|Cherry Plums just beginning to ripen|
Rather than share recipes for disaster, the main purpose of this article is to share a new (to me) species of plum called Myrobalan or Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera).
|A good crop of Cherry Plums|
|Sharp spines armor this trunk|
|Purple leaved "Thundercloud"|
Cherry plum is a small tree that grows to 50 feet tall. The trunk and limbs are sometimes armed with sharp tipped stubby branches. Leaves are 2–3 inches long, elliptic, with finely serrated margins and (usually) hairy midribs on the underside. Unlike many cherries and plums, the petioles of Cherry Plum do not have glands. Flowers are white, 1 inch across, and borne singly or in pairs in leaf axils of second year growth or on short spur branches. Plums are 1 inch wide, spherical, and range in color from yellow to dark red, or purple. Pits are 9/16 of an inch long by 7/16 of an inch wide, laterally compressed with rounded edges. Introduced from Eurasia, cherry plum has escaped cultivation in western and southeastern Washington, and western and northeastern Oregon. It is commonly used as root-stalk for other plums, and occasionally pruned heavily to make hedges. There are also a few cultivated varieties that are planted for their novel reddish purple leaves (such as “Thundercloud”). Cherry Plum can be difficult to distinguish from European Plum (P. domestica) but European Plums have flowers and fruit that are in clusters of 3 or more and leaves that are wider and more coarsely serrated than Cherry Plum.
Aptly named, Cherry Plums resemble Sweet Cherries (Prunus avium) in size, shape, and color. While most other plums ripen in the late summer, Cherry Plums are ready to harvest in late July and early August, 2-3 weeks after sweet cherries, but 3-5 weeks before other plums.
Cherry Plums have more variation in taste than cultivated plums but the three varieties and six trees that I have sampled so far, have all been good. The flesh is sweet, juicy but not drippy, and soft with a very plummy flavor, although it tends to be more sour near the pit. The skin is moderately sour and easily spit out. Unlike many cultivated varieties of European Plum (Prunus domestica) such as the Italian Plum, the stones are not free.
Cherry Plums make the perfect urban snack at this time of the year.