Plums are one of the most versatile and delicious fruits, and a great tree to choose if you’re a beginner to fruit growing, as they’re super easy to grow.
Maybe it’s exactly because they’re so easy to grow that they’re often a bit looked down on, and don’t get the attention they deserve. Today, we’re celebrating the plum!
There are hundreds of different varieties of plum, and while they have a lot in common, there’s so much variation that most gardens deserve a number of plum trees of different varieties.
This not only spreads the harvest and gives you fresh fruit for longer, but also gives you more variety in your diet and more scope to preserve and cook them in different ways.
There are two main types of plum – European-type plums and Japanese-type plums.
European plums are the more familiar and “old fashioned” looking plums that were common in early Australian gardens, like these Damsons (which by the way is one of the best jam plums you’ll ever find).
But the Greengage and Prune d’Agen plums above are also European-type plums, and there are also lots of other varieties in the ‘gage’ and ‘prune’ families.
The most common European-type plums that most people are familiar with have this classic “egg” shape, plus the dusty ‘bloom’ on the skin, which is actually naturally occuring fungi (which is one of the reasons that plums naturally ferment so well, and are used around the world to make hundreds of local variations of plum wine or liqueur).
Here’s another well-known European plum, the Angelina, which never gets very large but is prized for its sweetness, and is the classic plum used in many Eastern European countries to make plum dumplings.
The Japanese-type plum category includes all the blood plums, of which there are dozens of different ones. One of our favourites is the Mariposa because it’s a very regular cropper, grows to a good size, and is very sweet and juicy.
But far more prized than the Mariposa is the more old-fashioned Satsuma blood plum, known for its dense and almost ‘meaty’ flesh and it’s dark red juice (whereas the Mariposa has clear juice with pink flecks).
Satsumas were a common feature of many early gardens, and they have the wonderful characteristic of being regular croppers regardless of whether they’re thinned or not (though they can sometimes fall back into the ‘biennial bearing’ pattern common to most fruit trees and start having a year off). Unless they’re thinned hard, they do tend to be one of the smaller plums.
There are also lots of different yellow-fleshed Japanese-type plums like these lovely Amber Jewel, who become nice and sweet fairly early in the season but continue to hang well and sweeten for several more weeks. One of the stranger things about these plums is that the tip of the stone often breaks off within the fruit, creating a small ‘floating’ bit of stone that forms an unexpected tooth-crunching trap for the eater.
Plums are rare in the fruit world in that they don’t have any particular pests or diseases that target them every season, though of course they can fall prey to aphids or brown rot if the conditions are right (or wrong!).
However they still need the right care in terms of thinning, pruning, picking and correct storage to get the most out of your crop. The Precious Plums short course covers all of these basic skills, as well as instructions and recipes for preserving and cooking with plums.
Plums lend themselves to preserving in a multitude of ways including jam, chutney, making alcohol, bottling and drying, and make the most wonderful arrays of desserts.
They can also be used to make more exotic fruits like berries go further, and one of our favourite desserts is this absolutely delicious plum and raspberry pie (the recipe is included in the Precious Plums short course).