These recipes are plum delicious

Turbinado sugar adds a molasses flavor to the crust of this decadent plum tart. BY JACK CLEMONS
August 27, 2012

Several months ago I subscribed to produce deliveries from Washington’s Green Grocer. Unlike the local farmers markets where you stroll the aisles to touch and smell and pick and choose fruits and vegetables, D.C.-based WGG decides what goes into the weekly boxes. You can select organic or mixed, large or small, and request specific “never” or “always” items. So far, the only challenge has been plums.

Before now, my reaction to plums was uncertainty. I could never tell whether the first bite would be juicy and sweet or dry and tart. With thousands of varieties, ranging in color from golden to almost black, it’s difficult to predict their flavor and texture. Since I now have a baker’s dozen in my refrigerator, it’s time to learn a little bit more about this fruit.

In the Middle Ages, the word plum referred to any dried fruit (think plum pudding and raisins). It now refers to the fresh fruit that evolved from wild members of the plant genus Prunus, originating in the temperate areas of the northern hemisphere. The northeastern seaboard of this country is home to the native beach plum (preferred for jam and jelly); the tasty, red chicksaw plum can be found along the southern coast.

Over centuries, cultivars from Europe and Asia (called Japanese plums) became the most common to be commercially grown. Related to peaches, nectarines and cherries, plums are usually round or oval in shape; their thin, edible skin covers thick flesh in shades of yellow, green and pink. Because of the central hard pit around their seeds, they are known as drupes or stone fruit. Prime plum season begins in May when Japanese varietals are ready and extends through the fall with later-ripening European types available until October.

When choosing plums, you’ll want unwrinkled skins without blemishes or soft spots. They should have a rich color, and the white or grayish bloom on the surface is a sign they’ve not been overly handled. How can you tell when a plum is ripe? Look for those that give slightly to gentle pressure. Avoid any that are too hard, as they are most likely immature and will not have the best texture or taste. If they are only a little firm, soften them on the counter at room temperature for a day or so. Refrigerate ripe plums in a plastic bag, allowing them to return to room temperature before eating them for the best flavor.

Which plums taste best? Of course, that depends. Sharp-flavored wild plums like Damsons are typically used for preserves. Deep-red Burbank plums like Santa Rosa and El Dorado are considered dessert plums, ideal for eating fresh or baking into a juicy treat.

Besides eating them out of hand, what else can you do with plums? They’re terrific baked, as in the tart in the photo, which combined both tart yellow and sweet purple plums. The recipe calls for turbinado sugar, which adds a molasses hint to the crust. You can also create an appetizer pizza: bake a crust topped with sliced plums, goat cheese and walnuts. Poach halved and pitted plums in a fruity red wine with orange peel for a delicious dessert (serve with scoops of vanilla ice cream).

Dried plums used to be known as prunes, but because of the connection to a cure for an unpleasant problem, they are now simply called dried plums. You can purchase these or make them yourself: bake pitted plum halves at 200 F until wrinkled. Once they’ve cooled, use them to replace raisins in cookies, muffins and breads; or nibble a few for a nutritious, high-energy snack. This is what I plan to do, since my box arrived this afternoon - with more plums.

Plum Tart

4 T butter
1 C flour
1/3 C turbinado sugar
1/4 t salt
1 egg yolk
1 egg
1/2 t almond extract
1/2 t lemon zest
1/4 C almond milk
8 to 10 plums
2 T melted butter
1 T sugar
1/2 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat the inside of a tart pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Place the butter in the bowl of a food processor; add the dry ingredients and pulse into uniform crumbs. Combine the egg yolk, egg, extract, zest and milk in a small bowl; whisk to combine. Add the liquid to the flour mixture and stir into a thick dough. Using a spatula or your hands (dusted with flour) spread the dough evenly in the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Slice the plums into a bowl, cutting them into 1/2-inch thick wedges. Arrange the plums on the dough, overlapping slightly. Pour the melted butter over the plums.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon and dust over plums. Bake until the plums are softened, about 40 minutes.

WGG Shrimp & Plum Kebabs

3 T toasted sesame oil
2 T chopped cilantro
1 t grated lime zest
3 T lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 extra large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and quartered lengthwise
2 plums, pitted and cut into sixths

Whisk together oil, cilantro, lime zest, lime juice and salt in a large bowl. Reserve 3 T of the mixture in a small bowl to use as dressing. Add shrimp, jalapeños, and plums to the remaining marinade; toss to coat. Preheat grill to medium high. Assemble 4 kebabs, alternating shrimp, jalapenos and plums evenly among the skewers; discard marinade. Grill the kebabs, turning once, until the shrimp are cooked through, about 8 minutes. Drizzle with the reserved dressing. Yield: 4 servings.

Poached Plums

4 whole plums
2 C red wine
1 T brown sugar
2-inch cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
3 slice orange peel

Halve and pit the plums. Set the plums flesh-side down in a heavy skillet. Pour the wine over the plums and stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and poach the fruit over medium for 15 minutes. Discard the cinnamon, cloves and orange peel. Serve plums with remaining poaching liquid and vanilla ice cream. Yield: 4 servings.