“You must not be from here.” If I had an acre for every time I’ve heard that, I’d be a farmer by now. It seems that no matter where I live, I manage to say something that betrays the fact that I grew up somewhere else.
This latest time I was at the farmers’ market, and the conversation centered around these fruits that at first I took to be tiny cherries or grapes. After going through an analysis of where I’m from–not really from here but yes from the South and yes from the country–the farmer and I decided to leave as a mystery why I didn’t recognize these red, orange, and yellow marbles as wild plums, which everybody knows can be found growing in ditches along country roads all over the South (and many other parts of the country, I later learned). In my own defense, I have a vague memory of a neighbor in South Carolina sharing her wild plum jelly with me and promising to show me where to pick the fruit. I must have moved before the next harvest.
I may not know enough to recognize wild plums, but I do recognize an opportunity to buy an authentic local food when I see it, so I bought a bag of the plums, about a pound, for a couple of dollars. The farmer warned me that they were very tart, but if I let them sit on the counter for a couple of days, they would sweeten up, a little. And so I took them home, put them in a bowl on the counter and waited. In the meantime, I couldn’t resist trying one of the reddest ones, and sure enough, it was a little sour but sweet at the same time. My daughter E had a less positive experience with them. Mistaking them for a bowl of grapes, she popped one into her mouth, bit down, and immediately wrinkled up her face like a shar pei. It seems she likes her tart only in the form of candies with unpronounceable ingredients.
While the plums were ripening, I sought advice on what to do with them from my friends on Twitter. Jellies, syrups, and compotes were mentioned, but the idea that intrigued me was to make a sauce to use on roasted vegetables or tofu. I started thinking that if the balance of sweet to sour was right, I might be able to make a sweet and sour plum sauce without adding any sugar or vinegar.
So I did. And I was lucky. Had the plums been just a little bit more sour, they would have needed sugar or agave nectar, but the balance was just right. I was also able to avoid adding a thickener such as corn starch because of the plums’ natural pectin. So I think I can honestly say that I managed to make the purest, most natural sweet and sour sauce ever: just plum juice/pulp and seasonings. I did use a teaspoon of soy sauce, but even that could be replaced with salt or left out.
Wild plums have a pit that takes up most of the inside of the fruit. Pitting them–especially ones as tiny as these–would have been difficult as well as wasteful. So what I did was simmer them whole in a little water until the skins burst and the juice escaped; then I strained them through a colander, pressing to get some of the pulp out but keeping the pits and skins behind. If you’d like to make this with regular plums, I suggest halving and pitting them before measuring. They should cook the same as wild plums, though you may have to add lemon juice or cider vinegar for tartness.
Wild Plum Sauce
- 1 pound whole wild plums or pitted regular plums
- 3-4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root minced
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper use less if you like
- 1 tsp soy sauce or salt to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon shallot or onion salt optional
- As needed: sugar or other sweetener and/or vinegar
- Pick over the plums to remove any stems or debris and rinse them well. Place in a saucepan and add water just to barely cover them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until skins have burst and plums are soft, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
- Place a colander over a bowl. Put the plums in the colander and press with the back of a spoon to squeeze out the juice. (You could also do this in a cheesecloth bag.) Allow the plums to drain until all juice is removed.
- Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the minced garlic and ginger in a tablespoon of water for 2 minutes, adding more water if needed to prevent sticking. Add the plum juice and the remaining ingredients. Bring to a low boil and simmer until mixture reduces and thickens by almost half. (It took mine about 15 minutes.) Taste to see if any sauce is sweet or sour enough; if not add sweetener or vinegar to taste.
Nutritional info is approximate.
I used my plum sauce to barbecue a batch of “Ribz:”
I followed the ribz recipe except I added 1/4 teaspoon of powdered ginger and 1/4 teaspoon of powdered galangal. I used about 3/4 of the sauce to coat the ribz and saved the remainder to use as a dipping sauce. We loved them! My only regret is that there wasn’t more sauce. If you have the wild plums, I recommend making a double batch and really slathering the seitan with it. The more sauce you use, the more moist and tender the ribz will be.
