Key Ingredient

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga

Ingredient of the week

Sugar plums

Plums and their many varieties now fill the supermarket bins. One of the smallest and sweetest varieties is now in peak season. Sugar plums are good to eat fresh out of hand, but also hold up well to cooking and baking.

The basics: Sugar plums, also called sugar prunes, Italian prunes or prune-plums, are a European variety coveted for its high sugar content. The flesh is dense and less juicy than other plum varieties, making it an ideal plum for drying into prunes.

The sugar plum is a descendent of the European Agen plum, which was introduced to California in the mid-1800s. In the past, these plums were primarily cultivated to produce dried prunes, but in recent years, the demand for fresh sugar plums has increased.

The sugar plum is slightly smaller than an egg and is identified by its oval shape. Most fruit has a dark to light purple skin with slight mottling and a greenish-yellow flesh. Plums in general are a good source of vitamin A and C, potassium, iron and fiber.

Selecting: Choose fruit that is firm but not rock hard. Look for smooth skin and even coloring. Watch out for plums that are too soft or have cracks in the skin. Some fruit may have stems still attached.

Storing: Firm fruit can be left out for a day or two, until it yields to slight pressure. Refrigerate ripe fruit for up to a week.

Use: Sugar plums are excellent for home canning, stewing or preserving into jellies and jams. Europeans use these plums in pastries, pies and tarts, but they also add much to savory pork, duck and chicken dishes. Add the plums toward the end of cooking time to make a sauce or a glaze.

Toss fresh plum slices in salads or simply serve plum slices with blue cheese and prosciutto. Slice the plum in half lengthwise and remove the center pit, then chop or slice pieces.

Where to buy: Fresh sugar plums should be available through September at supermarkets and in Chinatown, with prices running from $1.39 to $2.79 a pound.

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
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