One of the best things about summer is potato salad, and if you’re in need of a game-changer, you’ll want to check out Bonnie S. Benwick’s tips for cooking perfect potatoes. Then you’ll want to try (all of!) the accompanying recipes. Now you know summer’s really here.
Also in Food this week: Entrepreneurs in the Washington area have figured out how to cut food waste by rescuing ugly produce that might otherwise go to the landfill and turning it into soups, fruit chips and other products; Whitney Pipkin has the story. And Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel goes to Africa to learn how to help farmers there succeed — and decides that engaging them in the debate about GMOs isn’t part of the equation.
There’s plenty more to keep you busy, including today’s Free Range chat at noon. Tamar will be there to help answer questions, so you should be there, too. Here’s a warmup to get you in the spirit — a leftover from last week’s chat:
The purple-leafed plum tree in my yard not only had flowers for the first time this year but is loaded with small, immature plums. Are these good for jams or other preserves? Any suggestions on sweetening levels — should they be comparable to regular plum preserve recipes?
How lucky to have your own Prunus cerasifera, commonly known as the cherry plum. For those of you who aren’t so lucky, read on and I’ll tell you how to find one in the urban landscape that’s yours for the picking.
Once your little plums ripen, in midsummer, they’ll be edible, though probably fairly sour, depending on the particular cultivar you have. It’s good that your tree is loaded, because you’ll be in competition with the local birds, which also like them.
Now, what to do with them? Well, if you’re a drinking man — or woman — I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend DIY columnist Cathy Barrow’s recipe for slivovitz. Some folks insist that you can’t make this distilled beverage unless you have Italian prune plums, and certainly your cherry plums will produce a different flavor, but plenty of people use cherry plums in this way. If you like what you get, decant it into pretty bottles to give as gifts.
To answer your question about sweetening, this recipe for jam suggests that for every cup of pitted cherry plums you should add ¾ cup of sugar and ¼ cup of water. During cooking, the volume will decrease almost by half. So if you want to end up with a pint of jam, start with 4 cups of plums. And here’s a description of how to make cherry plum jelly. Master forager Hank Shaw uses them to make Chinese plum sauce. And I could go on, but you know how to google.
Once you have a good idea of the tartness of your fruit, you can use it in recipes that call for regular plums and adjust the sugar or other sweeteners appropriately. Pies, tarts, crumbles, salsas, compotes, chutneys: Seems like there are any number of possibilities. Do something interesting with this fruit every year — while you can. Everything I read about these striking purple-leafed trees indicates that they are super vulnerable to pests and disease, don’t live long and can begin to deteriorate after as few as 10 years.
And now for the rest of us: If you’re not familiar with Fallingfruit.org, it’s worth a look. On this Web site, volunteers have posted nearly 800,000 locations worldwide where 1,221 types of edibles can be found on public property. (Among them are 36,731 locations of Prunus cerasifera.) The definition of “public property” might be a little broad: Someone has posted a mulberry tree that I drive by often, and it isn’t on public land. But I guess the mulberries will be when they fall onto the sidewalk. The site also warns that because plants die or are removed, its map might not always be accurate. But it’s a fun look, anyway.
The map shows about 21,000 locations in the District, and just a tiny handful in the surrounding areas. Looks like the suburbanites need to get to work!