It’s Christmas. And Christmas means one thing – Japanese plums. Like many Australian homes of a certain vintage our house is flanked by ‘decorative’ plum trees. You might think that the most important characteristic of a plum tree is its ability to produce edible fruit: ‘decorative’ doesn’t rate highly when it’s pin-balling through your colon. However, the previous owners were deeply suspicious of such utilitarianism and planted a colonnade of scratchy, bushy trees that launch into life around December to produce four metric tonnes of utterly inedible Japanese plums. Small and mostly stone, these plums are weirdly bitter, combined with a biting sourness that makes your ears pucker. It’s been said that they singlehandedly deferred Japan’s surrender during the Second World War and the subsequent nuclear blast only served to make them more resolute.
Normal people would leave this fruit to the birds. But there’s something deep within my parsimonious upbringing that prevents me from wasting it. You see, I’ve got a sort of Luke Nguyen approach to food; If it’s there, it should be eaten.
If you’re not familiar with the name, Luke Nguyen is an ebullient television chef who takes his natty sandshoes and Farrah Flick off to Vietnam (amongst other places), to demonstrate exactly how the Vietnamese cook, well, everything.
“These little motorbikes are everywhere here in Hanoi, and the thing I love the most about them is the exhaust pipe! Just a light batter, and SO crunchy! Isn’t that right, Auntie?” (cut to 200 year old woman standing beside Mr Nguyen with a grimace where her teeth used to be).
Every time I walk past the groaning plum tree I visualise a small village of barefoot children scooping up the bounty with the gleeful confidence of that comes naturally to those with a shot-peened digestive tract. Leaving fruit on the ground would be a travesty.
So every year, a week before Christmas I get up at 4am to cook plum sauce. It doesn’t have to be 4am, by the way, it’s just that these plums are so fucking sour just having them sitting on the bench is enough to wake you from a state of taxidermy. I always use the same Chinese recipe, one that involves sweating, swearing and high-stakes Tetris with staggeringly large pots of boiling plum-scum. And every year I plan to document the unfolding process through a series of photographs. This is partly due to my long-standing dream of compiling an outrageously successful cook book (Wholefood for Munters) that I’ll never get around to, but mostly because, generally speaking, ambulance officers aren’t big on mystery.
So here’s the recipe.
Take one shipping container of inedible plums. Boil them into submission. Strain the mixture through an ever increasing number of colanders with better sized gaps. Add cinnamon, palm sugar, chinese pepper, star anise, ginger, and enough vinegar to bottle a horse. Bring to the boil and simmer through the hottest part of the day. Strain again, this time through a sieve, maintaining a conduit of necrotising plum juice up your inner arm. Surround yourself with small children. Sterilise jars, using ancient tongs instead of jar lifters which have turned into a crocodile. Snap snap! Pour plum mixture into jars, making sure to lacquer the floor in a fine film of sugar that will attract every ant in Christendom – after all, Christmas is a time for sharing!
Vow never to do it again.