Sarah Rain KenoteSeptember 17, 2009 at 7:15 pm
I made this the other day and used curry powder to help curb the sweetness of my over ripe plums. It was pretty good.
NikiSeptember 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm
Made this Plum Sauce with some (about 10 lbs worth!) Damson plums from a friends tree. LOVE IT! Thanks for sharing it. My husband was very impressed!
EricaSeptember 25, 2009 at 1:01 pm
In my ongoing quest for wild edible plants, I just found my first wild plum tree. This recipe sounds absolutely delicious! I also appreciate your description of the techniques you used. I am going to recommend it to my readers even before I get a chance to try it out myself. Much appreciated.
SusanAugust 2, 2010 at 11:19 pm
I make a netting from sheets to catch the small plums from an old very tall tree which partially hangs into my yard from a neighbor’s place. I catch a HUGE deluge of plums in the net and have many pounds to give away.
I’m definitely going to try a modification of your plum sauce but wanted to share a DISCOVERY. I bought a cherry pitter as an experiment and find that the smallest plums fit easily into it and are easy to pit. The somewhat larger ones can be gently squished into it as well. For the largest ones you have to cut away the bottoms and its messy and hard to get the positioning right. So I pit the ones I can to use in fruit salads or cooking experiments and keep the larger ones to eat whole or give away.
JenZMay 27, 2012 at 3:05 pm
Thank you for this recipe! I have 4 gallons of tiny plums that I just picked at a neighbor’s house and was wondering how to get their little bitty pits out without losing too much fruit. I’m going to go make a batch right now before I lose my momentum!
Maria LewisJuly 6, 2012 at 11:31 pm
I was wondering what to do with all the little plums on my trees. All the recipes I came up with required a ton of sugar cause the skins are soooo tart!
This recipe is a real winner. The flavor is very intense and will be great on just tofu with veggies and rice. I like your photo, and it showed me to leave the ginger in pretty chunks which I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I’m going to can this in little jars for presents, cause I made A LOT of it! Think I’ll add star anise or five spice to some of it for variety.
Another idea I have is to use plum syrup as a part of the base for hot and sour soup, instead of vinegar… Certainly would make an interesting color…
BrendaApril 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm
Hmm, I grew up in south Georgia and I’ve never heard or seen these. We used to pick huckleberries, blackberries and scuppernongs, so it’s not like we weren’t out there looking for wild fruit either!
kathyOctober 4, 2013 at 10:47 pm
I have a great abundance of wild plums that never get sweet……. invented a similar sweet and sour sauce this summer, but mine includes all of the skins and pulp. I boil the plums for a few minutes, let them soak in the hot water overnight, drain and use the “juice” for making very tart jelly. Then, I deseed the fruit and blend it in a strong blender with a small amount of fig preserves……… add sautéed garlic and ginger and basalmic vinegar — it makes a lot and it is really delicious !!!
Colorful canaryOctober 21, 2015 at 5:50 pm
Looks delish! Thanks for the recipe, I featured it on my blog: http://www.colorfulcanary.com/2015/10/16-not-so-pruney-ways-to-preserve-plums.html
Susan VoisinOctober 21, 2015 at 5:57 pm
OlmecFebruary 18, 2016 at 10:55 pm
I’m curious how long this kind of sauce would last? If it was put hot into sterilized jars as with jam, would it keep for a while?
Susan VoisinFebruary 19, 2016 at 8:19 am
I still wouldn’t recommend storing it outside the refrigerator because it may not meet the standards for food storage such as acidity. It should last a long time in the fridge.
kathyFebruary 19, 2016 at 12:32 pm
If you water-bathe it, like canning tomatoes, it will last for years
LeighSeptember 14, 2016 at 12:07 pm
So excited to try this recipe! I’m always looking for vegan, foraged, zero-waste, and low sugar recipes. This one meets all that criteria :). I made some when I lived in California but I don’t remember it being this simple. Thanks again!
LouiseSeptember 16, 2020 at 3:51 pm
How much plum juice would you use for this recipe …
Susan VoisinSeptember 16, 2020 at 5:42 pm
I would guess 1 to 1 1/2 cups.