Plums could really do with a makeover - or at least their image could.
The end of August will see English plums come into season, but unlike the buzz surrounding the arrival of sexier strawberries or asparagus, the purple fruit is not something you hear people getting excited about. In late summer, they may reminisce over sweet blackberries and good British Bramley apples poached or baked as part of a golden-crusted pie or crumble; a firm, crisp Comice or Conference pear or, my favourite, the first golden Russet apples. But no one raves about the first plums.
And yet they should. The fruit has found its place in the super-fruit hierarchy, with scientists at Israel's Volcani Institute discovering that plums - particularly any dark, red-fleshed variety - contain one of the highest levels of antioxidants out of all the fruit family.
The research took place after the scientists noticed that the French, despite their passion for fatty meat and creamy sauces, were still maintaining better heart health than some of their European neighbours. They drew the conclusion that this was due to their regular consumption of red wine, which contains high levels of antioxidants derived from the skin and seeds of the grapes used to make it.
The researchers then found that plums have levels of antioxidant agents three times as high those in pomegranates and five times higher than red wine. Red Heart Plums - created by Israeli fruit farmers, Ben Dor Fruits, were found to be packed with the most antioxidants.
In addition, plums - in common with peaches - contain phenols, which were found to kill even the most aggressive breast cancer cells, which died after treatments with peach and plum extracts. As the researchers concluded: "Not only did the cancerous cells keel over, but the normal cells were not harmed in the process."
Apart from these wonderful attributes, plums also contain high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, and B complex, plus minerals such as potassium, fluoride and iron. With a 400g punnet of plums costing £1, they also tend to be a cheaper way of getting your antioxidants than blueberries. And you only need to eat one plum to equal a handful of blueberries.
So there is no doubt that we should up our intake of fresh dark plums. Eat them as they are, or slice and pair with goat's cheese, or in an autumn fruit salad.
Sometimes, however, what is available to us in the supermarket can be bland or under-ripe. Here is how to transform those plums into a luscious, low-fat dessert for six or eight: cut up the plums contained in two large punnets; place in a large glass container with a 411g tin of peaches or blackberries in their own juice and then add either the seeds from a scraped vanilla pod or a few pieces of finely chopped stem ginger.
Poach in the microwave on high for about 10–15 minutes depending on the tenderness of the fruit and the size of the slices. You will have the most glorious dessert which you can serve with parve ice-cream, custard or if weight-watching, a serving of fromage frais or Greek yoghurt.
Alternatively, you can roast a punnet of halved, stoned plums for about 20 minutes in a low oven (170°C) with a teaspoon of mixed spice and a couple of tablespoons of soft brown sugar - the juice will run and form a wonderful sauce.