Food and Drink 

Plum delicious time of year

Plum delicious. Plum crazy. With any luck you, too, will be plum full of plums and other fresh fruit this time of year.

The only thing better than summer is late summer, with so much gorgeous fruit around that you barely have to think about what you're going to eat. Just grab a fresh anything - tomato, peach, handful of just-picked blackberries - and off you go.

For me, the best of the best right now are fresh plums, and from the looks of the Okanagan fruit stands, it's a beautiful year for plum lovers.

Some people turn up their noses at plums because they've gotten a bum deal more than once and had to suffer plums that were dry, pulpy and tasteless. Uck.

Unless you have a private line to your own orchardist - or, better yet, a fruit tree in your backyard - all the tree fruit you buy was unripe when picked. Tree-ripened fruit is too tender and delicate to hold up to shipping. The key is just how green was it.

Here's a rule of thumb: The more distant the fruit supply, the greener the fruit was picked to better withstand the rigour, and the time required, for shipping. Unless your produce was flown in as air-freight from, say, Chile - and it wasn't; it came by ship and truck - it was plucked from the branch so long ago it was hard as a rock and hadn't even started the ripening process.

Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking nicely enlightens us about the ripening process, which is the last stage of a fruit's development. It starts when the seeds inside the fruit are capable of growing on their own. After all, that's the whole purpose of fruit - to spread the seeds and make more little trees or plants.

So fruit ripens to attract animals, including we humans, to eat it and disperse the seeds by discarding them or eliminating them via digestion. I wonder what a plum tree would think of its seed's journey now as we gobble up the fruit and relegate the pits to plastic-wrapped garbage in a landfill, never to see the light of day again.

Ripening is the last stage before a fruit's death, says McGee, and several things happen at once. Starch and acid levels decrease while sugars increase. At the same time, a "characteristic aroma" develops and the skin colour changes from green to a variant of red or yellow. All to advertise, come and eat me.

"As it ripens, the fruit actively prepares for its end," writes McGee, "organizing itself into a feast for our eye and palate."

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