Plums are wonderfully diverse and versatile stone fruit. European plums (Prunus domestica) and Japanese plums (P. salicina) are the most common varieties grown, but there are also Damson Plums (P. insititia) and Cherry plums (P. cerasifera). They grow beautifully in cool, temperate and mediterranean climates, however you need to choose your variety carefully as they can require significant chill hours. Japanese plum varieties tend to have lower chill requirements (275-550 chill hours). My Satsuma and Santa Rosa varieties require 500-550 chill hours in comparison to my D’Agen Prune, Green Gage and President (European plum varieties) that require upwards of 800-900 chill hours.
They are a small to medium sized tree, 3-5m tall and can crop in as few as 3 years. They are very easy to manage and well worth planting. I have pruned and trained my trees in a vase shape with 4-5 main ‘arms’. I keep the trees trimmed to about 2m tall. This makes it easier for me to pick the fruit and also to put a net over if the birds are starting to take more than their fair share.
I have my trees growing in the chicken yard. They get irrigated a couple of times a week in the summer months and receive very little additional fertiliser. The chickens do a great job of keeping any pest or fruit fly populations down and fertilise the trees as they wander around. To stop the chickens from scratching or ‘excavating’ around the base of my fruit trees, I have place a ‘fan’ of old house bricks radiating out from each trunk.
Once I have picked off the last of the fruit, I prune any excess grown off my trees, to keep the shape and height I want. I find maintenance pruning in summer is best, as I don’t get the excessive regrowth like you do after a winter prune.
I love plums – of the seven varieties I grow, Satsumas are my favourite. They are a fabulous old fashioned variety that produce well in our area. As with most plum varieties, they need a suitable pollinator. I have two 8 year old Satuma trees and one Santa Rosa tree the same age. While the Santa Rosa is partially self-fertile, it does crop better with cross pollination. The Satsuma needs to be pollinated by either a Santa Rosa or Mariposa plum.
If you have enough room, planting multiple varieties is of great benefit as it extends your fruiting season. The Santa Rosa gives me lovely juicy, amber fleshed, sweet eating plums in late January. The Satsuma gives me slightly more tart, dark red fleshed, blood plums in late February.
Satsumas are a reliable cropping plum. This year I picked over 36kg of tree ripened fruit, off my two trees. This gave me plenty to eat and preserve, also some to give to friends and neighbours. You don’t find the fruit in the shops. Probably because they aren’t shiny and red. The best tasting fruit is rarely shiny and red… The Satsuma plum skin can be a little mottled dark red/green with a characteristic ‘bloom’ or whiteish powder on the skin. Beneath this plain exterior lies a gorgeous dark red, juicy flesh. Perfect for eating and can be made into fabulous jam, sauces, pickles and preserves. I look forward each year to making plum jam, Savoury plum sauce and to preserving plum halves in Vacola Jars.
I tend to make a lot of jam (11kg this year), as we eat plenty of it and a jar of this makes a wonderful gift. When making jam, I like to only use just enough sugar so that the jam will set. Depending on the fruit I will use a 50-75% ratio of sugar to fruit. With plums, I use 60%. It sets well and you get more of a ‘true’ plum flavour rather than a sickeningly sweet spread. I don’t like to add lemon juice to any of my jams, as I find it changes the texture and mouthfeel of the jam. Once the jam is ready, I put the hot jam mixture into hot sterilised jars, so I find it keeps well without extra sugar or lemon juice.
I use my paternal grandmothers recipe for making Spicy/Savoury Plum Sauce. This is great served with quiche, cold meats, sausages or chops. I trialled marinading some of our homegrown lamb ribs this year – they were delicious! So now, I put the marinade in with the ribs before they get vacumn packed. This makes it much easier (and less messy) while also halving my cooking prep time. I have only made 5kg of this sauce… I hope it is enough! This year I was also able to use homegrown onions, ginger and garlic in my recipe, so very proud. I bottle the sauce in 375ml beer bottles. I have a bottle capping tool, so find this a quick and easy way to seal my bottles of sauce.
I try to bottle as much fruit (Plums, Pears, Peaches and Figs) in the summer as we can use for the rest of the year. I’m hoping 8kg of plums is enough… I like to bottle the plums in halves, slicing off each cheek. I stack them neatly in the vacola jar with the cut side down. This time, I have used a light syrup (1 cup of sugar in 3 cups of water) so that I can use the plums for both savoury and sweet dishes. The majority of my vacola jars are either #27 or #31, both work well for fruit. I have 10 small jars (#20s) which I have used to bottle smaller batches of the plums this year. I have about 20 muscovy drake ducklings that will soon be put in the freezer. Slow roasted duck with blood plum sauce is very yummy! The plums will also be delicious made into fruit crumble (topped with icecream or custard) on a cold winters night or as a special desert treat in a plum clafoutis.
There are so many recipes to try! I have just found a recipe for pickled plums. Maybe with my last three kilo I might give that a go… So really, three ways is a good start but you can preserve them in an infinite number of ways!