Fruit and Veg

A chef's guide to plums

Written by Tom Moggach
August 14, 2019

Peak season is now for British plums - a fruit being rediscovered by the British public. At their best, a ripe plum is hard to beat.

Key facts

- Botanically speaking, plum trees belong to the genus Prunus in the family Rosaceae. The common European plum is said to originate from around the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea.

- Some trees are self-fertile or partially so and are therefore less reliant than apple trees on flying insects to help pollinate the crop.

- Common varieties on the Market include those pictured below. Jubileum is a modern variety known for its large size. Greengages are known as Reine de Claude in France.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Plums Varieties

Growing and harvesting

For growers, a key issue is size - larger plums will fetch more money. (In contrast, there is a demand for smaller apple sizes in recent years).

"If there is a glut of plums you can’t give the darn things away; if they are large you make a fortune," says top grower Mark Eastwood, a third-generation farmer whose farm in Kent covers 40 hectares - with 1.5 hectares dedicated to plums.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Plums Mark Eastwood

He grows three main varieties: early Opal; mid Victoria; and the late Marjorie's Seedling. The picture below shows Victoria plums ripening on the tree in early August.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Plums Victoria On Tree

Plum trees require vigorous thinning as the trees are prone to biannual cropping - i.e. cropping heavily in one year and then cropping little in the other. His team pick over the tree around three times to harvest the fruit at their peak.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Plums Picking Crop

Eastwood also grows apples too, with output around 800 tonnes of apples and 30 tonnes of plums each year.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Plums Harvest

Competition comes from much cheaper Spanish imports but he is scathing about their quality.

"They tend to grow these varieties which look nice but don’t taste of much and sit in your fruit bowl for ages. We are commanding three times the price ... It could be the crop is short and people want to buy more English produce – that's a different trend. The flavour of English plums is better as they take longer to mature."

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Plums Pallet

In the market

Wholesaler H G Walker is the sole supplier of fruit from Mark Eastwood. But you will find English plums on a wide range of stands, including P & I Fruits, Premier Fruits and S Newman.

For top of the range French and Italian plums - including Mirabelle - try The French Garden and European Salad Company.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Plums Mixed Selection

Kitchen inspiration

Obviously, plums tend to end up in sweet dishes such as clafoutis, frangipane and other patisserie. Compotes, sauces and jams are other classics.

But savoury suggestions include dishes such as below, starting with a sea trout tartare with chilli, plum, fennel and herb oil from chef Omri McNabb at the amazing Palomar in the West End.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Plums Palomar

Here's one from chef Steve Groves from Roux at Parliament Square - venison, celeriac, preserved plum and hazelnut.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Plums Groves

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