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The All-Purpose Plum

Jul 29, 2015 11:28AM ● By Lesley Stiles

August resides well in the Diablo Valley. It’s when big, spacious, blue skies accompanied by blazing hot, dry days define the eighth month of our year. Conditions such as these bode well for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons and stone fruits that thrive in loamy soil, occasionally drenched with some conserved, allotted water. The environment in the steamy side of the garden lets them soak up every sun bloated ray they can absorb to create amazingly big, fat, juicy fruits and vegetables for us to consume at will.

As peaking produce overflows our yards and farmers’ market tables, canning and jamming take center stage in the kitchens of our summer life. Just-picked cucumbers matched with astoundingly fragrant fresh dill heads and garlic from the vine or market table will be transformed in a matter of hours, with the help of salt, vinegar, and mystical alchemy, to glistening jade jars of love. Tubs of peaches, nectarines and strawberries, washed and cut up, boiled in a sugar melted narcotic haze, combined with whatever else heat flustered minds can imagine to mix in, hold promise of the perfect piece of toast come winter.

As my Satsuma plum tree encourages vast quantities of cascading fruit onto dry ground below, I am fraught with sweet memories of my own mom’s Satsuma plums, which is why I have one growing in my yard today. Drupe in familial origin, having a large stone pit encasing inner seed, plums are indeed a fruit engineered to provoke tender memories stemming from an age of earlier innocence. Plums date back centuries to milder climates of Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Americas, but Roman historian and scientist Pliny the Elder maintained plums originated in Armenia and were the first cultivated fruit known. Many cultures invest in the power of spring plum blossoms, all knowing at least half of those sweetly fragrant, showy blooms represent a plum to eat with juice dripping down the chin. Over the years, many crosses of plums have appeared in markets, probably none more identifiable than the Santa Rosa with creamy yellowish-pink flesh and sugar sweet with a tart skin -- pretty much the epitome of what comes to mind for a plum. Satsuma plums have deep, dark, richly mahogany red interiors, with a mysteriously herbal, tart-honeyed flesh, perfect for retrieving childhood images. Plum wines play a major part in several cultures for simple enjoyment as well as medicinal purposes, along with beautiful ceremonial displays.

Fortunately for us, plums are still immensely popular with farmers continuing to grow and sell heirloom varieties along with any kind of cross imaginable, almost. Apriums are a 30-70 mix of an apricot and a plum, while pluots are a 70-30 mix of plum and apricot. Softly orange inside and out with a scant fuzz or deeply magenta, both perform due diligence to represent the plum family, owning tastes that are sublime. Available only from your yard or farmers’ markets, they are summer stone fruit at its best. Before frankenfruit visions scare you off, these inter- bred fruits are crossed, not genetically modified, and as safe as a Blenheim to devour.

Fresh plum salsa with chopped plums, scallions, cilantro, jalapeño, and garlic tossed with lime juice and a shot of fruity olive oil is incredible accompanying freshly grilled fish and a light shower of sea salt. Slice plums and toss with arugula, pine nuts, veiny blue cheese, and thick balsamic. Plums set the stage for an amazingly simple crisp, slurped hot with vanilla ice cream slowly melting on top. Plums pureed and simmered with fresh ginger, garlic, honey, rice vinegar, and soy sauce create a dip worthy of the most royal dumpling or skewer. Plum jam assures summer in the winter and looks so good in their jeweled jars they can be used for home décor year round. Beyond simple to prepare, all efforts pay supremely for months.

Plum Jam

8 cups chopped Satsuma plums

3 tablespoons fruit pectin

2 cups turbinado sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Peel and juice from one big, juicy lemon

Heat plums in a deep, heavy pan that won’t scorch. Mix ½ cup sugar with the pectin and stir into plums. Bring to a complete rolling boil that you can’t stir down and add the rest of the sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla. Bring back to a rolling boil that you can’t stir down. When you reach that point, set your timer for 2 minutes and boil for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and place into sterilized half pint jars. Close lids tightly. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 half-pints.