The plum is a drupe, a pitted
fruit, related to the nectarine, peach, and apricot, but it is
far more diverse than its relatives, coming in a wider range of
shapes, sizes, and, especially, skin colours. Its flavours also
vary from extremely sweet to quite tart. Some plum varieties are
specifically bred so that they can be dried and still retain their
sweetness, to become prunes. The varieties that we call plums
are mainly eaten fresh, but they are also canned or processed
into jams and preserves.
Plums should be plump and well coloured for their variety. If
the fruit yields to gentle pressure, it is ready to eat; however,
you can buy plums that are fairly firm but not rock hard and let
them soften at home. They will not, however, increase in sweetness.
Ripe plums will be slightly soft at the stem and tip; avoid those
with shriveled skin, mushy spots, or breaks in the skin.
To soften hard plums, place several in a loosely closed paper
bag and leave them at room temperature for a day or two; when
softened, transfer them to the refrigerator. Ripe plums can be
refrigerated for up to three days.
Wash plums before eating or cooking them. They will be juiciest
(and to most palates taste sweetest) at room temperature. To pit
Italian prune plums and other freestone types, cut the fruit lengthwise
in half, twist the halves apart, and lift out the pit. To slice
or quarter clingstone plums, use a sharp paring knife and cut
through the flesh toward the pit.