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Celebrating Plums

Every month has its edible treats and August is the time for foraging plums and damsons.

Wild and garden escapees, now the hunt for these feral plums can turn a late summer walk into a feast, simply by plucking juicy ripe plums from the tree and eating as many as you can, stuffing your pockets, or for the forward thinking, filling a basket.

It’s a fantastic plum year, the trees are laden down with so much fruit that their branches can break. Damsons, which are small, dark and dusky, are far sharper and less juicy than plums, but they make the queen of jams, full flavoured and deep red in colour.

Plums all come from crosses between the sloe or blackthorn, which is native to Europe, and the cherry plum from Western Asia. The joy of walking in the Forest of Dean at this time of year is the abundance of sloes (for sloe gin), damsons for jam and Blaisdons, which are perfect for eating straight from the tree – or they make a rewarding plum crumble.

My mother was a very keen preserver of fruit. I remember opening the larder to find the shelves heaving with bottled plums and green gages, all in sturdy kilner jars. Jams would be made only from fruit foraged or picked from the garden, including blackberries, damsons, plums, blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries, loganberries, strawberries, wild strawberries and gooseberries. My sisters and I had the task of picking the fruit, with thorny gooseberry bushes being the least popular, wild strawberries the most fiddly, and raspberries my favourite. My mother would always keep one jar back from each year to compare flavour and setting quality with earlier batches.

I also make jam every year, although not in the large quantities my mother made. When I was young we had jam sandwiches everyday for tea, which we had to eat before we were allowed cake, and for breakfast we preferred toast and jam to the bitterness of Seville marmalade. I no longer eat jam sandwiches! But I do like a robust jam, such as damson or blackcurrant for breakfast or for an indulgent cream tea.

My other passion for foraged fruit is making chutney, which is a less precise skill than making jam, as all you need to do is put all the ingredients in a large saucepan, with lots of spices, open the windows and let it simmer down to a thick gloop. Then bottle and keep for a few months for the flavours to infuse.

Chutneys have a great role to play in vegetarian cuisine as flavourful condiments, and will liven up most dishes – they can transform a plate of roasted vegetables for example, or what could be better than a rich, spicy chutney combined with a strong mature cheddar cheese? Whenever I’m traveling in far-off places I pine for a simple cheddar sandwich on wholewheat bread with plum chutney, and I think it would even be my desert island choice!

To get you cooking with plums, here are a few of our favourite plum recipes:

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