Japanese varieties are grown more extensively in Australia than European plums and usually have larger fruit with predominantly red skin tones. The Japanese varieties include all plums collectively known as blood plums. Of these dark-fleshed, spicy plums, the best known are the satsuma and mariposa. Most Japanese plums are classed as cooking plums but they can also be eaten fresh as dessert plums. They also make a terrific plum sauce that is very well-known to mothers and grandmothers, less so to their sons and daughters. And yet it is an outstanding all-purpose barbecue sauce and a splash in the roasting tin after cooking a leg of lamb, before a quick bubble-up with a glass of wine, creates an instant sauce. This sauce keeps for months. I have a bottle in my own cupboard that is two years old. The sauce has become a bit darker over time but still tastes great.
1.5kg plums, halved
1 1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
3 cups white-wine vinegar
1 hot chilli, seeded and chopped (optional)
Stone plums, then crack half the stones* and tie them in a piece of muslin. Tie spices in another piece of muslin. Put muslin bags, plums, sugar, salt, ginger, vinegar and chilli (if using) into a large non-reactive pot and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Cook steadily for 20 minutes until plums have collapsed. Remove muslin bags and press all juices back into sauce.
Pass sauce through the coarse disc of a food mill and return to rinsed-out pan. Boil steadily for a few minutes until sauce is as thick as you would like it. For a super-smooth sauce use a blender. Remember to only place a small quantity in the flask at a time as the steam will force the lid off and you can burn yourself. (Remember, too, that the sauce will thicken further when it is cold and it ought to be pourable.) Pour into hot, sterilised bottles or jars, seal and label. Leave for at least a week before using.
Makes 2 litres.
* To crack plum stones, place them in a teatowel and give them a moderately hard whack with a meat mallet. Alternatively, use a hammer but be gentle lest the result is fragments, rather than pieces.
This recipe is featured in the book, Summer which is available now in all good bookstores RRP $34.95. To order direct call 1300 656 059 or visit www.smh.com.au/store