Author: Maharram ZEYNAL Baku
It is difficult to find a person in Azerbaijan who would not like this sour green fruit called alca plum. It is an inevitable attribute of long-awaited warm days in May, when shadows of foliage fall to the ground in a moving pattern, the wind becomes softer and the sun does not seem to be a visiting foreign guest. You crunch a berry and feel a slightly sour taste on your tongue, which brings to mind recollections of childhood and carefree summer afternoons, and you do it again and again, until your mouth gets sore and your teeth are on edge...
The cherry plum is thought to originate from the countries of the South Caucasus, Iran and Asia Minor, so it is perfectly fair to say that it is a fruit native to Azerbaijan. Today cherry plums are widespread in Central Asia, Asia Minor, China, countries of the South Caucasus, the Mediterranean, Ukraine and Moldova.
In Georgia, the cherry plum is called tkemali and constitutes the basis of the namesake sauce everybody likes. In Europe, it has a very beautiful name - Mirabelle plum. The cherry plum belongs to the genus of plums. Forests in Azerbaijan are full of wild cherry-plum trees, and the picking of plums is carried out practically throughout the year. Domesticated varieties are cultivated in many parts of the country and are especially widespread in Saki and Qabala. Basically, we grow such cultivars as Xanbayi, Sabrani, Ag (white plums) and others.
There is yet another kind of cherry plum called Gage of the Sultana. The shape of the tree bearing this cherry plum, unlike the other sorts, is conical and reminiscent of a spearhead. And in its taste and external appearance it differs from other more thin-skinned sorts and has a considerably smaller stone; it is also tarter and has a stronger "cherry-like" taste. This type of plum originates from Naxcivan, or, to be more exact, Ordubad.
The cherry plum is not just everyone's favourite fruit; it is also very useful and can be used, in addition to cooking, in medicine and dietetics. The substances it contains purify blood and produce an anti-inflammatory, diuretic and mild laxative effect. It is especially useful in the case of hypovitaminosis, colds and associated diseases and scurvy. It is also used in the treatment of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and in stimulating the appetite.
In 1669, Mohammad Momin wrote this: "Ripe cherry plums can quench thirst, have a choleretic and laxative effect. In addition, cherry-plum syrup has an astringent effect on bleeding. It is useful to drink ripe cherry-plum juice on severe coughing and tuberculosis. Cherry-plum leaf juice has the anthelmintic action, can arrest cramps and vomiting..."
Cherry plums contain up to 5-7 per cent of sugar, 4-7 per cent of citric acid, 6-7 per cent of vitamin C, and 15 per cent of various pectins. Calcium, potassium and phosphorus are among the top three micronutrients present in plums. Cherry plums are particularly useful for children, older persons and pregnant women. People living in big cities should eat cherry plums too, as these fruit have the ability to remove radionuclides. Fresh cherry-plum juice is effective as a thirst quencher and a tonic. Furthermore, given the specifics of the local cuisine and the abundance of fat and meat dishes, sour cherry-plum sauces are indispensable as they contain enzymes which promote digestion of meat and fat.
Culinary couturiere Natalia Golumb admits that she too marvelled at cherry plums: "Recently I visited Saki and tasted an unusual dish of cherry plums, called daymanc. It contains cherry plums cooked in a special way (beaten off) and flavoured with garlic, herbs and salt. I can say that it is an excellent appetiser and starter for more substantial dishes. Furthermore, while until recently I knew of only one way of using cherry plums, i.e. with salt, now I have considerably broadened my list of dishes. What is more, cherry plums perfectly combine with white Azerbaijani wines." She says this simple dish reminds her of chutney - an Indian seasoning prepared from fruits, less often from vegetables, with the addition of vinegar and spices. Thus, our national daymanc is an Azerbaijani analogue of a known favourite seasoning with a spicy taste, which is intended to stimulate the appetite and complement the taste of the main course.
Agronomist Sirac Huseynov from Quba district notes that the cherry plum is a common fruit. Unlike many other fruit trees, cherry-plum trees are unpretentious, frost-resistant and extremely fruitful. Of late, the demand for cherry plums has increased after a number of canneries in the regions of the country began to produce canned plums. Introduced varieties of cherry plums are now being imported from Europe; they are larger than local ones, are able to bear fruit already in the second or third year and have better capacity for preservation.
LAVASANA [rolled thin tablets of dried cherry plums]
The classical version of lavasana - a widely known sour fruit concentrate - is also made from cherry plums. To prepare this seasoning, poach or stew cherry plums lightly, alternatively use raw berries. Peel the skin and remove kernels, rub the pulp through a sieve, spread the strained mass on a board and dry it in the sun. In modern household condition, it is possible to apply a thin layer of cherry-plum mass on a baking tray and dry in the oven.
To prepare cherry-plum jam, use large garden varieties, mainly Arash and Istanbul. When fully ripe, these red berries can weigh up to 40 grams. Remove the top layer from cherry plums and keep them in lime water for 1.5-2 hours. After that, thoroughly wash berries with water and pierce each berry in several places.
Pour cooked syrup (1 cup of water per 1.1 kg of sugar) over cherry plums thus prepared. Boil jam in three runs for 2-3 hours with an interval of 8 hours.
CHERRY-PLUM SAUCE FOR MEAT
This is an excellent dressing not only for meat, but also for fish, potatoes, and farinaceous dishes. Moreover, simply dipping a piece of bread or lavas [flatbread] into this sauce is a rare pleasure. To prepare the sauce, you will need: 1 kg of cherry plums, 1 teaspoon of ground red pepper, 1 teaspoon of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of dill seeds, 5 garlic cloves, 50 ml of water and 60 g of sugar.
Sort out, wash, and pour cherry plums into a pan, add water and boil for 2-3 minutes with the lid closed. Strain the mass through a colander to obtain a silky puree. Boil it to the thickness you like. It will take about 35 minutes on medium heat. Periodically stir the puree lest it should burn. Add pepper and sugar and boil for 2 minutes; then add crushed garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Finally, add dill seeds crushed in a coffee grinder and vinegar and boil for another 2-3 minutes. The sauce is ready!