The season for plums is from July through September but, as with almost anything else these days, plums are available (although they’re not so sweet) all year long. When in the mood for a fruity dessert in the “off season,” poaching is a great choice. It allows fruit that’s not at its peak to be enjoyed fully, by being imbued with other complimentary flavors. When poaching plums, bright red Santa Rosas are my pick, since their compact texture and sweet-sour flavor make a perfect match (and add a great color) to the hot spiced poaching syrup. For best texture retention, choose plums that yield a bit in the hand but are not too soft.
And, when you’ve finished eating the fruit, don’t throw away the syrup since it makes a wonderful drink! Pour the chilled plum wine syrup over ice with a splash of club soda (garnish with a slice of orange and/or a sprig of fresh mint). For an extra festive way to serve this drink before filling the glass, moisten the rim with water or citrus juice and rotate the wet rim in a shallow layer of granulated sugar.
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Place the sugar, water, star anise, ginger, cinnamon stick, orange zest, if using, and wine in a 3 1/2-quart, non-reactive saucepan, over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
Then add the plums and bring the liquid back to a gentle bubble, with the cover ajar, over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan fully and cook gently for 5 minutes. Drag the saucepan to a cool burner and let the fruit sit, covered, for 5 minutes, then uncovered for 10 minutes.
One by one, place the plums in a large jar or bowl, using a slotted utensil, pulling off any pieces of skin that seem to be wanting to separate (leave all other skin on the fruit). Remove the spices and pour the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve, directly over the poached fruit and let cool, uncovered. Once cool, cover the bowl or jar well and chill for at least 1 hour, but preferably 6 to 24 hours (and up to 3 days).
Serve the plums with the syrup, cold or gently re-warmed, with a fork, knife and spoon, accompanied by a nice dollop of plain or vanilla yogurt or softened vanilla ice cream.
The poached plums can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, kept securely covered.