I harvested my favourite fruit today – Japanese plum (Prunus salicina) They look like the sort of plum you would get in the shops, with one subtle difference – they have flavour! Not just any old flavour, but the richest, most complex flavour I have ever come across in a plum. Then there’s the way they just sort of dissolve in the mouth… (Since first writing this, I have discovered that Japanese plums in fact are the kind that you usually see in the shops, so the difference is presumably down to the fact that shop-bought ones are picked unripe for storage and transport but if you have your own tree you can pick them when they are at their glorious best.)
Nor are the virtues of Japanese plums limited to eating raw. They are surprisingly good cooked in savoury dishes: they are great frittered and the plum stir-fry season is one of the keenly awaited annual culinary milestones in my household. They also make an exceptionally good fruit leather. I only started experimenting with fruit leathers in 2015, but from my results so far, Japanese plums make the best, either on their own or in mixes with other fruit. The best of all was perhaps a pure Japanese plum leather with a bit of ginger added. I also tried cutting them into thin strip and drying them. The result was very tasty and has stored well. On the other hand, Japanese plum jam is only okay – I think that tarter plums such as cherry plums generally make better jams.
Their all round deliciousness isn’t lost on the local wildlife and the big hazard with Japanese plums is that the birds and wasps will get them before you do. Fortunately, they ripen up well on the window sill if you pick them a few days early and that is what I generally do.
Japanese plums haven’t always been easy to get hold of in the UK, but I have been pointed to http://www.gb-online.co.uk/prestashop/category.php?id_category=124 as a supplier of them (and much else besides) – thanks Waheed. I got mine from a supplier that has now ceased to exist, so I have been trying to propagate it myself. It grows quite strongly from its large seed, so I have got a number of seedling trees now growing on, but I have no idea whether it will breed true and with seedlings I might have to wait a while to find out. Fortunately, you can also propagate plums by layering: you bend a branch down to the ground, cut a section away from the underside where it meets the ground until it is thin enough to bend upwards without breaking and then peg it into the ground with the part beyond the cut vertical. Within a year or so it will have a good root system and you can cut it away from the parent tree, a little cloned Dolly the Plum.
I’d be intrigued to know why this species isn’t more popular in Britain. Do I have an unusually nice or hardy one? Has anyone else tried it? Please post a reply if you have.