Plums were one of the first fruits domestically cultivated by humans. Evidence of the remains of the fruit have been found in Neolithic archaeological sites. They are members of the Prunus family, alongside apricots, peaches and cherries. Plums are considered “drupes”, a fruit that has a hard stone surrounding the seeds. China is the largest producer of plums in the world, producing 6,100,000 tonnes per year.
There are over 2000 varieties of plum available throughout the world. The colour of plum skins can be red, purple, blue/black, green, yellow or orange. The flesh of the plum also comes in an abundance of colours including red, yellow, green and pink. Although there are many different varieties, they are classified into six general categories.
Green Gage Plums.
The Green Gage is considered one of the best flavoured varieties of plum. Although it’s known for the flavour, Green Gages are not as visually appealing as many other varieties. The Green gage has a dull, dusty green colour that yellows slightly once ripe. Green Gages have been cultivated since the middle ages in France. There are many different French varieties of green skinned Gages, they are collectively known as Reine Claude. It is general belief that they were introduce to Great Britain during the 18th century by sir William Gage, when he obtained a tree from his brother who was a priest in France. Green Gages can be used for all manner of great tasting deserts and can even be used to flavour gin.
The Damson has a distinct rich flavour, it is high in sugar and highly astringent. Damson skin is very tart, and the fruit is usually used for cooking. Commercially damsons are used for preparation in preserves and jams. The name damson originates in the Middle English; damascene, damesene, damasin, damsin and ultimately from the Latin (prunum) damascenum, “plum of Damascus”. It is thought that damsons were introduced to the U.K by the Romans. In parts of the country damsons are often found growing in woodlands and along riverbanks.
The Victoria is one of the most well known and popular varieties of plum in the U.K. It was introduced during the Victorian Era, as the name suggest. It quickly became popular both for garden and commercial growing. From late August these large oval shaped are in season and are ideal for both culinary and dessert use.
Health Benefits of Plums.
Plums contain no saturated fat and are low in calories. These fruits contain minerals such as potassium and iron. They are a good source of vitamins such as B-6, niacin, B-6, vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin A. Plums and dried plums (prunes) are great source of dietary fibre and good for digestive health and commonly used in treating constipation.
Pickled & Dry Plums.
Some varieties of plum that have a high sugar content are dried to make prunes. The high sugar content is needed so that the fruit doesn’t ferment during the drying process. In the U.S prunes have been re-branded as dried plums to make them more appealing to the target audience (women aged 25-54). 99% of the prunes consumed by Americans are produced in California. California also produces 70% of prunes for the rest of the world. Due to a labour shortage in 1905 farmers used monkeys to harvest the dried fruits.
Umeboshi, are a traditional dish in Japan. Translated Umeboshi means pickled or salt plums in English. Umeboshi are made from the Ume, technically a Japanese apricot, the Ume (complete with stone) is a sour fruit, salt pickled and coloured red with perilla leaves. Many people in Japan start their day with a cup of green tea and an Umeboshi, however they are also enjoyed with sticky rice.