I’ve been overlooking wild plums for a couple years, mistaking them for crab apples. I mean plums are purple right? Nope. Wild plums are deep red when ripe, but while they’re growing they’re green to white, and gradually begin turning red as the season progresses, just like crab apples.
My girlfriend’s mom brought some down from the wild plum trees on their farm; that’s when I finally made the connection. After that I started spotting them in other places, most of all at one of my favorite disk golf parks where I pick wild grapes. I’d cooked plenty of them before, since lots of suppliers carry wild plums (like the Southeast Minnesota Food Network) but until now I didn’t really have any patches of my own where I could go and harvest.
There’s one recipe I knew I had to share first and foremost; it’s probably the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted made with wild plums. This recipe I’ve modified (it took plenty of tweaking) from a fruit ketchup/catsup recipe of my friend, mentor, and former employer: the one and only Chef Lenny Russo. Every fruit season at Heartland I remember making fruit ketchup at some point, and it’s a great thing to have around when you have a lot of stone fruit.
We would usually use any stone fruit for this, and you could too. Regular plums or peaches are easy to use since their skin is supple, and the flesh is sweet. Wild plums are tricky though, they’re a bit sweet, sure, but the skin is very tannic and tart.
The astringency of the skin poses some issues: if you don’t have any resources on their use, you might just substitute them for regular plums in a recipe, which would be pretty disappointing, not to mention tart. Compounding this is the fact that wild plums have nowhere near the amount of meat on them that commercial varieties do, which means you are cooking with much more skin, which means more astringency.
The recipe is really simple. First you take your wild plums, stone them, then cook them in their juice with some spices, shallot, sugar, a little white wine and apple cider vinegar. After a quick simmer you puree it all in a blender until smooth; that’s it.
What can you do with wild plum ketchup? Many things, my friends. It can be used as a tart condiment, sure, but it will really shine when you cook and experiment with it. Here are some things that would be great:
- Combining the plum ketchup with meat stock and reducing until it thickens will make an amazing sauce for duck, chicken or pork.
- If you cook the ketchup down farther than the basic recipe after pureeing it, it would be an excellent jam, and could be easily canned in a water bath canner.
- Mixing the plum ketchup with whole grain mustard will make an excellent sandwich spread.
- Take some of the ketchup and whisk it with some tasty salad oil, it will absorb plenty of it. After whisking in some oil, it’s a tart salad dressing for greens like kale, or probably the best: some sweet spinach or roasted beets.
- If you take out the vinegar, the ketchup would make excellent ice cream.
- Substitute the plum ketchup for your favorite barbecue sauce or glaze.
- Switch the plum ketchup for sweet and sour sauce in your favorite Asian recipes.
- Use it as a thick, sticky condiment by cooking it down more after pureeing it. Something rich, like a fried cheesecurd would make a great dipping partner.
Wild Plum Ketchup
If you don’t have a highspeed blender that’s fine-use a regular one. If you don’t want to go through the work of straining the ketchup when it’s done that’s fine too, but I recommend it to improve the texture.
The spices can be played with however you like, but be sure to use a blend to make it more interesting.
This is a restaurant batch recipe too, scale as needed.
Yield: One gallon
- ½ cup shallot or red onion
- 4 lbs wild plums, stoned
- 3 cups of the juice reserved from stoning the plums
- 2 tbsp of grated, fresh ginger
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup dry white wine
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp each, freshly ground: nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 4 cups mild honey, like clover or wildflower
- 2 tbsp flavorless oil for sautéing, like grapeseed or canola
- Stone the plums by squeezing them between your fingers, removing the pit over a bowl to catch the juice given off of the plums as you stone them. Strain the juice from the pits and reserve.
- Sweat the shallots in the oil in a stock pot until translucent, then add the remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the plums are completely broken down and soft.
- Working in batches, puree the mixture in a highspeed blender until smooth, then pass through a mesh strainer or chinois and cool.