Driving along, taking the long way back from lunch last week, something caught my attention. At the edge of the woods were bushes clumped together, their spindly branches filled with white blossoms.
Wild plums in bloom.
Grouped together as they were in masses as big as my car, the wild plums weren’t hard to pick out among the other just-greening plants.
It brought back memories of my grandfather and early (and then late) spring days riding around in his International pickup truck. There were always the Sunday drives back then. As soon as the weather permitted, my aunt, sister and I begged to ride in the back bed of the truck (this was long before child protective seats and such).
In those days, there were still stands of woods along the road that featured wild plum bushes and blackberry vines. We’d head out in the middle of the afternoon, bouncing along, noting the location of the wild plums in bloom so that we could come back when the fruit was ripe (around late June or early July).
Because Grandma always worried about us girls getting stuck in the bushes and/or vines or the possibility of one of us stepping on a snake, Grandpa would just back up that pickup truck right into the bushes and we’d lean out the back or over the sides and pick as many plums as we could . . . always sampling as we went.
The taste of the warm ripe fruit, somewhat sweet and tart at the same time . . . I still remember it.
Wild plums aren’t like what you find in the grocery store. Those domesticated red and black plums are the size of a golf ball or slightly larger. Wild plums are about the size and color of cherry tomatoes when ripe.
You can use them, if you can find enough of them, in recipes that call for grocery store plums. The taste is similar and the plums will make great jellies.
The hunting and gathering of wild plums, though, is definitely more enjoyable.
The Summer Sage
makes 1 drink
6 whole wild plums or 6 slices red plum, as ripe and juicy as possible
4 to 5 sage leaves, stems removed
1/4 to 1/2 ounce simple syrup (more for a sweeter drink, less for a more pronounced whiskey taste)
Splash (about 1/8 ounce) fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 ounces rye whiskey
Add the plums, sage and simple syrup to the bottom of a shaker, and muddle (or smoosh vigorously with the back of a spoon) until the plums form a nice mush. Fill the shaker with ice and add the lemon juice and whiskey. Shake and then double strain into a cocktail glass.
Wild Plum Jelly
Makes approximately 8 to 10 jars
4 cups wild plum juice
4 cups cane sugar
1 tbsp. butter
Wash well and barely cover with water about 5 pounds of ripe wild plums. Boil until fruit is soft and liquid is bright red. Cool until warm only and strain through a clean white cloth to obtain clear, pulp-free juice.
Make jelly in proportion listed above. Bring strained juice to a boil, stir in butter to keep juice from boiling over sides of pan. Slowly stir in sugar, stirring constantly until mixture reaches 220 degrees on candy thermometer. Remove from heat immediately and pour into dry, warm sterilized 1/2 pint jelly jars, leaving approximately 1/2 inch at top of jar for expansion when jelled. Seal jars tightly.
Makes 1 standard 9-inch pie
1 cup walnuts, preferably black walnuts, chopped
2 pounds wild or regular plums, pitted
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh sage, minced
6 tablespoons flour
1standard 9-inch pie shell
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Put the plums into a large bowl with the walnuts. Add the sugar, salt, sage and flour and mix well. The sugar and salt will draw moisture from the cut plums, so the filling will get soupy. Don’t worry, it’ll firm up in the end.
In another bowl, make the topping by combining the room temperature butter, brown sugar and 1/3 cup flour together until you get a crumbly texture.
Pour the filling into the cold pie crust and bake for 25 minutes.
Take the pie out of the oven and sprinkle the crumble topping over the plums. Bake the pie for another 20 minutes.
In this second baking, watch the crust. If it begins to brown too much, take it out one more time and loosely wrap foil over the crust to protect it.
Let the pie cool completely before eating it. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
From Hunter Angler Gardner Cook, honest-food.net