- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Walking through the farmers market or a supermarket at this time of year is like visiting a plum festival. The colors astound.

How is it that each year plums offer themselves up in shades that seem not to have existed the year before? When it comes to reds, not to mention yellows, oranges, purples and, yes, even greens, plums have it all over apples.

Slice a plum open, and its two-tone talent offers yet more visual fascination.

A plum is a perfect snack, remaining sturdy and firm even as it becomes sweet and thus highly portable and texturally gratifying. It is low in sugar (and therefore in calories) and refreshing enough to create an oasis in the middle of a sweltering afternoon.

My only plum problem is the best kind to have — namely, one of abundance. Unable to resist the green gage variety or the small, tight purple ones, I always buy too many.

A large bag of each is a given. I mean, who eats just one plum at a sitting? Then come the equally compelling red ones and the reddish purple ones. I arrive home from the farmers market with many pounds of the sweet little spheres, forgetting each year that I have three wild and wildly prolific yellow plum trees in my yard, all of them volunteers, thanks to a few windy days and my neighbor’s tree.

I need to find a way to preserve some of the plums. An obvious solution to any oversupply of fresh fruit is to turn it into a smoothie or dessert or jam. But I like to go a different route.

My current favorite solution is a sauce that can be used as just about anything: a condiment for any grilled entree, from chicken to steak to tofu; a bedding for a slice of plain cake; a topping for ice cream; an appetizer or afternoon treat beautifully setting off a selection of cheeses; or a breakfast dish with granola and yogurt.

This wonderful little sauce keeps well for a week or longer if stored in a tightly capped jar in the refrigerator. It also makes a lovely gift, which you can take along the next time you are invited to an alfresco dinner.

Skillet plum sauce

This also works well with peaches and apricots.

You can use imperfect fruit, since they cook down nicely. I like to use a combination of about 3/4 plums and 1/4 fresh apricots.

It’s best with firm fruit, but you can use ripe, as well. Riper specimens will expel more juice, so you will need to add less, if any, water.

Nonstick cooking spray

11/4 pounds fresh plums (or a combination of plums, apricots and/or peaches)

Pinch of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Up to 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, or more

Orange juice, as needed for deglazing, optional

Spray a medium-size, heavy, nonstick skillet with nonstick spray, and place the pan over medium heat for several minutes.

Meanwhile, pit the fruit and slice it thickly (about 6 slices per plum). Distribute fruit in hot skillet so that maximum surface area comes in contact with the hot pan.

Let fruit cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes, then scrape it up with a spatula and redistribute to allow more exposure to pan. Let it sit over heat for another 5 minutes or so.

Sprinkle with salt and mix. (It’s fine if the fruit chars a little.) If mixture is very dry, add a little water, 1 tablespoon at a time (up to 1/4 cup), mixing after each addition. When fruit is soft, stir in vinegar and 1 tablespoon sugar and cook for just a minute or two longer.

Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Taste to see if it needs more sugar. (This will depend on the natural sweetness of the fruit, which can vary greatly. It also depends on your taste.)

Transfer to a clean, small jar with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate. (You might need to scrape out the flavorful fruit residue that adhered to the pan. This is worthwhile.

If desired, splash in a little orange juice to help with this deglazing process.)

Serve sauce cold or at room temperature.

Makes about 1 cup.


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