Plums are a versatile summer treat

Mary Ann Esposito shares her recipes for a Fresh Plum Tart, Plum Perfect Summer Salad and Dry-Rub Grilled Pork Chops with Grilled Plums.

Every summer, my parents packed my brothers and sister and me into the back of the station wagon for a trip to the fruit orchards of Lockport, New York. On the agenda: picking fresh plums for making jams, pies and Mom’s plum kuchen.  

Of course, as a teenager, I thought this was a waste of time, and I tried to hide in my closet to escape the inevitable plum-picking party, but my brothers always knew where I was so my cover was blown.

Well the plums don’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and now I find myself marking my calendar every summer as a reminder to not to forget to pick plums!

Plums are members of the rose family, and are related to peaches and nectarines, all of which are stone fruits. There are many varieties of plums, from the common blue or purple plum of Europe to the Santa Rosa plum grown in California and introduced by the famous American plant breeder, Luther Burbank. As a result of his experiments with the plum trees that he purchased in Japan, there are now more than two hundred varieties of plums grown in California. Plums are also grown in Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Michigan and New York.

The season for plums is long, beginning in May and lasting until Thanksgiving, but the best picking period is from mid-June through mid-August.  Plums are usually harvested when they are mature but not fully ripe. They should have a shiny color for their variety. Choose plums that feel heavy—not mushy, bruised or showing signs of shriveled skin. Let the fruit ripen fully
at room temperature. You will know when a plum is ready to eat when it gives off its perfumed aroma and is soft to the touch.

The best way to enjoy fresh plums is eating them out of hand. They are so versatile in cooking, too, from making plum sauces, to accompanying pork and poultry, to poached plums for dessert. A pound of fresh plums yields about 2½ cups sliced, 2 cups diced or 1¾ cups puréed fruit.

Mom and Dad were right: plums are just dandy!

Fresh Plum Tart

Makes one 9-inch tart

My mother was partial to plums, canning them for winter use as well as turning them into tart/sweet plum sauce for vanilla ice cream and this heavenly plum tart that I still make today. No one ever believes me when I say this unconventional crust—one of the best you’ll ever eat—is hassle-free without the need to roll pastry dough.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
6–8 large, fresh red or purple plums, halved,pitted and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and set aside. Combine the flour, ½ cup sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture looks powdery.

2. Place the mixture into the tart pan and pat the crust evenly, making sure to fill in the fluted sides as well. Set aside.

3. Toss the plum slices with the lemon juice and ¼ cup sugar, and arrange the slices on the crust in an overlapping pattern to fill the entire surface.

4. Combine the remaining ¼ cup sugar, cinnamon, cloves and almonds in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the top of the plums.

5. Place the tart on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl with the heavy cream. Slowly pour the mixture evenly over the top of the tart (you may have a little cream mixture left over). Bake for 30 minutes more or until the top is golden brown.

7. Remove the tart from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the sides. Cut the tart into wedges and serve warm.

Plum Perfect Summer Salad 

Serves 4

Summertime plums are great in salads, and I love to experiment with them, adding fruit to the fresh, crisp lettuces that come from my home garden. Add some toasted, sliced almonds and feta cheese, and this breezy salad will become a favorite.

6 cups mixed salad greens
9 ripe red or purple plums: 6 large, cut in half, pitted and sliced into ¼-inch-thick wedges; 3 peeled, pitted and sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into rings
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6–8 fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
Salt, to taste

1. Place the salad greens, 6 large plums, onion, feta cheese and almonds in a salad bowl.

2. Place the remaining ingredients, except the salt, in a food processor and whirl to make an emulsion.

3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Add salt to taste and toss again.

Serve immediately.

Dry-Rub Grilled Pork Chops with Grilled Plums 

Serves 4

There is a really great taste affinity in this dish between the pork chops and plums, and it is a nice diversion from the usual applesauce accompaniment. It is one of my go-to recipes for company.

4 tablespoons fresh rosemary needles, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon fennel powder or crushed fennel seed
4 bone-in, loin-cut pork chops (about 6 ounces each)
4 large black plums, cut in half, pit removed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Combine the rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper and fennel powder. Rub the mixture over both sides of the pork chops. Set aside.

2. In a bowl, combine the plum halves, olive oil, honey and cinnamon. Toss and place the plums and any collected juices on a sheet of aluminum foil. Crimp and close the foil. Set aside.

3. Preheat the grill on high for 10 minutes. Place the pork chops on the grill and cook to desired doneness (155°F is medium).

4. While the pork chops are cooking, place the aluminum-foil package on the grill and cook for about 4–5 minutes.

5. When pork chops are done, transfer them to a serving dish. Arrange the plum halves around the dish and serve.

Categories: Food & Recipes