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Italian Prune Plums and Empress Plums

Empress plums ripen in early September and are a deep blue fruit larger than a prune plum. They are a dence egg-shaped fruit with a blue or purple skin and a freestone pit. One of my favorite plums once ripe they are one of the sweetest plums you have ever eaten.

Italian plums, to borrow a phrase, don't get no respect. They're about half the size of a typical plum and they're curiously egg-shaped, as if they're all pit and no fruit. One bite leaves you wondering where all the juice is. And it doesn't help that they're often labeled as "prune" or "Stanley" plums -- names that don't exactly make your mouth water. But savvy cooks know that to unlock the secrets of these modest, bluish-purple fruits you must apply heat. That's because when they cook, the not-so-juicy plums transform into a concentrated, jammy deliciousness without turning to mush and leaving your cakes and tarts a soggy mess.

But savvy cooks know that to unlock the secrets of these modest, bluish-purple fruits you must apply heat. That's because when they cook, the not-so-juicy plums transform into a concentrated, jammy deliciousness without turning to mush and leaving your cakes and tarts a soggy mess.

Not only that, Italian plums are a cinch to prep because the freestone pit practically falls right out, they don't need to be peeled and the already-small fruit doesn't need to be cut down to size. They are, in short, a baker's dream.

It just so happens that Italian plum season arrives at the tail end of summer, bringing the season of stone fruits to an end with a bang. They offer us one last chance to bake (or freeze) all the crisps, pies, tarts and cakes we can muster. The only problem? The all-too-short season (from September to early October) is just about over.

With today's arrival of Rosh Hashana -- the Jewish New Year -- now is the perfect time to give Italian plums a place at the table before they disappear for another year. Instead of the typical apple or honey cakes served to symbolize sweetness and good fortune for the new year, bake a zwetschgenkuchen, a German plum "cake" that's really more like a tart with a shortbread-like crust. It's appropriately round to represent the year's cycle, and fittingly sweet without being cloying, which is probably why it's a familiar face in Germany during the High Holy Days this time of year.

Beautifully arranged with concentric circles of plum wedges that turn garnet red during cooking, this elegant dessert only looks difficult to make. The crust gets whizzed together in a food processor and patted in the pan. The "filling" is nothing more than sugared plums mingling with a little jam and some bread crumbs to soak up the juices.

The tart freezes well, too, so you can tuck one away for the inevitable winter day when you need a reminder that summer, and its glorious fruits, will return once again.

Usage

Sweet, savory dishes, desserts such as compotes and cakes, juice

Selection

Good-quality Italian Prune Plums will be fairly firm to slightly soft with smooth skin. The coloring will be deep-purple with a red blush and will darken to black as they ripen.

Avoid

Avoid product with wrinkled, punctured or rough skin. Also avoid product that is extremely hard or has brown skin discolorations.

Storage

Allow unripe Italian plums to ripen at room temperature. Once fully ripe, you may store your Italian Prune plums in the refrigerator for a few days.

Other recipes from Produce Pete.

   

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