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, 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: 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, and should be removed.
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, and very tart. Compounding this is the fact that wild plums have nowhere near the amount of meat on them that commercial varieties do. The key is understanding how to get ripe plums, and also, that the skin needs to be removed and discarded.
The recipe is really simple. First you take your wild plums, cook them, mash them through a collander, then cook the flesh in their juice with some spices, shallot, sugar, and a little 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.
Allow your wild plums to ripen!
This is, along with mashing through a collander is the most important part in getting a sauce that isn’t crazy astringent. Pick all the plums you need, as long as they remove easily from the tree they’ll work fine. Put the plums in a paper bag and allow them to ripen on the counter until they smell amazing and the color has changed to a deep red/purple, then they’re ready to go.
Wild Plum KetchupYield: 1 qt
- ½ cup shallot or red onion
- 5 lbs ripe wild plums
- 2 tbsp of grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp each freshly ground: nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 3/4 cup mild honey or maple syrup
- 2 tbsp flavorless oil for sautéing like grapeseed or canola
- Preheat the oven to 350. Warm the plums in a pan in the oven until hot throughout, and very soft when touched. Pour the plums and juice into a colander set over a large bowl, and allow to drain and cool until you can handle them.
- Mash the plums through the colander with a gloved hand, leaving the stones and skins behind. Reserve the pulp, discard the rest.
- In a small sauce pot, sweat the shallots or onion and ginger in the oil until translucent, then add the remaining ingredients including the plum pulp, bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened nicely.
- Working in batches, or using a handblender puree the mixture in a highspeed blender until smooth. Double check the seasoning and adjust as needed, then refrigerate or can.
NotesA great sauce for roasted chicken, game or pork. The spices can be played with however you like, but be sure to use a blend to make it more interesting. Roasting the plums opposed to boiling them reduces the natural tannins found in the skins.