soft and the liquid forms a syrup. Add spices like cinnamon or star anise for extra flavor.

Stewed plums can be served on their own, with cream, or as a topping for ice cream or pancakes.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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