By Mike on Thursday, August 7, 2008, 20:20 - Permalink
Due to an inconvenient frost at blossom time, or something like that, it's generally not been a good year for plums here - or so everybody tells me. However, there's always an exception - and I found it - a few wild plum trees in a sheltered hedgerow near my house, groaning under the weight of their own fruit.
What Are Wild Plums?
There are actually several different species that occur in the UK and could be called wild plums - Prunus domestica is the true wild plum (as well as the main ancestor of cultivated varieties), Prunus cerasifera is the Cherry Plum - with smaller, spherical red or yellow fruits, Prunus insititia is the Bullace - with small, blue-black fruits (but not to be mistaken for the sloe - Prunus spinosa.
Matters are not made less confusing by the promiscuity of species in this genus - so natural hybrids are also common - having characteristics typically intermediate of their parents. Also, escaped (feral) seedlings from cultivation are quite frequent.
Picking Wild Plums
The trees are often quite small, requiring no special effort to pick the fruit. Probably the biggest hazard is the risk of being stung by a wasp - if there are decaying fallen plums or any over-ripe ones on the branches, these insects will quite probably be present - and this is one of those occasions when they won't leave you alone if you ignore them - your mere presence in the vicinity is likely to be regarded a threat. So take care.
The best time for picking is when some of the fruits are already falling off the tree - and the best fruits are those that feel slightly soft or bouncy to the touch - although the harder ones may ripen after picking.
Culinary Qualities Of Wild Plums
Even when the flesh is ripe almost to the point of becoming liquid, the skin may still be found to taste extremely sour. This seems to be more often the case with thicker-skinned varieties, but it may vary quite considerably from one tree to the next - so if you have the luxury of the choice, it's worth tasting a fruit from each tree, then picking with discernment.
If you have no choice, and can only find wild plums which are intolerably acid, they can still be used for jam (just don't try using a low-sugar recipe), or for something where the acidity is desirable, such as chutney or ketchup - let's take a look at some of the potential uses for this wild fruit...
In The Kitchen
Probably the most obvious culinary use of plums (besides just eating them as they are) is to make them into jam. I felt like avoiding the obvious on this occasion and decided to use some of mine as part of a roast dinner.
I started off with an ordinary chicken from the supermarket - nothing particularly special about that. I spread a thin layer of Rowan Jelly all over the skin, then added about half a dozen plums - halved and stoned, then held in place with half a cocktail stick.
Looks a bit like an oven-ready Dalek.
The chicken was placed on a bed of sliced onions, covered with a loose dome of foil and placed in a low-to-medium oven for an hour.
After this time, the foil was removed, the oven turned up to hot and about half a pint of water added to the roasting dish. As soon as the skin had browned nicely (about half an hour), the oven was turned back down to low.
A total of about two and a half hours for this sizeable bird, and it came out looking rather nice:
The chicken was fantastic - really moist and tender, with a tasty, sweet glaze anf fruity tang that subtly permeated the meat.
What remained of the plums themselves was inedible - just the skins, and these were extremely sour - the flesh having melted away from inside, to baste the chicken.
The juices from the bird, combined with the caramelised onions, jelly and plum flesh, made the most wonderful rich gravy - no extra gravy browning was needed - just a little flour to thicken it up.