There are hundreds of plum varieties cultivated throughout the world. All grow in clusters, have smooth, deeply colored skin and a center pit. Plums can range in shape from oval to round and in size from one to three inches in diameter. Their color can be yellow, green, red, purple, indigo blue and almost anything in between. The pale silvery-gray, filmy-looking coating on a plum's skin is natural and doesn't affect quality. In general, plums can be divided into two categories: Japanese and European. Japanese plums (which actually originated in China) are the larger of the two and have a juicier, softer flesh. European plums are good eaten fresh, but are particularly well suited to drying and cooking. The Japanese varieties include Coe's Golden Drop — yellow skin and rich, sweet flesh; greengage — small and round with a greenish-yellow skin and tangy-sweet flesh; Santa Rosa — large and dark purple with yellow flesh; and Satsuma — dark red skin and sweet red flesh; European varieties include D'Agen — used to make damson — small and oval-shaped with an indigo skin and tart yellow-green flesh; and Robe de Sergeant — dark bluish-purple with a sweet flesh. Fresh plums are available from May to late October; those from South America can be found January through March in some regions. Choose firm plums that give slightly to palm pressure. Avoid those with skin blemishes such as cracks, soft spots or brown discolorations, the latter indicating sunburn. Very firm plums may be stored at room temperature until slightly soft. Refrigerate ripe plums in a plastic bag for up to four days. Some plums are grown specifically to be dried as prunes. The majority, however, are enjoyed fresh for out-of-hand eating or for use in a wide variety of sweet and savory preparations. Also available are canned plums, packed in either water or sugar syrup. Plums contain a fair amount of vitamin A and potassium.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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