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Lucky find

Right at the start of August I got a message that a local garden had small plums ready for picking – would I like to go round? I was in two minds about this – the previous day I had been painstakingly picking cherry plums and, as it was still early in the season, I suspected this tree would be more of the same. Lovely though these are it had taken me an age to collect enough to work with and I wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about repeating the exercise. However the garden was very close to me and my curiosity got the better of me.

How glad I was that it did! The tree was not a cherry plum at all but a huge Mirabelle, laden with golden fruit.

The Mirabelle is a type of plum which originated in France and is much better known there than in the UK. Although the fruit is small it is renowned for being one of the best-flavoured cooking plums and is commonly used in French patisserie. There are a number of different cultivars but the most widely grown is Mirabelle de Nancy, which I think was the one I had been lucky enough to come across. And, to my delight, I found that the wonderful gold of the skin and flesh was retained in the finished fruit cheese.

mirabelle drops 3

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First of the plums

These little beauties are cherry plums, also known as Myrobalan (latin name: Prunus cerasifera), which are the first of the plums to fruit in the UK.

The tree is not native, coming originally from southern Europe and Asia, but it has naturalised widely here and can often be found growing in hedgerows and wild places. It tends to grow in thickets and sometimes hybridizes with sloe so that you may come across a rainbow of different fruit sizes and colours, as in the photo. The garden plums we all know so well are thought to have descended from one of these natural sloe/cherry plum hybrids.

The dark purple-leafed variety is often planted as a small ornamental tree in streets and parks – you see them everywhere – and the fruit is also dark.

So, the fruit is small but it is early and I was in need! Fruit season is just starting to ramp up and I have yet to stock the freezer so I am still working with what I can find right now. Anyway, I like the fact that the ‘cheese’ I’m selling is seasonal at the moment. After spending some time gathering enough to work with (there is a good reason it is called a cherry plum – the fruit really are not much bigger than cherries!)  I did a pectin test (good) and acid test (also good) and off we went. This was the first time I had tried making fruit cheese with this fruit but I’m pretty happy with the result. Oh, and what a colour!

cherry plum droplets

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