Wild Plum "Brandy"

When driving down country roads, wild plum thickets are sights that I always welcome. Not only are their white flowers stunning in spring, they are also important cover for wildlife such as quail and rabbits — two game animals we love to eat.

In late August and September, limbs bend to the weight of ripe, juicy fruit. The small green meats of early summer have now turned into hues of bright red, orange and yellow.

Birds, deer and insects love this sticky wild fruit, and so do people. Some have even made a business out of them: For Rafter 7S Jellies of Paxton, Nebraska, wild plum jelly is a bestseller. This small, family-owned business picks hundreds of pounds of wild fruit on their property every fall. The jelly is tart, yet sweet, and its shiny, golden color is pleasing to behold through clear glass jars when held to the sun. 

Don't expect wild plums to taste delicious right off the tree, because you'll be disappointed – at least for me. Though I'll pop a fruit or two in my mouth to test for ripeness, wild plums are generally too tart and tannic to enjoy on their own, and they are also small. Still, you could do a lot with them. When picked at the peak of ripeness, they could be exceptionally juicy for such a small fruit.

The most popular treatment of wild plums is jam or jelly. Other ideas include fruit syrup, chutney, ice cream, bramble cake or pie. Or, for an easy and drinkable treat, make this wild plum "brandy." While Rick and I don't consume much jam or jelly in our house, we are devoted fans of all things boozy and drinkable.

I wish we could take all the credit for this recipe, because it's so simple yet genius. But alas, we can't. The original idea came from Saveur Magazine's "Tuică De Prune (Fermented Plum Brandy)" recipe, which you can find online here: https://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Tuica-De-Prune-Fermented-Plum-Brandy/

"Fruit-steeped brandies like this one, common throughout Transylvania and Hungary, are easy to make at home: Plums and sugar are simply left to ferment for two weeks, and then infused into brandy," writes Saveur. 

Sounds easy enough. And it was.

Saveur's recipe calls for domestic plums, which are sweeter, juicier and larger, so we adapted this recipe for wild plums here, which I think tastes better. The tartness of wild plum is crisp and refreshing, while the tannins in the skin imparts a pleasant dryness.

Remember that when working with wild fruit, exactness cannot always be expected. We've found that wild plums don't ripen consistently, and in some years – due to weather – we've had to pick less-than-ideal fruit. Several years ago, the plums we picked remained hard and flavorless well into fall. I think it was the year a cold spell came through early, so that might've put a stop to everything. 

In short, it's okay if your plums are not fully ripe – just add more sugar. Sugar will help tame sour flavors and also draw out moisture from the plums. With fermenting, the goal is to draw out enough juice to cover the fruit completely. If that doesn't work, add a bit of water to help the process along.

Sugar sweetens the drink and also draws out moisture from the fruit.

Brandy is much lower in alcoholic content than vodka-based infusions, and with the juice from the plums throwing off the proof, this brandy isn't shelf stable — so store it in the refrigerator. For maximum flavor, according to sources, enjoy this plum brandy within the month, but we've kept ours for as long as a year with no ill consequence.

According to Saveur, "This drink can be served right away, but will mellow the longer it sits." I say enjoy it while you have it, and though fleeting, at least you'll have next year to look forward to.

- 6 pounds of wild plums
- 3.5 cups of Sugar in the Raw (turbinado sugar)
- About 1 bottle of brandy 

Special Equipment: cheesecloth, rubber band, large glass jar


1. If plums are noticeably dirty, give them a quick rinse, although it's not necessary. Do not rub off the bloom (white, waxy coating on the fruit) — it contains wild yeast, which helps fermentation.

Cut each plum in half. You don't need to remove the seeds. If the halves are difficult to split apart, that's OK. Just make sure each fruit is cut so that juices can escape.

2. Transfer cut plums to a bowl and coat with raw sugar. Add more sugar as needed; the fruit needs to be well coated.

3. Transfer to a large jar, allowing at least a couple edges of headspace.


4. Use a potato masher, or something similar, to push down the fruit to help release juices. After a few hours to a day, you should get enough juice to submerge the fruit. If not, add a little bit of water to submerge; keeping the fruit fully submerged prevents the fruit from spoiling. 

Use something heavy to weigh down the fruit, such as small dipping bowls.

Use cheesecloth to cover the opening and secure with a rubber band. Store in a cool, dry place to ferment for 2 weeks. 

The amount of bubbling will be dependent on how much wild yeast is present on the fruit, air temperature, etc.

I've never had the fruit spoil. The top might start to look foamy and icky, but that's just yeast doing its work. 

If you start to see mold, just scoop it out when it's in its white stages. Don't wait until mold gets black. At that point, you'll have to throw it away. 

Bubbling after a couple weeks. 




5. Strain the fermented plum juice through cheesecloth and discard the fruit and seeds. Transfer to clean jars/bottles and add equal parts brandy. 

If desired, add regular sugar, to taste. Raw sugar will take too long to dissolve at this point. 

6. Chill and enjoy the brandy now. Or, for a clearer drink, allow sediment to form at the bottom and siphon off the clear liquid into different bottles. It took about two weeks for the dregs to sink to the bottom; try not to disturb the bottles in the meantime.

Picture shows the plum brandy before the sediments were removed. It's cloudy, but still nice to drink. 

I siphoned my plum brandy only once. This is called racking. You can do this several times if you want a pretty, clear drink. 

I enjoy it chilled with a twist of lemon zest on top. It's also refreshing over ice.