For me, the heady sweet almond-like fragrance of the Ornamental Purple Plum is the very essence of spring. Standing beneath their sensual pink and rose flower-laden branches on a sun-warmed afternoon is an absolutely swoon-worthy experience. Sadly underutilized as a culinary ingredient, plum blossom has a unique scent and flavour which infuses beautifully in cream, syrups and processes into a delightful floral sugar – making everything it touches taste like spring.
Over the years I’ve made everything from plum blossom cordial, plum blossom chocolate truffles (both dark and white) plum blossom pannacotta and plum blossom infused vinegar – wonderful in a fresh salad garnished with a few blossoms!
Right now I’m at work creating new recipes for the Spring Equinox Edition of the Gather E-Cookery Book. The finished recipes will be available shortly as digital previews for an upcoming Gather Cookbook (exclusively for Gather Victoria Patrons). But meanwhile, in this post, I’m going to share info about this lovely spring bloom, i.e. how to identify and cook with it! I want us all to share in the glorious bounty of Purple Plum! And it won’t be here for long!
The following creations will give you some inspiration on the different ways you can use plum blossom. They may or may not make it into the final collection spring recipes (and will still undergo some finishing) but here are a few of my experiments so far…
First I started with the basics. I ground some blossoms directly into granulated and icing sugar, and then infused others in cream.
From this a variety of confections followed, beginning with Pissardii Plum Blossom Almond Cookies. I infused the blossoms of both in cream and used a plum blossom sugar (with blossoms ground directly in) for the frosting. Oh. So. Good.
In the second version, I used a plum blossom icing sugar (instead of granulated) then sieved the blossoms out. I also added the infused cream to icing sugar to make the glaze.
This heavenly Plum Blossom Pudding also uses almond as a base and is very loosely inspired by the delicious Indian pudding, Phirni. Instead of the traditional rice, I used almond flour, but kept the cardamom. Also added a sprinkle of rose sugar for garnish.
This is the same Plum Blossom Almond Pudding, but to the left, you’ll see I infused the milk and cream in Prunus x blireiana, a hybrid between the Pissard Plum and Prunus mume, which features double, rather than single, flowers. The pudding itself is garnished with Pissardi Plum Blossoms!
In Victoria, there are many varieties of flowering plums (Prunus cerasifera) and they line block after city block in our urban neighbourhoods. In early spring, they feature abundant white to varying shades of pink flowers depending on the variety. Often known as Cherry Plum, some bear fruit that is positively luscious. These are a few of my foraged purple plum finds last summer.
Plum blossom is often mistaken for cherry blossoms, which isn’t a surprise as both are members of the Prunus family, along with almonds, apricots, peaches and nectarines. Cherry blossoms are known to have a definite split or notch at each petal tip, while plum blossoms always have a rounded petal tip.
Plum blossoms bloom first and cherry blossoms tend to bloom later. Both are edible so if you make a mistake don’t worry. But the biggest distinguishing factor as far as I’m concerned is that plum blossom tends to be highly scented while cherry blossom is not!
Which is odd as there is a whole culinary tradition devoted to Cherry Blossoms (the Japanese eat them pickled, salted, and baked into innumerable jellies, puddings, cakes, teas). Korea is the only place I’ve found a tradition of eating plum blossoms. Maehwa-cha (plum blossom) is a tea made by infusing dried flowers of Prunus mume in hot water. In early spring, half-open buds of plum blossoms are picked, dried, and preserved in honey. Plum blossoms also feature in Korean maehwa–jeon, pan-fried sweet rice cakes, with honey as an ingredient. YUM.
Here in Victoria, the most common purple leaf flowering plum is Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’, it features nearly pure white flowers or just the faintest blush of pink (far left above). These were planted in 1890 after its discovery by Mons. Pissard, gardener to the Shah of Persia. Other common cultivars are Prunus cerasifera ‘Atropurpurea” and ‘Thunder Cloud’ or ‘Nigra’ with blossoms ranging from white to decidedly pink (third from left), Prunus x blireiana, a hybrid between the Pissard Plum and Prunus mume features double layers of blossoms (second from left).
Probably the easiest thing to make with plum blossoms is Plum Blossom Vinegar. Just fill a jar with the blossoms and buds with vinegar and let sit a couple of weeks. Then along with few fresh blossoms toss in a salad!
Or make a cordial or infuse your blossoms in spirits – then mix with your cordial – you’ve got plum blossom liqueur! And as I mentioned they make amazing chocolate truffles – like flowers crossed with marzipan – you can find recipes for dark chocolate truffles and cordial on the website. Just search Plum Blossom!
Gather from trees whose blossoms are newest and have not yet budded fully. (I’ve noticed their scent fades once they begin to put their energy into leaf growth.) Pinch off the blossoms at the base of the stem, and be sure to include plenty of the unopened buds as well. Remove as many of stems as possible and make sure there isn’t any branch material. Also, this is important, make sure to remove all the leaves no matter how small, as they contain trace amounts of hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous compound, also found in almonds.
I can find no specific warnings (unless you’re a cow or a cat) regarding consuming Prunus blossoms, but it’s possible the blossoms also contain trace amounts of the toxin. And so consumed in excess, they could be harmful. I have consumed copious amounts of plum blossom chocolates and cordial each spring with no ill effect – but that said – please be forewarned and use your own judgement.
I use fresh blossoms immediately and store a few branches in a beautiful vase of water if I’m going to be using them later. Right now I’m planning a Plum Blossom Pashka. This lemony cheesecake-like dessert is made with ground almonds and has been a traditional family favourite at Easter Brunch for as long as I can remember. I’ve got the plum blossoms infusing in cream right now! If it works out I’ll put the recipe up here on the website soon.
Meanwhile here’s to the coming of Spring! And Plum Blossoms!