From left to right in the long oval basket: 5 cherries; 3 Very Cherry Plums; a dark plumcot; an apricot; and a red plum (the grocer did not sell them under specific variety names, but Very Cherry Plums are all ‘Pixie’). Also ‘Cherry Cheescake’ hibiscus, a white-flowered pineapple lily, and various old and English roses.
I don’t always go all in for new fruit varieties — for example, the best tasting fig is one of the oldest. But when it comes to market staples like plums, apricots, and cherries, new really may be better. The most prominent designer fruits from this clan of kissing cousins are plum x apricot hybrids, marketed as plumcots, pluots, or dinosaur eggs. I have never loved plums or apricots, but I planted two of their interspecific offspring after tasting them.
Recently, another line of crosses arrived in grocery stores, this time plums x cherries. Though the parentage is significantly different from plumcots, plum cherries have a similarly well-balanced combination of sweetness, tartness, crisp skin, and juicy pulp that is rare in the parents. One of my first thoughts after biting into one was that it was time to replace the cherry trees.
Handful of Very Cherry Plums. Halfway in size between a plum and a cherry, reviewers disagree on which parent they most resemble. I consider it an improved cherry.
But Before moving forward with any tree replacements, I decided it was way past time to do a proper taste test of plum cherries, plumcots, and their parents. The power of suggestion is strong — perhaps stronger than our tastebuds — when it comes to what we think tastes good. Maybe my preference was all from marketing, mood, or a weakness for trends. Maybe I’d just had a few bad plums in my elementary school lunch.
Bottom row, left to right: apricot, plumcot, red plum. Middle row, from left to right: plum cherries, cherries.
One of the first things I noticed when setting up the taste test was that the plum cherries were much harder to cut into, hence the very pleasurable tingling when biting into one. The unserrated knife pictured above immediately sliced through apricot, plum, plumcot, and cherry without effort. While the plum cherries have a crunchy exterior, the inside is succulent.
The plum rated lowest for texture: messy/mushy/slimy. On the other end of the spectrum, the apricot was dry and breadlike. The plumcot and cherries both had a good middle ground for texture. But only the plum cherries had a complex texture.
My biggest bone with stone fruits … is the stone. Again, the plum rated lowest for the pit. While the pit is proportionally smaller in the plum than the others, it does not separate from the pulp, which results in a mess, whether cut or eaten whole. All of the others separated easily and cleanly from their pits. The plum cherries seemed to have the most acceptable pit-to-fruit ratio.
I identified all of the fruits correctly and easily blindfolded. And I still rated the plum and apricot lowest for flavor. Another participant in the blind taste test confused the plumcot and plum cherries. They both have a very nice balance of sweet, sour, and texture.
My initial rating had the plum cherry with the highest score for flavor — to my taste an improved cherry, though others consider it to be more like a plum — with the plumcot second. But while cleaning up the left overs, I noticed that the plum cherries lost some of their advantage when the slices were turned upside down — i.e. when the advantage of the crunchy exterior was removed. So, the strongest virtue of the new plum cherries is not any one characteristic, but the whole.
A few qualities were not measured by the blind taste test, but have to be mentioned. Plum cherries are almost exactly intermediate in size between plums and cherries. I’ve always considered cherries a bit annoying because of the effort to get a such a small amount of fruit off of a pit. On the other hand, plums are larger than I’d like. Plum cherries seem to be just about the perfect size. They also have perhaps the most pleasing appearance: a mottled burgundy with amber interior.
A billiards-style view of Prunus