In southern Scandinavia we have a huge tradition of making pickles and jams with every possible variety of plums. Learn more about Scandinavian plum.
Scandinavians make no distinction between plums and gages; both are simply called plums, and both are prized and recognized as a delicacy. There is almost no commercial growing of plums in Scandinavia – it is surprisingly hard to find them in shops even during the picking season in late August and September – but they are grown in most gardens, wherever possible.
Related: Fruit From Scandinavia
Plums are at their northernmost limit in southern Scandinavia. The trees can grow very far north, but the blossom is ruined by the bitter frosts. We grow mainly old British and German varieties, but in old gardens you can still find the Hungarian variety used for making slivovitz (plum brandy) in eastern Europe.
Cherry plums, also known as myrobalan (Prunus ceracifera), are relatively new to the north, being introduced in the mid-19th century from southern Europe. But they have spread so fast that it now seems incredible that they are not native. Cherry plums are the very first trees to flower in spring – sometimes even before the end of February: the clouds of white blossom that cover vast areas for several weeks are an overwhelming sight, their sweet honey scent wafting through the cool air. The fruit is not generally appreciated, and they are mostly self-seeded, and show every possible color from bright canary yellow to deep purple.
Related: Scandinavian Rhubarb
Before the cherry plum invaded the countryside, northerners grew and collected a huge variety of damsons and bullaces. They make identical suckers, and are easy to propagate. The ‘raisin plum’ is a small incredibly sweet plum with a distinct raisin flavor. Many of the old varieties are almost extinct, but some work is being done to preserve them. These plums are perfect for primitive methods of preserving, as their sugar and acid content is high enough for them to dry safely even in the cold northern climate.
Appearance and taste
Cherry plums vary in size from cherry to gage, and the taste can be anything from deliciously apricot-flavored to dark plum, meaty, juicy, sweet, sour or plain bland. But even if their virtues as a dessert fruit are not consistent, they all make the most intensely flavored jam, ketchup and chutney. In general, the fair-skinned fruits have an apricot/gage taste, dark fruits more of a prune flavor.
Related: Scandinavian Cherry .
While cherry plums, damsons and bullaces are small, proper plums have a more manageable size, making it much easier to take out the stones. Apart from the omnipresent Victoria plum, which is not so good to cook with, the most common varieties include the Opal, originally a Swedish cultivar, which is the earlies variety to ripen in mid-August and is a small, blue and sweet fruit that is best eaten fresh; and the Kirkes Blue, a plump, purple-skinned, green-fleshed and highly flavored British variety which ripens from mid-September. This plum is very good for jam and pickling, and the harvest is usually abundant.
The best variety for the recipe below is the Italian prune plum – a huge, juicy, purple fruit with delicious amber flesh that tastes as sweet as honey; it ripens in late September or early October. Greengages are grown, and loved by aficionados, and eaten fresh or preserved whole.
Pickled plums in red wine
These picked plums are a little fiddly to make but taste exquisite and are definitely worth the effort. Eat with whipped cream or ice cream. They are also very nice with game or cheese.
2kg Italian prune or other firm-flesh plum
2 cinnamon sticks
Peeled rind of lemon
I bottle red wine
2kg granulated sugar
Makes 6 regular jars.
Prick each plum 5-6 times with a fork, then put into a sterilized crock. Add the spices and lemon zest. Put half the bottle of wine and 1kg of the sugar into a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is boiling. Pour this, still boiling, over the plums. Leave the fruit to macerate for 2 days in a cool place. Strain the syrup from the plums, and put this in the fridge.
Boil together the same amounts of wine and sugar as before to make an identical syrup, and pour over the plums. Leave them to macerate again for two days.
Mix the two syrups together in a pan and bring to the boil, removing any scum. Add the plums and bring them quickly to the boil. They must not actually boil, just be heated through. Pour the whole lot into a colander placed over a pan, and return the plums to the crock. Reduce the syrup until it is fairly thick, then pour it over the plums. Close the crock when the content has thoroughly cooled.
The plums taste best when matured for a month, but they will keep almost indefinitely. When removing some of the plums, use a sterilized spoon to avoid contaminating the remainder and so causing them to go off.
Scandinavian Plum, written by Tor Kjolberg