A plum is a stone fruit tree in the genus Prunus, which includes almond, apricot, cherry and peach. The fruit is sweet and juicy and it can be eaten fresh or used in jam-making or other recipes. Plums come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Some are much firmer-fleshed than others and some have yellow, white, green or red flesh, with equally varying skin color.
When it flowers in the early spring, a plum tree will be covered in blossom, and in a good year approximately 50% of the flowers will be pollinated and become plums. If the weather is too dry the plums will not develop past a certain stage, but will fall from the tree while still tiny green buds, and if it is unseasonably wet or if the plums are not harvested as soon as they are ripe, the fruit may develop a fungal condition called brown rot.
Plum juice can be fermented into plum wine. When distilled, this produces a brandy known in Eastern Europe as Slivovitz, Rakia or Palinka. The Serbian plum is the third most produced in the world and the alcoholic drink slivovitz is the national drink of Serbia. Their plum production averages 424,300 tonnes per year.
A large number of plums are also grown in Hungary where they are called szilva and are used to make lekvar (a plum paste jam), palinka (a slivovitz-type liquor), plum dumplings, and other foods. The region of Szabolcs-Szatmár, in the northeastern part of the country near the borders with Ukraine and Romania, is a major producer of plums.
Dried plums are known as prunes. Plums and prunes are known for their laxative effect. This effect has been attributed to various compounds present in the fruits, such as dietary fiber, sorbitol and isatin. Prunes and prune juice are often used to help regulate the functioning of the digestive system. Prune marketers in the United States have, in recent years, begun marketing their product as “dried plums”. This is due to “prune” having negative connotations connected with elderly people suffering from constipation.
Various flavors of dried plum are available at Chinese grocers and specialty stores worldwide. They tend to be much drier than the standard prune. Cream, Ginsing, Spicy, and Salty are among the common varieties. Licorice is generally used to intensify the flavor of these plums and is used to make salty plum drinks and toppings for Shaved Ice or baobing.
Pickled plums are another type of preserve available in Asia and international specialty stores. The Japanese variety, called umeboshi, is often used for rice balls, called “Onigiri” or “Omusubi”. The ume, from which umeboshi are made, is however more closely related to the apricot than to the plum.
The mei plum blossoms are considered traditional floral emblems of China. On June 21, 1964, the Executive Yuan of the Republic of China officially designated the mei plum blossom to be its national flower, with the triple grouping of stamens representing the Three Principles of the People and the five petals symbolizing the five branches of the ROC government.