There are thousands of varieties of plums, the most commonly available falling into either the European or the Japanese species. European plums are smaller, oval-shaped fruits with darker purple skins covering a golden-colored, dense, drier flesh that holds together well for cooking. A freestone variety of plum used for snacking, canning, stewing, or drying, it is the European plum that is often dried and made into prunes, which is why it may be referred to as a "prune plum" or a "fresh prune". The Japanese plums, which are clingstone fruits, are grown from a species originating in Asia centuries ago that have brought into many different countries to be raised for commercial production. Often used for snacking, cooking, pickling, and canning, the Japanese plum is round or heart-shaped. On the outside, this variety of plum has a skin that is deep red to blackish-red in color, covering a flesh that is golden tan to red toned. Food stores will often label the common Japanese plums used for eating as "Red" or "Black" plums. However, there are also Japanese plums that will be labeled as "greengage" or "yellowgage" plums, which have a green or golden yellow outer skin covering a rich, sweet inner flesh. Kelsey and Wickson are two common varieties from the green and yellowgage species.
Another way to catagorize plums is by use, such as a "dessert" plum or a "cooking" plum. Dessert plums, which are typically sweet and juicy are good for cooking, stewing and eating out of hand as a fresh plum. Dessert plums can be served for snacks, in salads, or cooked into soufflés, compotes, pies, tarts, and a variety of sauces and condiments. Some of the common dessert plums include the Burbank, Gaviota, Kelsey, Santa Rosa, Victoria, and Wickson. Cooking plums are typically tart tasting and are not well suited for use fresh, either for snacking or for fresh fruit dishes. The flesh has a drier consistency that holds up well when heated to high temperatures. Best served in cooked dishes such as pies, tarts, soufflés, preserves, jellies, and sauces, some of the common cooking plums include Autumn Rose, Avalon, Beach, Cherry, Czar, Mirabelle, Queen Rose, Stanley, and Sungold.
When selecting, choose fruit that is plump, well rounded, with good color tones, and firm, but not hard to the touch. Ripe plums should allow a thumb to depress the skin when slight pressure is applied. Plums can be stored for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator or placed in paper bag at room temperature to ripen. To prepare fresh, plums can be cut lengthwise around the stone and twisted to free the stone if the plum is a freestone variety. Cooking plums are typically prepared with the skin on, but if the skin is to be removed, blanche the plum for 30 to 40 seconds in boiling water.