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Plums in basket

Plum harvest and pruning

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Japanese plums, harvesting, pruning and a plum sponge from Penny Woodward

The plum picking season is almost over for another year. It was prolonged for me because of cooler weather. The fruit were prolific, but smaller than usual due to drier conditions in early fruit set and growth. And I wasn’t around to give them regular watering top ups. My ‘Mariposa’ plums were all picked by soon after Christmas, but the ‘Satsuma’ blood plums have lasted well into February. Lovely plump deep red/purple fruit with rich almost spicy flavours. I love plum picking season because it is when I make my favourite plum sponge. The original recipe was for greengage plums, but I’ve adapted it over the years to work with other plums too. See the recipe below.

Now that the plums have been picked (and eaten and bottled and baked) it’s time to prune the plum trees. My plums are Japanese plums, which means they are pruned differently to the European plums. Japanese plums grow fruit on the previous year’s wood and are best pruned in summer just after the fruit are harvested. If pruned in winter they’ll produce copies new stems, but none will bear fruit. Dead wood should be removed when you notice it, at any time of year. But for the main summer pruning, cut back all shoots by at least half, while at the same time opening up the centre of the tree by removing inward growing branches. It’s as simple as that. As well as ‘Satsuma’ and ‘Mariposa’, other Japanese plum cultivars include ‘Santa Rosa’, ‘Pluot’, ‘Donsworth’ and ‘Ruby’. And don’t forget if you are buying plums, that most need to be cross-pollinated. So buy two, and check with your supplier about cross-pollinating cultivars.

Plum sponge

Time 1.5 hours
Temp: 190ºC
Serves 6

For filling
500g plums, stoned
2 tablespoons water
125g sugar

For sponge
90g butter
90g sugar
2 eggs
125g self raising flour

To make filling
Place halved/quartered fruit and water in bottom of deep pie dish and sprinkle with sugar.

To make sponge
In a bowl, cream butter and sugar until soft and aerated. Fold in eggs, then whisk into mixture. Then gradually whisk in flour. Spread/pour over fruit. Bake in oven at 190 degrees C for about an hour, reducing heat after 35-40 mins if top is browning too quickly. (I find that I need to put a metal tray on the shelf above to stop the top browning too much, and that it usually takes less than an hour to cook.)