1 Stone Fruit, 3 Cocktails: Plums

It’s stone fruit season! Here’s how to do right by its wonderfulness, in cocktail form. Each week in August, we’ll show you how one fruit can mingle happily with three distinct spirits. Last week: peaches. Today: sweet-tart plums. 

Martha Holmberg knows a plum assignment when she sees one. The former editor-in-chief of Fine Cooking and co-author with Jeffrey Morgenthaler of a tome on cocktail technique has just released a book called Plums. It’s a sweet little homage to the plush fruit that comes into its own this time of year.

"I used to think a plum was kind of boring until I got into them," Holmberg told us, “but now I realize they’re so versatile!” She is so smitten that she grows them in the yard of her Portland, Oregon home, and jumped at the chance to share three cocktails showcasing the plum’s charms.

From a bright cherry–plum sangria fit for hot-as-heck outdoor barbecues to a divine plum-rosemary shrub plucked from the pages of her new book, here are three herbaceous, dead-sexy, sum-sum-summertime drinks, plus Holmberg’s notes on what makes each so special.


All photos: Martha Holmberg

Plum and Cherry Sangria
by Martha Holmberg
Makes a pitcher, about 1 liter, serves 6-8

I like this sangria because I actually want to eat the fruit as well as drink the wine (no dreary orange slices). In fact, I think of it as a salad. Health food. The plums and cherries stay firm and keep most of their color, so the drink looks pretty throughout the evening.

½ cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh basil or mint leaves, plus a few extra sprigs for garnish
10-12 fresh dark sweet cherries, pitted and halved
2 ripe plums, pitted and sliced into wedges
One 750 ml bottle of fruity, un-oaked white wine, such as Pinot Gris or Verdejo
2-4 oz.fruit brandy such as Kirsch or Silvovitz (optional)

Put sugar and ½ cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and add herbs. Let sit about 20 minutes.

Pour still-warm syrup over cherries and plums. Cool the mixture, covered, at room temperature for at least two hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.

To serve, remove fruit from syrup and place in a pitcher. Add wine. Add syrup, to taste, and brandy (optional). Garnish with basil or mint sprigs.


Rum, Plum, and Ginger Smash
by Martha Holmberg
Makes one cocktail

This drink is such a nice way to bring plums into the cocktail hour. You could use vodka or gin here, too, but I think a rum drink always feels summery, and plums are like the last hurrah of summer fruit, so they make happy partners. You’ll need a fairly ripe plum for this, because you want its flesh to disintegrate into the drink.

2 quarter-sized coins (about ¼-inch thick) fresh ginger (peeled if desired)
½ ripe plum, sliced, plus one slice for garnish
1 oz. fresh lime juice, plus lime wheel for garnish
1 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. light rum
Soda water, to taste

On a wooden board, smash ginger slices with the spine of a chef’s knife. Place in tall glass. Add plum and muddle until well combined, just shy of pulpy.

Add lime juice, simple syrup, and light rum. Stir, add cracked or crushed ice, and top with a splash of soda water. Garnish with lime wheel and plum slice.


Plum-Rosemary Shrub Vodka Soda
by Martha Holmberg
Makes 1 cocktail

Shrubs (also called drinking vinegars) are wonderful bases for homemade sodas and summer cocktails. You can make this drink with or without booze; the tart shrub gives it a nervy edge that moves it away from soft drink and more toward aperitif.

2 oz. Plum-Rosemary Shrub (see below)
1.5 oz. vodka or gin (optional)
Soda water
Fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, mint, and lovage, for garnish

Fill a tall glass with ice cubes or cracked ice and add Plum-Rosemary Shrub. Add a shot of vodka or gin, if that’s your fancy, and top with soda water and shrub, to taste. Crush fresh herbs lightly in your hand to release aroma and add to the glass for garnish.

Plum-Rosemary Shrub
by Martha Holmberg for Short Stack Editions
Makes about 1½ pints

1 lb. very ripe red or purple plums, pitted and cut into chunks
1 lb. sugar
1-2 cups white wine vinegar
1 sprig rosemary

In a large bowl, toss the plums with the sugar. Cover with a clean cloth and let sit at room temperature overnight. Give the mixture a stir once in a while to encourage the plums to release their juices. (If you find you’ve got a batch of plums that are reluctant to get juicy, transfer the mixture to a saucepan and heat gently until the fruit gets sloppier.)

Line a colander or a large strainer with cheesecloth and set it over a wide-mouth jar or a clean bowl. Ladle the plums and juice into the colander, letting the juice strain into the jar below. Press on the fruit to extract as much juice as possible.

Add the vinegar to the juice and taste the shrub: It should be quite tart, but should invite you to take another few sips. Stir in more sugar or vinegar to get the balance of sweet and tart that you want.

Pour the shrub into a sterile bottle or jar, add the rosemary (cut it into pieces if you’re using more than one jar), and seal. It will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.