I always feel conflicted when I see plums arrive at the market. On the one hand, I adore plums for baking and for snacking, so I'm definitely happy that they're here. But, on the other, plums also signal that summer is winding down. Luckily, there's plenty of opportunity for baking pie with plums, and so many reasons to use them in baked goods of all kinds. Their flavor has a great contrast between sweet and tart, which gives them a nice balance when their skins and flesh melt together as they bake. They are gorgeous, and come in a variety of colors ranging from deep blueish-purple to red, yellow, and even green. Also, compared to other summer fruit, plums tend to be relatively inexpensive, which means I can afford to buy more of them in more varieties.
When choosing plums for baking, I'm primarily concerned with ripeness. The skin should be firm, but yield slightly to light squeezing, and the flesh should be juicy, not mealy. Plum skin varies by type; some plums have a dull, whitish residue on the outside, while others are shiny and polished looking. Varieties of plums vary depending on where you live, and are often called "prunes" which is just another type of plum. Prunes are actually the most user-friendly, because unlike other plums, their pits are not attached to the flesh of the fruit.
Besides flavor, it's the color of plums that make them such a stellar fruit for pies. No matter what color plums you choose, they always release lots of juice when they bake. I capitalize on this by blanketing the fruit with an oatmeal crumble, because I love how the colorful juice looks as it bubbles up through the topping. It's a great way to close out the summer, or hold onto it as long as you can.
Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute.