Most of the plums you’ll find now in Washington area farmers markets and stores are kinds of so-called Japanese plums (cultivated long ago in China but first chronicled by Western botanists in Japan). They are juicy and generally round, although some are heart-shaped with a pointed end. They run from reds to purples with red or yellow flesh and are most often eaten without adornment. Familiar names: El Dorados, Elephant Hearts, Presidents, Red Beauts, Santa Rosas, Damson, Mirabelle. In the fall, look for prune or Italian plums.
To tell whether a plum is sweet, author and food scientist Shirley O. Corriher suggests sniffing the end opposite the stem. It should have a full, fruity aroma.
HOW TO SELECT: Choose plums that have smooth skin with no cracks. If you're in the market for dark-red plums,look for ones with a natural bloom — the powdery cast often means they've been minimally handled. They should be slightly soft at the stem and tip but otherwise fairly firm. They will ripen once you get them home. The fruit will get juicier as it softens, but not necessarily sweeter.
HOW TO STORE: Remove plums from any plastic bags; store them in an uncovered bowl. Ripe plums will keep in the refrigerator for four or five days. To ripen them faster, place plums in an unrefrigerated paper bag with a few holes punched in it.
What do you like to do with plums? Here are some of our favorite recipes, from the Recipe Finder:
Plum and Cinnamon Crumble. Nothing fancy, but the result is winning. Remember to remove the cinnamon sticks tucked under the fruit.
Plum With Honey and Cardamom Popsicles. Treat on a stick from the Dairy Godmother in Alexandria; the spice adds sophistication.
Reduced-Sugar Blackberry-Plum Freezer Jam. The natural pectin in the plums helps this set well.
Spicy Red Plum and Tomato Chutney. Also from cookbook author Nancy Baggett; you get to use your mortar and pestle.
Summer on Toast. Sounds inviting, right? Plums and tomatoes make a happy couple in the morning.
Tomato-Peach-Plum Crisp. While we’re pairing plums, toss in a third fruit