Foraging for wild plums

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!

11 responses to “Foraging for wild plums

  1. I was after rosehips when I spotted sloes and bullaces on Hampstead Heath last weekend. They are so beautiful, I couldn’t resist picking some – making sure to leave lots for the birds! Also new to foraging, I’ve made rosehip cordial and sloe vodka this week, plus a blackberry and apple crumble with foraged berries. Love the sound of your clafoutis, next on my list to try – thanks for the recipe link!

  2. You are lucky Emma! There are so few wild plums in the hedgerows (or gardens) this year. Like your little one, I adore eating plums straight from the tree, or in a batter pudding like my fenland Gran used to make (it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered it’s called clafoutis! – I think I’ll continue to call it ‘batter pudding’).


  3. I love cherry plums and know of a perfect foraging spot for them too. The lazy option for me though, is to rob my Mum’s garden of them. They were delicious in a crumble.

  4. We are really missing our wild plums this year. Last year they were so plentiful on our walk to and from preschool but this year practically none. Hoping next year will be bountiful again;

  5. Lucky you, we found about 5 plums high up in a whole row of trees where usually we get bags full each August, the weather this year seems to of been unkind to them.

  6. I love foraging, and we do a lot of wild food gathering in Brittany. I have been making sloe gin for years, I would suggest leaving the sloes for longer, they real are better after the first frost, it’s not just an old wives tale!
    How I envy you the glories of the countryside, now I’m back in London I’ll have to make do with blackberries and elderberries.
    Happy foraging:-)

  7. I must hv blogged how my boy made muffins one night having found a kilo and a half of frozen blueberries hiding at back of the freezer? Turns out sloe muffins taste awful!

  8. Lovely! These don’t grow wild around us, but figs and cherries do… My husband uses sloes in jams and jellies too – sometimes on their own, but often with other hedgerow fruits. He says that have an incredible amount of pectin in them, and the taste is more sophisticated than jellies made only with sweet fruits.

  9. Beautiful little film of the blossom walk. I am definitely going to make some damson gin from an Alys Fowler recipe. I love your picture of the plums in the basket. Happy foraging. Karen.

  10. Pingback: A Spring Nature Trail | Garlic & Sapphire·

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