We have successfully identified the mystery tree in the backyard: it is a plum tree.
The first year at the new house is an adventure in plants. Things are blooming or appearing that weren't expected as we slowly learn what lives in the ground and soaks up the sun around our yard. My first surprise was when the vine trellised up the side of the garage, which I had assumed was an evergreen, suddenly turned bright pink (bougainvillea). Last week, JR discovered a small bush in the front yard that is bearing small citrus fruit. Neither of us remember ever seeing it before (I would swear that a neighbor came and planted it in the night, except that would make me crazy). JR's bet is on lemons, but I think (read: hope) the fruit will be limes (with the new kumquat tree and the Meyer lemon, we'd have a trifecta of citrus!). Not all of the surprises have been so great: the wisteria is messy (and more country-garden than tropical-jungle), the rose on the side of the house bloomed a dusty pink (which most definitely does not go with my tropical theme, either in type or color).
But one great surprise has been the plum tree.
When we first looked at the house in early spring, it was covered in puffy white blossoms. I had thought it might be an ornamental pear, like the one we had planted in front of our prior house. But then it started fruiting. It became quickly apparent that this fruit would be bigger than ornamental, possibly even... edible? Then came the puzzle of figuring out what kind of fruit it would be. It grew to the size where I could identify a pit - so had it nailed down as some sort of stone fruit. Which meant it could be a cherry, apricot, peach, nectarine, pluot, plum...
It was only relatively recently that the fruit turned purple, enabling positive plum identification. My internet queries suggest it is a damson or damask plum. What I know for certain is that they are very tasty and we are currently overrun with them.
Here's how I used a few this evening:
Roasted Plum Salad
6 plums, halved & pitted
1 Tbsp. champagne vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. walnut oil (optional)
a pinch white pepper
1 small head butter lettuce, chopped
a handful of walnuts or pecans, toasted
feta or goat cheese
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place plums, cut side up, in a shallow baking dish. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until plums have begun to render their juice. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Pour 1 Tbsp. of plum juice into a small bowl. Whisk the plum juice together with champagne vinegar, honey, oil, and white pepper.
Place lettuce in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette. Divide into individual bowls. Top each with roasted plums, pecans, and sprinkle with cheese.
If you have any favorite plum recipes (or any plum recipes at all), please send them my way - I'm going to need them!