Another early species of plum. Cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera – also known as myrobalan plum or mirabelle) is described by Andrew Lear (aka Appletreeman) as ‘Scotland’s most undervalued fruit’ and I completely agree. It is just a little too big to have in my allotment, but I would definitely have one in a larger forest garden. Fortunately, in Aberdeen I don’t have to grow it myself as they are all over the place in my neighbourhood. It’s one of the first plums to flower, so before the days of air-freighted flowers it used to be grown in great long hedges for its sprays of blossom. The fruit was something of a by-product. This might be the reason why there are long lines of cherry plums in our local park and behind the botanic gardens.
Cherry plum fruit is very variable. With some you can clearly see the reason for the common name as they are no larger than cherries, others are more plum-sized. The colour ranges from yellow to a speckled red through to a dark, plummy purple. Taste and texture vary too, but in general they are nice, but not strongly flavoured for plums. They are exceptionally poor keepers and have a habit of falling off the tree the second they are ripe (although again, this varies). This means that they are not the best eaters, although they are juicy and somewhat moreish when munched directly off the tree.
Where they really come into their own is when they are cooked. This seems to enrich the flavour and they make lovely jam. I usually make dozens of jars every year and it is easily my favourite jam. They are very heavily fruiting so it doesn’t take long to gather bucketloads. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how to make jam, so I’ll just pass on a couple of tips. Cherry plums are soft and fleshy, so it’s easy to get the stones out of them before you cook up the jam. Either use a cherry-pitter or just use a sharp knife cutting down on top of the stone and forcing it out. This saves all that mucking about skimming stones off the top of the boiling jam. The other tip is not to add water to the recipe. Just put the sugar (I use about half the weight of the fruit) on top of the fruit (cut in half) in a bowl and leave it overnight: the sugar draws the water out of the plums and in the morning they will be floating in their own juice.
The cherry plums in our park have become very popular and these days I have to fight for a share. Here’s a recipe for cherry plum chutney from the park’s Facebook page.
- 900g plums
- 2 medium onions – roughly chopped
- 700g mixed sultana and raisins
- 600ml spiced malt vinegar (or malt vinegar with a pinch of allspice)
- 500g brown sugar
- 15g ground ginger
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 45g salt
Chuck everything in a big pan. Let it simmer for 40 mins until thick and jammy. Remove the plum stones as they rise to the top of the mixture. Spoon into hot jars and seal with lids. Makes approx. 5x 450g jars of delicious tasty chutney!
Cherry plums grow easily from seed and I have been planting seedlings around the housing estate where I live to provide for the next generation of foragers. If you grow seed from a tree that you like, you have a good chance of getting a good tree, but the way to make sure is to graft cuttings. This year I’m carefully marking the best trees so I can graft some scions from them on to some of my young trees in the spring.