Humans have used plums for thousands of years
One of the earliest fruits humans domesticated was the plum. There are several species of the Prunus genus that have been found in archaeological digs in Eastern Europe, Iran and Asia. Most people agree that plum trees were intentionally planted by humans over 2,000 years ago. By the time the Roman Empire was at its height, there were over 300 varieties known. North America has their own native plums and the Native Americans used them for food and the roots for natural dye. Plums were dried and eaten fresh, however the most important plum product of the ancient world was alcohol or plum brandy. Brandy is made by distilling wine into a more potent form of alcohol. Today Romania furnishes the world with at least ¼ of the plum harvest with China, Serbia and the United States close behind.
Health benefits of plums
Plums are naturally nutritious and have many health benefits. They are a significant source of Vitamin C and the antioxidants they contain promote better iron absorption, helps control bad cholesterol and are a source of soluble fiber that helps regulate blood sugar. Plums also help with macular degeneration and fights some forms of cancer. Dried plums, more commonly known as prunes, have a reputation of being a food for the elderly and they do promote a healthy gut and elimination system. Younger folks tend to avoid them out of the stigma, however dried plums are healthy and beneficial for all age groups.
Make plum sauce with extra plums
Plums have many uses and while most of them lean toward the sweet and dessert category, plums are also great in salads, pickles and as an accompaniment for meat. Pork is especially good when cooked with plums or a plum sauce is used. Plum sauce is easy to make. It is sweet and savory with a kick from red pepper flakes. It goes with just about anything. Dip egg rolls in it, baste a pork roast or chicken and use it as a dip for shrimp, whether it is fried, grilled or boiled. Bottle it up in half pint jars and give as gifts for the holidays. Now is the perfect time to plan for gift-giving and summer fruit is a wonderful way to please family and friends. Plum sauce is an unexpected gift and many cooks have most of the ingredients in their pantry. You'll need approximately four pounds of fresh plums, your choice, they will all do great. Wash, quarter and pit them, no need to peel. To the pot, add a small chopped onion. Add two or three (or more if you like) garlic cloves, two cups of packed brown sugar, a cup of cider vinegar, a teaspoon of ground ginger, a teaspoon of ground mustard, a half teaspoon of ground cloves, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and at least a teaspoon of hot pepper flakes. The amount of heat is dependent on your personal preference and can be as mild as a jalapeno or as fiery as a ghost pepper, your choice. Bring to a boil and then cook over medium heat for forty five minutes to an hour. The time isn't actually needed to cook the sauce. It is to reduce the amount of liquid and make the sauce thick, since plums are mostly water. I cooked mine for about forty five minutes and it seemed thick enough. You can then run the sauce through your food processor to smooth it, or use a food mill to take out the lumps and skins. Everything pretty much disintegrates anyway. I chose the food mill simply out of nostalgia since it is a family heirloom, and the sauce came out silky smooth. After the sauce is smooth, bottle up and seal in half pint jars and process in a boiling water bath for five minutes. This recipe made four half pints with a bit left over. Your plum sauce is ready for whatever you want to brush it on!
Growing plum trees
While plums are easy to find in the markets now, you can grow your own as well. Plum trees are a stone fruit and relatives of the peach, apricot and nectarine. They are also members of the rose family. Plums are also a good choice for a beginner who is wanting to start growing fruit. They aren't as finicky as some of the other fruit trees and produce a great harvest. Choosing a plum tree is probably the biggest decision with three different types. The European and American hybrid plums are happy in just about any temperate zone and can withstand quite a bit of freezing weather. Asian plums are best in the warmer growing zones where peaches do well. American and Asian plums need a second type of plum to cross pollinate and set fruit, just like many apples. European plums are generally self-fertile. Plant in moderately fertile soil where the tree will receive at least six to eight hours of full sun. Make sure the tree is protected from drought that first year and supplement water if it doesn't rain at least an inch a week. However, plum trees do not like wet or boggy conditions, so make sure the soil in the growing area drains well. Do not fertilize until after the young tree has set its first crop of fruit and then a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 will do fine. If your plum tree seems to have too many plums and the branches start to bend, reduce the load by thinning the fruit to prevent branch breakage. The plums are ripe when they have reached their mature color and are slightly soft when gently squeezed. Pick carefully as they ripen and use them within a few days as plums are perishable and do not do well with prolonged storage.
Take advantage of plentiful summer fruit
Taking advantage of summer fruit is something we should all consider. Depending on how you can store it, freezing, drying or canning are all options. Thrifty cooks can make sure that the pantry is full of treats for the winter and can also make some unique and welcome gifts for the holidays. Stay alert for windfalls and check with your local farmers market or produce stand. Many of them are quite happy to set aside what you need for your recipe and you can just pick it up without having to go out into big crowds. Saving fruit in different ways is also a good way to teach children lessons in math, following directions and self-sufficiency, so it is a win-win situation.