Foraging for wild plums

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We live in a tiny rural village on the edge of the East Anglian Fens. Across the village green from our cottage is the end of the Devil’s Dyke Anglo Saxon monument, a thin strip of high ground around seven miles long, built to control movement and trade along the Roman Roads. It is covered in swathes of beautiful white blossom in March (I made a little film of the blossom in 2010) and I began to notice little purplish plum-like fruits in those same hedgerows in late August and September.

Having no foraging experience whatsoever I eyed them suspiciously at first but eventually realised that these were a mix of wild cherry plums, bullaces and sloes. This was my first experience of using wild food and was rather nervous but found that the largest wild plums are actually delicious eaten straight from the hedgerow. My youngest daughter adores them and eats more than she picks.

We decided to try them in a crumble and found that they tasted wonderful either on their own or combined with Bramleys (with custard of course). Stewing with a little sugar even converts the smaller, slightly more bitter fruits into a delicious compote. I have been keen to try them in a clafoutis* for a while. This is a real success: the slight sharpness of the wild plums is perfect with this sweet, rich batter. Add cream and this is pudding heaven. 

Wild plums bushes are not confined to rural areas and grow readily in parks and on waste ground (keep an eye out for white blossom followed later in the year by purplish black, reddish or yellow fruits). The tiniest round wild plums (around 1.5 cm in diameter) are sloes.

They’re too bitter even for crumbles but make outstanding flavoured gin or vodka. Identification of exactly what you may have found may sometimes be tricky and there are several names for the same kind of fruit but Richard Mabey’s book ‘Food for Free’is very helpful. What matters though, is that we can testify to wild plums being a fantastic introduction to foraging and that clafoutis tastes divine.

* I used James Martin’s recipe which can be found here.

Thanks for reading!