How to cook with the East Bay’s bounty of cherry plums

Wild plums, the freely found fruit of the East Bay, can become chutney, ice cream or liqueur.

Juice from press plums, ready to be churned into sorbet. Credit: Gaby Raymond

Welcome to East Bay Nosh’s local produce week, during which we’ll highlight stories of urban farming, growing your own food and dining off the land. You can see all the stories from this package on the Local Produce Week page.

On Monday, we told you about the East Bay’s wild plums (also known as cherry plums), the tart fruits on trees that line many a Bay Area street. Now that you know their story, it’s time to head to the kitchen to turn those fruits into something fun to eat, spread or drink. And, of course, we’d love to hear from you, too: Do you have a favorite wild plum recipe? If so, please share it in the comments section below. — Eve Batey

Maria Finn’s wild plum chutney

“Wild plums tend to be tart, but that’s what makes them interesting and a better chutney to go with savory foods than a super sweet jam or jelly, as you’d have to use hella sugar to make them sweet and it would overpower their essence,” Sausalito-based writer and chef Maria Finn said.

“You can add more sweetener here if you like, but the honey and dried fruits will mellow the tang and still allow the plummy-flavor to shine.”

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ripe wild plums, pitted (I use a cherry pitter to do this, because I have one. But it’s not necessary. A small knife works.)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates, dried figs or dried apricots
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf

Instructions

  1. Combine the ingredients in a non-reactive pan with a heavy bottom.
  2. Bring them to a boil, then let it simmer until it cooks down to the thickness you desire – up to 2 hours.
  3. If you’re making a small batch, just keep in a covered jar in the refrigerator and use within 3-4 weeks. 
  4. If you want to make more and can it, follow the USDA’s home canning guidelines

Uses

Serve as a condiment with pork tenderloin or a cheese and charcuterie platter. Thin by blending with olive oil and drizzle over eggplant. Use as a glaze when roasting duck instead of orange marmalade. Eat with yogurt, torn mint and honey.

Gaby Raymond’s wild plum sorbet

Credit: Gaby Raymond

North Berkeley resident and home cook Gaby Raymond discovered that she had a wild plum tree of her own when she moved into her home in 2012. What she loves about this recipe is that “it’s literally two ingredients: plums and sugar.” The process retains much of the fruit fiber and pulp, and “that’s apparently where so much of the pectin is. So when you put it through the ice cream maker it fluffs up,” she said. “You would swear there’s some kind of dairy or thickening agent in it, but it’s just the plum.”

Ingredients

  • Five gallons cherry plums
  • Sugar to taste

Instructions

  1. Press the plums in a cider press, which removes the pits and the skin. 
  2. Pour the juice into a deep, three or four-quart stainless steel pot.
  3. Stirring constantly, heat the liquid to boiling, which usually takes about 15 minutes. Turn off immediately. 
  4. Add sugar to taste, stirring constantly, “until it tastes like sorbet,” Raymond said.
  5. Pour into glass bottles or containers, then refrigerate to allow the liquid to cool.
  6. Put the cooled liquid through an ice cream maker.
  7. Divide into plastic containers and store in your freezer

Yield: About eight quarts. 

Joanne Furio’s wild plum liqueur

Adapted from the recipe for Ukranian plum brandy, a.k.a. “Slivyanka” on foodgeeks.com. Because the traditional recipe calls for larger and sweeter plums, be prepared to adjust the sugar.

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts vodka (the cheapest one works fine)
  • 2 pounds ripe wild plums
  • 4 cups sugar

Instructions

  1. Using a cherry pitter or small sharp knife, pit the plums, without removing the skin. 
  2. Place the plums in a large glass jug or jar with a tight-fitting lid that seals (you will have to shake the plums occasionally). 
  3. Store in a dark place, at room temperature, for six weeks, shaking the ingredients every couple of days to macerate.
  4. After the six weeks, pour the mixture through a strainer, removing the fruit. 
  5. Continue the straining process, moving to finer methods, using cheesecloth with a strainer and then coffee filters in a funnel. 
  6. Decant into bottles. Some swirls of sediment will collect at the bottom over time. No need to refrigerate.

Uses

Sip from a small shot or decorative glass or drizzle over vanilla ice cream. 

Joanne Furio moved to Berkeley because it has sidewalks. She specializes in design in all its incarnations, innovation and the arts.