In the 17th century plum was slang for £1000, a very large sum of money in those times. It often applied to some political jobs, thought to involve little work for a lot of money. From there the word entered wider use for an easy, choice job. Plum also meant soft, so a plum job was a soft job, a metaphor still used today.
One of the unique things about plums is that there are so many varieties available. Not only do over 2,000 varieties of plums exist, but over 100 are available in the United States alone. So, if you are looking for a juicy, sweet-tasting fruit that comes in a panorama of colors, plums are for you.
The plum season extends from May through October, peaking in August. There are dozens of species and their shapes and colors vary. Although they are usually round, plums can also be oval or heart-shaped. The skins of plums can be red, purple, blue-black, red, green, yellow or amber, while their flesh comes in hues such as yellow, green, pink and orange — a virtual rainbow.
With the large number of plums available, it is not surprising that the various types have different places of origin. The European plum is thought to have been discovered around 2,000 years ago, originating in the area near the Caspian Sea. Even in ancient Roman times, there were already over 300 varieties of European plums. European plums made their way across the Atlantic Ocean with the pilgrims, who introduced them into the United States in the 17th century. Japanese plums were introduced to the U.S. in the late 19th century. Today, the United States, Russia, China and Romania are among the main producers of commercially grown plums. Plums are now the second most cultivated fruit in the world, second only to apples.
Plums are a good source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin B2, vitamin C, dietary fiber and potassium. Plums also promote absorption of iron into the body. They are relatives of the peach, nectarine and almond.
Plums can be eaten fresh or used in jam-making or other recipes. Plum juice can be fermented into plum wine; as well as a brandy known in Eastern Europe as Slivovitz.
When buying plums, select unwrinkled, smooth-skinned fruits with no blemishes, free of soft spots or discolorations. If the plums seem a little hard, leave them at room temperature for a few days to soften up, but they will not actually ripen further. Refrigerate ripe plums in a plastic bag and use within four days. Plums and prunes can be frozen for later use. Adding plums to fruit compotes will yield deep red and purple color. Most of the color is from the skin so be sure to leave it on.
Use some of these tasty plums in our upside-down cake. It’s a large recipe so you can eat one now and put the second in the freezer for Yom Tov.
Plum Upside-Down Cake
For the fruit syrup:
1 cup (2 sticks) margarine, room temperature
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups light-brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 pounds plums, about 10 to 15
3 cups flour, plus more for pans
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) margarine
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling fruit
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups orange juice
Preheat oven to 350°.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the margarine, maple syrup, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt until well blended.
Spray two 9-inch round cake pans or three 12-cup standard muffin tins with baking spray; if using cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper and spray the paper as well. Divide fruit syrup evenly among cake pans or muffin tins and spread with an offset spatula to make smooth.
Slice fruit into 1/4-inch wedges. Starting from the inside and working outwards, arrange fruit slices in a fanlike, circular pattern on top of syrup. If you are making mini upside-down cakes, slice fruit into circular slices about 1/4-inch thick, using one round slice per muffin cup. You can also use thin wedges or small slices, and arrange in a decorative fashion.
Make the cake:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then beat in vanilla. Stir in the orange juice. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and baking powder.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and carefully smooth with an offset spatula over the arranged fruit. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes for the 9-inch cakes, or 20–25 minutes for the mini upside-down cakes.
Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 30 minutes, or 20 minutes for minis. Loosen side of cake with small offset spatula or paring knife. Invert cakes onto a rack set atop a baking sheet; peel off the parchment if you made it in the cake pans. Serve warm or cool.