A whole lot of UK residents are missing out on a real treat, and it’s free for the taking in woods and hedgerows all over Britain, particularly south of the Wash-Severn line. The treat in question is cherry plums, technically Prunus cerasifera, and they have been growing wild for centuries, cultivated in the 17th century and then neglected in favour of more commercially rewarding fruit. Cherry plums are about the size of a large cherry, and range from yellow to deep red when ripe.
Cherry plum trees can be found blooming in country hedges and undeveloped urban corners as early as February, long before their relatives begin to show colour. Early blooms mean early fruit, and the cherry plum is a bountiful producer from around mid-July to the end of September. In fact if you spot the blooms in early spring, make a note of the location for future reference, since the fruit can be hard to spot amongst dense green leaves.
When it’s ripe, the fruit literally drops into your hand; there are reports of casual pickers with 20 pounds of fruit in their baskets after half an hour. Cherry plums are sweet and delicious eaten straight from the bough, but they also make wonderful preserves and jam, even cordials, and you can use them instead of plums in almost any recipe. If you’re one of a minority that remembers the art of bottling, these little gems are ideal for winter use.
In addition, the tree itself makes a great hedge for privacy and for wildlife habitat. Smaller dry limbs make aromatic firewood, and beautiful furniture can be made from older trees. With its re-discovery, the cherry plum can be purchased very cheaply as a sapling and grows so rapidly that you can have a solid hedge in three to four years.
Growing in the wild, of course the fruit is thoroughly organic, untouched by pesticides and other chemicals – but the cherry plum thrives on nature’s fertilizers and seems to require no artificial additives to bloom and fruit in profusion.