Juicy Fruit

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Peaches’ next of kin is key for summer’s most versatile topping

Photography by PETER COLIN MURRAY / Styling by SARA SPICER / Food consultant SOPHIA LEOPOLD

In the peach state, it stands to reason that plums often take a backseat to their more famous cousin. But plums, those fuzz-free stone fruits ranging in color from red to deep purple depending on the variety, offer room for expansion when it comes to regional stone fruit pride.

Although slurping ripe, raw plums is perfectly fine throughout the height of summer (they come into season toward the end of May), there comes a moment in September that I call “plum panic,” when they begin to slip out of seasonal availability, and, while still good, are decidedly less drippy than those from a market haul in June, July or August.

Whether it’s late in summer or you find yourself with too many plums to eat before they spoil, there’s an easy fix: turn on the oven. Roast ripe plums to create a quick compote, a delicious topping that straddles the line between condiment and main event. Its fluidity — not quite a liquid nor a solid— defies categorization and is appropriate at all times of the day: sweet enough as dessert with panna cotta, ice cream, mascarpone, whipped cream or a simple, un-iced cake, yet virtuous enough for breakfast over oatmeal, yogurt or with a smear of chevre on toast. For a savory pairing, it offers a saucy tartness served alongside roasted chicken, pork or lamb at lunch or dinner.

Never squeeze a plum to check for ripeness. This could bruise its tender flesh (the same is true of peaches and nectarines). Instead, use your sense of smell: if they’re fragrant, they’re ready to eat. You can also buy plums that aren’t quite ripe and wait it out, placing them in a paper bag on your kitchen countertop to speed up the ripening process.

Roasted Plum Compote

Hands-on time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40–50 minutes

2 lbs. ripe plums of any variety, pitted and quartered

2 tbsp. honey, white sugar or brown sugar

1/4 c. red wine, white wine, rose wine or vermouth (Alternately, 1 tbsp. liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Amaretto also works)

Cook’s choice of aromatics: one cinnamon stick, one star anise, whole cloves, fresh ginger root, cardamom pods, one vanilla bean and lemon or orange peels work well on their own or in various combinations.

Sprinkle of sea salt

1. With a rack placed in the middle setting, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place quartered plums into a foil-lined 9×13 roasting pan, adding in your desired selection of spices and wine or liqueur directly into the pan. Mix to combine. (Clean hands are the best tool!)

3. Cover the pan tightly with foil and transfer to oven.

4. After 20 minutes, stir the plums, replace foil and return to oven.

5. After another 20 minutes, check if they’re ready. Depending on the plums’ starting ripeness and your desire for softness, they may be finished roasting. Or, they may need another 10 minutes.

6. Allow plums to cool at room temperature. You may want to crush some of them to create a more jam-like topping.

7. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight container and store refrigerated for one week or freeze for up to three months. This is a dish of generous proportions, so unless I’m hosting a large group, I’ll divide the finished batch into two: half in the fridge for now, and the rest into the freezer for later.