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You'll Go Plum Crazy Over the Wide Variety of This Delicious Fruit : The Rule of Thumb in Assuring Freshness Is to Test Ripeness: A Soft Tip Is a Better Indication Than Judging by Variations in Shading

June 11, 1987

Red, yellow, green, blue and purple--plums come in a rainbow of colors. But don't let that confuse you. The rule of thumb in selecting all fresh plums is to seek out firm, full-colored fruit. A soft tip usually indicates ripeness and is a much more reliable test than trying to judge from the many variations in shading.

If not quite ripe when purchased, leave plums at room temperature. Placing the fruit in a ripening bowl or loosely closed brown paper bag will speed the ripening process.

How do you determine the amount to buy? One pound of fresh plums equals:

--Six medium-sized plums (2-inch diameter)

--2 1/2 cups sliced

--Two cups diced

--1 3/4 cups pureed

Plums taste best at room temperature. If they become too ripe, refrigerate immediately or puree, skins included, to make an ideal base for sauces, desserts and drinks. The puree keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days or may be frozen for longer storage.

If You Peel Them

Because the tartness of a plum's skin contrasts so nicely with the sweet fruit inside, most recipes call for unpeeled plums. If peeled plums are needed or preferred, simply dip the fruit into boiling water for about 30 seconds until the skin cracks; transfer with a slotted spoon to cold water and peel.

As for pitting plums, some are almost freestone and the pits pop out easily. Others are freestone enough to cut along the seam, twist in half, and then cut the pit away from one side. For other varieties, it's best to slice into the pit and cut the fruit away in wedges.

Take advantage of the four-month season for fresh plums, whick began in mid-May and lasts well into September, to enjoy the fruit out of hand or in one of these recipes.

PLUM-WHEEL CAKE

1/2 pound unsalted butter

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup milk

5 plums (about 1 pound)

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Cream 1/4 pound butter and granulated sugar until light. Beat in egg. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat half flour mixture into creamed mixture, beat in half milk, then remaining flour followed by remaining milk.

Turn batter into well-greased 8-inch springform pan. Pit and cut each plum into 8 wedges. Arrange wedges in spoke fashion over top. Bake at 350 degrees 25 minutes.

Meanwhile combine brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and remaining 1/4 pound butter. Work together with fingers or fork until crumbly. Open oven and sprinkle topping over partially baked cake.

Bake another 8 minutes or until cake is firm and has pulled away from edges of pan. Makes 8 servings.

ALL-PURPOSE PLUM SAUCE

4 plums, sliced

1/2 cup oil

6 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1 tablespoon sugar

2 large cloves garlic, crushed

Pepper

Puree plums in electric blender or food processor until smooth. Combine oil, soy sauce, orange juice concentrate, orange peel, sugar, garlic and pepper to taste in large bowl. Stir in pureed plums and mix well. Makes 2 cups.

Note: Sauce may be used to baste meat, poultry, fish, or sausage while baking, broiling, or grilling.

PLUM GOOD BREAD

1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 to 3 plums, pitted and diced

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Resift all-purpose flour with baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir in whole-wheat flour. Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at time.

Blend in flour mixture alternately with plums and water (batter will be thick). Stir in walnuts. Turn into well-greased and lightly floured 8x4-inch loaf pan. Spread level. Let stand 10 minutes.

Bake below oven center at 350 degrees 50 to 55 minutes, or until wood pick inserted in crack on top comes out clean and dry. Remove bread from oven and let stand 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire rack and cool. Makes 1 loaf.

FRESH PLUM DAIQUIRIS

1/2 cup Plum Sippin' Sauce

1 1/2 ounces rum

5 ice cubes

Dash lime juice

Crystallized ginger, optional

2 mint sprigs, optional

Place Plum Sippin' Sauce, rum, ice cubes and lime juice in blender container and process until smooth. Pour into glasses. Garnish with ginger and mint sprigs. Makes 2 (4-ounce) drinks.

Plum Sippin' Sauce

2 pounds plums

1 cup sugar

Pit plums and place in saucepan. Add sugar. Stir over medium heat until juices flow and sugar dissolves. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes or until plums are tender. Cool. Store refrigerated in covered container. Makes 1 quart.

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