Maybe they have been there all along and I never noticed, but lately, every little farmers' market that I have visited, I see variations of wild plums that I last saw as a child walking with my mother down a country road, bucket in hand, searching for a clump of wild plum bushes. It was a ritual we had every summer-picking juicy deep red-yellow plums for the jelly she would make. Spread on hot biscuits or corn muffins, the jelly had a sweet tangy taste that went especially well with the rustic texture of the corn muffins.
There are many varieties of wild plums in the United States and Canada; some are sweet and some are tart. The wild plum exhibits many different shades of color; from crimson red, bluish purple, to bright orange and colors in between. Sizes range from cherry to golf ball size. Wild plums grow singly on a branch unlike cherries which grow in clusters Ripe ones drop readily in the hand while unripe ones have to be tugged from the branch. Some varieties of wild plums are being cultivated which probably accounts for those recently showing up in local farmers' markets.
I bought my first batch of wild plums in downtown Savannah from Polks Fresh Market. They were from South Carolina just over the Savannah River and were called "Wild Sugar Plums" The lady who worked the cash register said someone had told her that they made a tart with the plums. That must have been a labor of love as the stones in the plums are bigger than in cherries of the same size. I had planned on making jam with the plums, but didn't want to pit them first, so began looking at different methods of making jam. The jam recipe I chose has no pectin added and was quite easy to make.
Wild Plum Jam
Adapted from this recipe.
6 cups wild plums, 80 % ripe and 20% slightly unripe
4 cups sugar
Wash plums.Make a slit into each plum. This will make it easier to crush once in the pan. Place plums in a large saucepan, crush with a potato masher and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour plums into a sieve or food mill to remove skins and seeds. Place pulp in saucepan and add sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar, then cook until mixture is thick and registers 215° to 221° on a jelly thermometer. Instructions on preparing and sealing jars can be found here.
Here are some exciting ways I used my plum jam. I made a plum pate de fruit using a recipe from Pineapple Pate de Fruit, a recent post I also used the plum jam to fill the center of the corn muffins.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cups sugar, less if you are a "no sugar in my cornbread!" person
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 extra large egg
1/2 cup or more plum jam
Preheat oven to 350°. Line 6 large hole muffin tins with paper liners. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine milk, eggs and melted butter. On low speed, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Spoon the batter into the paper lines, filling each nearly to the top. Bake 30 minutes, until browned and crisp and tester comes out clean. Cool about 5 minutes and turn out of cupcake pan onto rack to cool completely.
After the muffins have cooled, place the plum jam in a pastry bag fitted with a large tip. Push the tip into the center of the muffin and squeeze 1-2 tablespoons jam into the middle of the corn muffin. Fill remainder of muffins.
Adapted from "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" by Ina Garten
Come back later in the week for Plum Crazy-Part Two