I can’t resist local fruit when I visit the few remaining orchards in my area this time of year. The incomparable perfume of the fuzzy peaches, the matte veil on the early yellow plums, the blushing nectarines and the dripping tender melons all get me thinking of the kitchen. There are just so many of them I can eat, so after a batch or two of Christmas gift jam, I extend the eating life of stone fruits by stewing them.
Actually, it’s more accurate to say poaching them because I cook them briefly in just a little liquid. I also like to experiment with herbal combinations, such as rosemary with pears in red wine, a bay leaf with plums and lavender blossoms with peaches. Using an herbal-flavored liqueur or vermouth, such as Campari, offers the same appeal.
Admittedly, Campari takes a little getting used to, starting with its oddly bright-red coloring, which originally came from cochineal or ladybug wings. Of course, the exact formulation is top-secret, but the bitter, yes, a little medicinal, flavor will grow on you. It’s grown-up and bracing, reminiscent of grapefruit. When you introduce a little sugar and make it a poaching medium for delicately sweet Shiro plums, the contrast is delicious and the color eye-catching. Blue Damson plums are perfect to poach, too, but they won’t yield the same colorful effect.
I can’t be more precise about the amount of sugar. That so much depends on your taste and the sweetness of the fruit you find; you’ll just have to taste. Also if you just don’t dig the Campari, try an orange-flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier; a floral mix, such as Lillet; or a sweet wine, such as Sauterne.
The cooked fruit freezes well. Eventually, I serve the plums in their pink-orange juice spooned over a simple butter cake, with shortbread. A dollop of sweetened whipped cream or good-quality vanilla ice cream make a lovely and simple grace note for poached fruit, too.
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 8-12 small, sweet (yellow) plums
- 1/4 cup Campari
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 bay leaf
- sugar, to taste, depending on the sweetness of the plums
Wash plums and pierce each in few places with a fork; no need to peel or slice. In sauté pan large enough to fit the plums in one layer, mix Campari, sugar, bay leaf and water. Warm mixture over low heat, add plums, and cover. Simmer gently until plums begin to burst and soften. Chill before serving.