England winning the ladies Rugby World Cup was fantastic, I loved every minute of it. Then the England Test team just crushed the Indian Test team and, on top of that, Great Britain had its best ever result at the European Athletics Championships. What a great period it’s been and, like many others, I am desperate to do my bit for the country, so what can I do? Well, I’ve found the perfect answer: eat British plums! And now is the season.
Sadly too many plums eaten in this country are imported – I know because I am guilty of eating them. They are so disappointing, short of flavour and ‘cotton woolly’ – so very unlike English plums, whose flavour develops with the season.
There are many varieties of plum that are grown in Britain. Plums are, in fact, the most successful tree-grown fruit after apples. However, there are just a few varieties that one should concentrate on: damsons, greengages, mirabelles, sloes and the most regal of English plums – the Victoria. They all have different uses and qualities and the Victoria is the one we see the most.
They are perfect to eat just lightly chilled and they are also great for cooking.
Whenever I see these large, light purple to red and yellow oval fruit I just can’t resist them. With their appealing sweet and juicy green-gold flesh, plums are just the fruit for eating in the back garden, with the birds singing as the sun goes down. Mirabelles and greengages are not seen as much in this country but are grown here. They look so attractive and are best treated simply; try a butter-rich pastry shell sprinkled with sugar, then baked in the oven and coated with warmed apricot jam. This tart filled with plums makes a fabulously tasty dessert or afternoon tea dish.
In France it is customary when visiting friends or family to take a patisserie or cake as a gift. There can be no finer present than a homemade plum tart – you can even ask the children to help by stoning the plums!
Moving on to sloes and damsons, these fruit are not to be eaten from the tree as you can with the Victoria or one might regret it! They are tart and need cooking first. But both are perfect for making sloe gin and damson gin.
To make these wonderful drinks, take the fruit, washed, dried and pin-pricked all over, then using equal amounts of caster sugar, about 4lb of each, put them in alternate layers in a large kilner jar. Cover with about one litre of gin and put the lid on. Leave this mixture in a cool place for about three months, gently turning it over every two days until all the sugar dissolves. When the colour is a perfect deep red, strain it back into the gin bottle and put to one side. On a summer’s evening a good slug in a glass of Champagne is a great way to start a party or even on its own, a great end to the evening! At these moments, the classic stewed plums with custard seems so far away!