3 delicious ways to use fresh plums

When plums go crazy, these recipes will help you use them all up in the most delicious ways possible. 

Words: Kristina Jensen

During my stint as a nanny in Canada back in the late 1980s, my charges taught me a popular little rhyme. Its subject is traditionally beans, notorious for their ability to produce gaseous emissions (called, most politely in Canada, toots).

My children, when considerably smaller than they are now, substituted ‘plums’ for beans. Different food, same effect. New Zealand has to be THE place for plums. Every year around mid-December I start scouring the roadsides.

There’s a map in my head from our house-truck days that pinpoints the first ones ready, the choicest tasters and the abundant jammers. My favourites are Billington, Greengage (for jam especially), Omega, Dan’s Early, and that one just before Rai Valley on the right hand side as you head to Nelson. A word about Dan’s Early.

It was developed by Dan Hansen, one of the founders of Wilderland Community near Tairua in the Coromandel. A year at Wilderland in 1992 introduced me to so many different varieties of plums (and fruit trees in general) that for the summer months it felt like it was raining plums.

Buckets and boxes of plums in varying stages of ripeness lined the porch of the communal hall and someone was always making jam on the big coal range to sustain the community residents over the winter.

As you read, you may have deduced three things about my life relating to plums. Firstly, I’ve never been one to stay long in one place. The first question my mother always asked when I spoke to her on the phone was “where are you, dear?” and invariably we would go on to talk about the harvests taking place wherever I happened to be.

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It may have been a bit of a trial for my parents and friends, but thankfully my husband loves to travel too and it’s amazing how food, and specifically plums, have become an integral part of how we experience a location.

Secondly, I’m a forager. I make it my business to pay attention to where food grows naturally, either because nature planted it there or because some gem of a person threw a pip out the window of a moving vehicle and a plum tree grew.

Thirdly, I’m community-minded when it comes to plums. Once a plum tree moves into the stage in its life where it heavy crops with plum-bundance year after year, I’ve discovered that its ‘people’ are more than happy to share. In fact, this was one of our jobs as kids, to climb up into the massive plum tree on the farm and pick bucket loads for anyone who came to visit.

Mum couldn’t bear to see anything go to waste and she would have a jam recipe all photocopied and ready to hand out to those who hadn’t traveled down this make-it-yourself culinary road before.

1. Fresh Plum Cake

The hardest part of making this cake is taking the stones out of the plums and cracking the nuts! It’s very simple to make, and it turns out a paradise of a cake that is divine with whipped cream or yoghurt. I have found that it works best with slightly
firmer plums, otherwise the cake is too moist and tends not to cook properly in the middle.


1 lemon, juice and a piece of rind
1 cup sugar
200g softened butter
3 eggs
150g Greek or vanilla yoghurt
3 cups fresh plums, finely chopped
2 cups of flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup chopped lightly roasted walnuts or hazelnuts (optional)

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Place sugar and lemon rind in a food processor and finely chop until the rind is incorporated into the sugar. Add lemon juice, then butter and mix until creamy. Add all other ingredients and combine loosely using ‘pulse’ – don’t over-mix. Pour into a well-greased, baking paper or butterlined 20cm cake tin. Bake for 55-60 minutes at 180°C. Serve dusted with icing sugar.

2. Plum, Mulberry & Blueberry Jam

This is a great recipe to use if you have small tarty plums. I find the red flesh varieties that appear in early January to be just right. For an extra zing, add some very thinly sliced zest of one or two lemons when you’re adding the sugar.

It’s a rich dark jam, excellent with pancakes, scones, and cream, or stirred into plain yoghurt. Makes approximately 6-7 x 400g jars.


1kg mulberries and/or blueberries
500ml water
3kg small red plums
white sugar
Optional: finely sliced skin of 2 lemons


Place plums in a heavy-bottomed pot, together with the water, mulberries and/or blueberries. Simmer for 20 minutes until they are soft then carefully pick all the plum stones out. It doesn’t take long and guarantees no sudden trips to the dentist. Of course, if you are using freestone plums, you can omit this step.

Tip: Use a colander to mash the fruit around so that most of it falls back into the pot and then pick out the stones. Measure the fruit and add 2 cups less of sugar (eg, if you have 10 cups of fruit, add 8 cups of sugar) and the lemon skin.

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Bring to the boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 40-50 minutes until the jam is thick and dark. Spoon carefully into sterilised jars and seal. Hide some away if you want it to last because it doesn’t.

3. Fresh Plum & Cucumber Salsa

I discovered this recipe last year at a local pot luck pizza oven day and it really wets the whistle. This combination of cool cucumber, sweet plums, tangy lime, and fiery chilli is really something else. Eat fresh with corn chips, in place of tomato sauce on a pizza, or as an accompaniment to cold meats.


6 plums, stones removed
1 small cucumber, peeled and de-seeded
6-8 stalks of fresh coriander
1-2 sprigs of parsley
2 tbsp (or more) fresh lime juice
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
Jalapeno chillies – as many as you like, with or without seeds (they make it hotter)
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper


Place all ingredients in a small food chopper/processor and mix to the consistency you prefer.

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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