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THE ENTERTAINING ISSUE - November December Issue 2018

One Ingredient: Plums

by Julie Van Rosendaal

I’ve long argued that in Canadian kitchens, plums are the most underutilized of the conventional fruits – for cooking with, at least. The perfect balance of sweet and tart, irresistibly juicy, never woody or stringy, the plum is ideal for cakes, pies, cobblers and crisps, but also for jams and chutneys, for stewing to spoon over ice cream or yogurt, or tossing in halves on the barbecue. Firm, almost crunchy plums are perfect chopped into salads. A plum is such an ideal example of what we should look for in a fruit, its name is used to describe other desirable things. And yet we rarely realize its potential in the kitchen.

Like other stone fruits, plums come in clingstone or freestone varieties, the former with tiny stones fused to the surrounding flesh, the latter easier to release in clean slices. They’re more diverse than their cousins – while you may have the option of only one kind of apricot and a few types of peach and cherry, plums come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours, differing both inside and out: there are deep purple black plums, with flesh and juice as dark as their exterior; tiny, bright green greengages; yellow-orange Mirabelles; droplet-shaped pinkred Japanese beauties; and oblong, dusty purple damson plums with contrasting yellowgreen interiors. And these are just the more common varieties – you may come across a plum you don’t recognize, but regardless of its outward appearance, if it’s ripe, you can bet it will be juicy and delicious.

Which plum you choose may at least partly be dictated by your intentions for it; if you’re concerned with slicing plums cleanly or want to set them cut-side-down on the grill, a nottoo- ripe freestone variety may be in order. But if you’re eating them out of hand, or simmering them into jam or other preserves, there’s the option of cleaning off the pit with your teeth, or gingerly extracting the stones from the pot when your cooking is done. (I like to count the individual pieces of fruit before they go in, to ensure the right number of pits comes back out.)

Although plums are perfectly suited to dense, buttery cakes and pastries – Eastern Europeans know this – their lush tartness also makes them ideal for roasting and serving with pork, chicken, turkey and even lamb, their astringency cutting the richness of the meat and their sweetness enhancing it. I sometimes halve or quarter plums and roast them alongside meat in its juices, as you might do with potatoes and carrots, and they can be simmered into sauces and chutneys, threaded onto kabobs or tossed onto the grill to cook alongside whatever else is for dinner. And while plums are in season and at their peak, it’s perfectly reasonable to slice a few into each course.

Read One Ingredient in the digital issue of City Palate.