This is a seasonal dish/item. So while I actually do have pickled plums on hand I can’t show you how I made them…yet. I will update this with pictures as soon as I get my hands on some fabulous plums.
So a quick history of plums:
Plums were known in Egypt by the provisions of dried prunes, cultivation of plums were spoken of by Pliny during Roman times and “the dark-skinned ‘damask plums’” were highly prized in France. (Toussaint-Samat, pg. 642). The plums bought mundanely are referred to as black plums; however the correlation between medieval “dark-skinned” plums and today’s black plums may be only somewhat related as the modern variety has had centuries of cultivation. The plum thought to be closest to the original plum described is the Damson plum which “Originating in the Middle East, they were brought back to Europe during the 12th century by the crusaders”. (Krachmal)
I used a generic black skinned plum that was sweet but firm. The sweeter the plum the squishier the fruit which does not preserve as aesthetically as if the plum were slightly greener but less sweet. So pick a firm plum that is on the cusp of being really really ripe but can be squeezed while remaining firm to the touch.
Put them in a pickling jar and put water on them, and a little vinegar and a like amount of honey.
Medieval Arab Cookery, pg. 397
Simplistic, yes? There are no quantities given so a little experimentation was in order.
5-8 plums (varying due to size and quality) per jar*
¾ to 1 cup water 1/4 cup (white wine) vinegar 1/4 cup honey
This original translation does not call for pitting or cutting of the plums; however due to today’s sized plums it is a better choice that the plums be pitted, then cut into roughly 1 inch sized cubes/chunks.
The reason I say that today’s plums as opposed to in period, is that period plums were probably much smaller (due to not having regular irrigation or modern fertilizers) and might have been used with the pits, they might not have. The recipe is not specific enough to know which. I personally do not like the idea of keeping pits in fruit when preserving. This is dislike of keeping fruit and pits together is due to bacteria that may have formed from the stem opening and be working out from the pit area if whole, with that being said I am writing what I have used and find that works for me. On that note, pit and cut your firm just ripened plums into to quarters and place into a clean jar till the pieces are just under the rim by 1/2 inch. I can usually fit 5-8 plums per cleaned jar (depending upon spaghetti jar or canning jar used). This jar holds 6 plums.
For the amount of water to vinegar to honey ratio; we know that the vinegar and the honey must equal the same amount as the comment is “…a little vinegar and a like amount of honey.”. So with that in mind and I like sweet, I filled the jar that is filled with plums 1/2 with water.
Do NOT fill the jar with water piror to putting the plums in. Then things get really mess. Fill the jar with plums first then half way with water. Fill the next quarter with a honey, but only a quarter of the way.
The final quarter will be filled with vinegar to the rims edge. make sure that the vinegar covers the pieces of plum. Here I used a balsamic vinegar. Any vinegar can be used i.e. wine or apple cider. I just liked the tart/sweet tast of the balsamic with the plums.
Then seal with a lid. Once you seal with a lid, turn the jar upside down a few times. This mixes everything together and gets the air bubbles to the top. Unscrew the lid and add a little more honey or vinegar. Seal. Repeat once more. You want all the air bubbles out so that bacteria does not have an air pocket to gain a foot hold.
Why were water, honey and vinegar used together? Besides the sweet and sour taste? Couldn’t the water be done away with? Addressing the honey and vinegar issue first. The honey acts as an anti-bacterial while the vinegar is extremely acidic. Both help retard bacteria that would be on and attracted to the cut up fruit. Water is a neutral liquid. With the addition of a neutral liquid neither the honey nor the vinegar overwhelm the taste of the fruit while just giving a hint (strong hint) in equal portions to sweet and sour.
Note on jars: I reuse my old spaghetti jar’s or apple sauce jars after putting them through the wash. I do not boil to sterilize as this was not a period practice. I do however place the jar(s) in the fridge for longevity sake. One container of pickled plums will last a year for me (the time may vary for you so be careful!!!). The pickled plums can be used either as a tasty treat or in recipes that call for pickles, honey and vinegar.