All About Plums
Plums can be broken out into two big groups: Japanese plums, which are fairly round, and European plums, which have more of an oblong shape. European or Italian plums, which are sometimes labeled "fresh prunes" since they are the variety dried and sold as prunes, have more of an oblong shape.
Japanese plums can then be broken into red plums, black plums (which are really more of a purple color) and yellow plums. Both black and yellow plums have an amber-colored flesh under their skins.
Learn more about the different types, including plucots and pluots, below. Scroll all the way down for more plum tips.
When Are Plums in Season?
Plums, and their near-relatives, pluots (plums crossed with apricots), are in season to varying degrees from the middle of summer into early fall, depending on the climate, that's year's weather and the specific variety.
What's That White Stuff?
Most plums have a bloom on them—a delicate dusty white matte powder that rubs or rinses right off. Clever farmers and vendors will, in fact, try to keep customers from handling plums too much because it rubs the bloom off and savvy shoppers know that the bloom is the sign of ripe, freshly harvested, not overly handled fruit.
That white stuff? Look for plums that have it!
How Do You Choose a Ripe Plum?
Ripe plums tend to have just a bit of give when you gently—very gently!—squeeze them, much like peaches. Plums vary so much in taste that it makes them a great fruit to buy at farmers markets, where you can often get a taste of whatever varieties are on sale to help you know if they're ripe or not. And, again, look for that white bloom.
Like most Japanese black plums, the El Dorado is, as pictured, bright red to deep purple on the outside but a musty yellow color inside. They have a sweet, mild plum flavor. We like to use them in dishes like plum tarts because they don't completely fall apart when cooked, so you end up with a bit more fruit-like texture than with other types of plums. As with all black plums, when you cook them up the dark skin will tinge the entire dish a beautiful purple.
The Moyer plums pictured here are European plums, with a longer shape than the rounder Japanese plums usually sold fresh. They are a larger plum with a lovely sweet flavor that is delicious fresh but also works well dried. Damson plums are another well-known European plum.
You may also see these and other European plums sold as Italian plums, Italian prunes, French prunes, or simply "fresh prunes" since they are the fruit that is dried to make prunes.
These are also the types of plums often labeled "sugar plums."
Greengage plums are a green plum common in France. As you might guess, they fall into the European plum group. They have green skin and a greenish-yellow fruit that has a bit of a honey flavor to it.
These are the small, sweet plums with a slight reddish blush used for making eau-de-vie in France. They are the sweetest of all plums.
Red plums are so named because they have a bright red skin. Some, like the Santa Rosa, have amber fruit, but other red plums, like Simcas, have bright red flesh that matches their skins. The skin brings a tartness that balances out the sweet fruit. When ripe, these plums are pretty soft, so they don't travel particularly well. Elephant Heart is another common red plum. Like all plums, they work well in jams or plum chutney.
These plums are yellow inside and out. They are juicy with a nice crisp fruit texture. Ripe ones will have just a slight give.
Sweet Treats, like those pictured here, is often marketed as a pluot (see below), but it is technically a plucot. What's the difference? Plucots are simply earlier plum-apricot hybrids that show both fruits pretty equally, whereas a pluot has more plum characteristics. They tend to have some green on their skins but with vibrant pink to red flesh inside. They have a distinctive oblong or oval shape with greenish yellow skins that will have patches of reddish blush where the sun has hit them (which, one should note, is just like apricots). They are a later season varietal with fairly firm flesh, so they ship easier than many other kinds (and get home from the market with less damage). Their crispness also makes them a good candidate for using in the plum mint salsa.
Pluots—a hybrid of plums and apricots—are a plum-apricot hybrid with a bit more plum than apricot about them. They tend to be darker and rounder, like plums. They also have a fairly crisp texture.
What's With All the Plums?
Plum trees are prolific devils. They fill up with fruit on every branch and limb, and then those fruits have a wicked tendency to ripen all at once. That's fine, we suppose, for plum farmers, who have go through and pick each tree just once or twice. It's more of a trial for those with plum trees in their yards who like the idea of actually consuming what comes off that tree! When in doubt, pop them in a smoothie or bake them in a tart!
How to Store Plums
Plums that are ripe and ready to eat can be kept at room temperature - preferably in a pretty bowl in a spot that will remind you to eat them. Or, to keep them in good shape a bit longer, you can wrap them loosely in plastic and keep them chilled.
Plums that are still hard will soften if left out at room temperature, and soften more quickly if kept in a paper bag at room temperature. Know, however, that unlike some fruit, they won't get sweeter; they stop developing their sugars once they're plucked from the tree.
If you have too many to use right away, know that plums freeze beautifully. Once frozen they can be popped into smoothies, used in baked goods, or turned into jam or chutney.