By Sarah Sortum, Switzer Ranch and Nature Reserve / Calamus Outfitters, GPEC Consultant
Seeing the plum blossoms and smelling their wonderful aroma puts me in mind of mouthwatering temptations soon to come.
American plum is of the Prunus genus, which is of the family Rosacea (of the group Angiosperms). This category is vast including shrubs and trees that are both beautiful and extremely useful. Mouthwatering fruits (such as cherry and peach), broad medicinal properties, plus landscaping and conservation value enable Prunus plants to earn their keep while enhancing our diet and environment. (Check out the USDA plant guide to learn more about these plants, including Native American uses)
Two of my favorite Prunus varieties are readily found and enjoyed in the Great Plains. American plum and Chokecherry can usually be found along roadsides and fence lines (thanks to seed spread by birds). Both are often used in conservation plantings as well. Their drought tolerance, erosion control, and wildlife habitat (providing both food and cover) are great attributes. Oh, and they’re pretty to look at too!
My friends and neighbors here in the Sandhills still covet the fruits for jams, jellies and sauces. Below are a couple of family recipes to get you started on your own prunus journey. My advice is to get out there and find some of these wild fruits for yourself…you’ll have a great time harvesting your own food and have a sweet reward when you’re finished.
Great Grandmother Phillipps’ Plum Jam (from the 1940s)
Wash and pit plums. Coarsely chop plums.
Use 3 ½ cups sugar for 4 cups fruit.
Let stand 1 hour. Cook until thick. Seal in hot, sterilized glasses.
Note from my mother: Boil plums for 5 minutes. Cool, then pit. Pits will slide out easier.
Grandma’s Chokecherry Wine
Take 1 ½ gallons berries and mash in a 6 gallon (or larger) jar then add 1 cake fresh yeast, dissolved in a little lukewarm water. Then add 10 lbs. sugar and stir well. Add 4 ½ gallons lukewarm water. Let stand 10 days. Strain and add 6 lbs. sugar. Cork, but not tightly until it quits working. Makes 5 gallons.