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.