Cherry Plums

cherryplumthumb.JPGJuly 2009 - last year was disappointing for wild plums, but the trees are more than making up for it this year - including enormous crops of cherry plums.


What Are Cherry Plums?

Prunus Cerasifera - Also known as Myrobalan - cherry plum is a small to medium sized tree found in hedgerows and sunny edges of woodland, producing small plums ranging in size between about 1 to 4cm (so between the sizes of grape and golf ball). The fruit has golden-yellow to rosy-pink, translucent flesh with a pale yellow to deep maroon skin.

The plant crosses quite readily with other similar species of Prunus - so it is often possible to find hybrids that resemble very large sloes, or domestic plums.

cherryplum1.JPGThe plums should be picked when they are ripe enough to fall off the tree at the slightest touch.

They will continue to ripen off the tree and are perhaps at their very best when they darken a little and turn slightly translucent and soft.

cherryplum2.JPGThe skin tends to be a little sour - this isn't a problem when they are eaten fresh, but if they are cooked, the acid becomes a dominant flavour and requires quite a lot of sugar to counteract.

Alternatively, the plums can be used in recipes where an acidic result is desirable (ketchups, chutneys, etc).

cherryplum3.JPGI'm going to make some of mine into prunes - as I did last year with ordinary plums - this is quite easy to do - just halve the fruits and lay them out on a tray, then place it on a sunny windowsill.

If possible, leave the window slightly open, as even a gentle breeze will dry them much faster than the sun alone. It's best to start them off in the morning, so they will have a full day of drying at the beginning of the process.

cherryplum4.JPGAfter just one day, the fruits have dried and shrunk quite considerably - this is a good start, as the removal of surface moisture makes them less susceptible to rotting or going mouldy.

Once they've started drying like this, they will continue even if the conditions are less than optimal - which is a good thing, because sunshine is by no means guaranteed here in England.

Production Line

cherryplum6.JPGAs the plums progress toward becoming prunes, they shrink considerably.

This means each batch can be bunched closer together - making space to add new ones.

cherryplum7.JPGHere are some of the fully-dried prunes - alongside a fresh cherry plum to demonstrate just how much they shrink.

By my estimation, that little bowl, now containing about 50g of prunes - represents maybe a couple of kilos of fresh plums.

What Are They Like?

The prunes are small and fairly hard. They're glossy, sticky and they taste quite sour - very similar in flavour to dried cranberries.

I'm going to keep on producing them as long as the cherry plum crop keeps going - I'll update this page with my end results...

Update (later, much later...)

I made a huge pile of cherry plum prunes and packed them in a jar with brandy and sugar. I stored them and used them for my 2009 Christmas pudding (similar recipe as this one).

Urban Foraging

You don't need to trek out to the countryside to find cherry plums - they are often planted as ornamentals in gardens and parks - perhaps most frequently in the form of the red-leafed cherry - which is the same species and often produces glossy red fruits with sweet pink or deep red flesh.