Friday, February 13, 2009

Australian Fruits 101

It is mid-summer now. My Mama says this is the best time of the year, for her, as this is the time when her favourite fruits will be in season. She loves fresh figs and plums. Let me tell you a bit about the plums as somehow it’s connected to me.
Mama says her favourite is the Angelina plums. I have the picture here. I did a bit of research about this fruit that bears my name.
About Angelina: Angelina Burdett plums are round to oval, medium-sized clingstone plums with bluish-black skin. They have sweet, juicy yellowish-green flesh. The tree is self-fertile to the point that it will even need some thinning as the fruit is growing. It is ready for harvesting late summer, early autumn. Can be used for cooking or eating out of hand. The plum was bred around 1850 (some think 1843) by a Mr Dowling of Woolston, Southampton, England. Named after a philanthropist, the Baroness Angelina Burdett-Coutts (1814–1906), granddaughter of the banker Thomas Coutts.
Scientific notes: A plum or gage is a stone fruit tree in the genus Prunus, subgenus Prunus. The subgenus is distinguished from other subgenera (peaches, cherries, bird cherries, etc) in the shoots having a terminal bud and the side buds solitary (not clustered), the flowers being grouped 1-5 together on short stems, and the fruit having a groove running down one side, and a smooth stone. Also called Prunus domestica (Scientific Name) Prune (French) Pflaumen (German) Prugna (Italian) Ciruela (Spanish) Ume (Japanese).
General information: Plums are the second most popular fruit in the world (apples are the most popular.) You can classify plums in many ways. One is based on what you do with them -- either eating them raw or cooking with them. Another divides them into three families: European, Damson, Japanese. Yet another is to look at those that are freestone -- the flesh separates easily from the pit -- from those that aren't (clingstone).
Not all plums are plum-coloured -- that is to say, purple. They also come in green, yellowish green, yellow and red. Consequently, it can be hard to tell if a plum is ripe based on colour, unless you are familiar with the variety. The best way to tell if it is ripe is just to squeeze it slightly to see if it is soft. Meanwhile, avoid all the bruised fruit that everyone else has squeezed. Plums will, like many fruits, continue to ripen after picking.
If the plums are firm, you can set them out at home at room temperature for a day or two for them to soften. Placing them in a paper bag will speed up the process. Though they will soften, they won't sweeten any more after they are picked. Once they are ripe, they are good for about 3 days in the refrigerator. All plums freeze and preserve well.
Nutrition: Good source of potassium, Vitamin A and fibre. An average plum has anywhere from 30 to 60 calories. The pit of the plum has cyanogens in it, which are bound molecules of sugar and cyanide. When this bond is broken, the cyanide becomes free and able to act. The cyanogens don't leak at all into the flesh of the fruit, for some reason, but should it ever occur to you to try fermenting plum pits, or to break them up and roast them as snack food, it might not be such a great idea.

Mama's favourite snack - Angelina plums....don't they look yummy?

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