“Don’t straighten your hat under a plum tree,” advised Confucius in the 5th century B.C. His advice is now an idiom in Japan and China for not acting suspicious, because plums are so delicious it’s quite likely anyone hanging out under a plum tree will be tempted to steal a few.
American poet William Carlos Williams didn’t heed this advice before he famously wrote “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox (…) please forgive me.”
Health Benefits of Plums
Plums are both high in fiber and a slow-metabolizing sugar called sorbitol, which acts as a natural laxative. Sorbitol makes plums extra sweet without the calories or blood-sugar-spiking qualities of regular sugar, making plums a good choice for diabetics and anyone hoping to lose weight.
They’re also low in calories (only 30 calories per average fruit) and have been documented as improving iron absorption and protecting against high cholesterol.
History of Plums
It’s likely that Neanderthals ate plums.
Plums are an ancient fruit that have been with us since before recorded history. Fossilized plum remains have been found in Neolithic archaeological digs, both human and Neanderthal, and may have been one of the earliest cultivated fruits.
This ancient relationship may be partially responsible for the vast variety of plums we find growing today. There are up to 40 different species, ranging from the mouth-puckering black sloe plum to the deliciously plump, juicy and colorful fruits we now enjoy each summer.
The first literary scholar to write about plums was Confucius, who in the 5th century BC reported being given a yellow plum. By the 1st century A.D., Pliny the Elder reports 12 varieties of plums growing in ancient Rome, including one that was marbled black and white.
Despite this diversity, most plums today owe their existence to one man in California at the turn of the 20th century. Luther Burbank, the renowned plant wizard, at one time had more than 300,000 plum varieties growing on his property and released over 100 plums to be grown commercially, including popular favorites like Santa Rosa and Elephant Heart.
Choosing and Storing Plums
Plums wear so many bright and varied colors, from black to green to red to yellow, that selecting them by color tells you little about how ripe they are.
Instead, look for a dusty-white coating known as “wax bloom” that should give the plum a slightly greyish appearance. This coating is easily rubbed off with the fingers, and develops in the late stage of plum development as a deterrent to small insects. Select plums with smooth skins and no cracks, and check that the fruit gives slightly to thumb pressure around the stem area. You can eat them firm, or wait a few days until the skin wrinkles and sags and the fruit becomes extremely juicy.
You can store plums in an uncovered bowl for four or five days, or place in the refrigerator to cool for a treat so sweet and so cool you’ll be writing apology poetry like William Carlos Williams.
Season For Plums in British Colombia: Plums come into season in mid-July and ripen, in secession, until mid-September or even October.