Summer’s favorite beverage just got a lift: Plum and Cardamom Iced Tea is lightly sweet, refreshing, and perfect for the final hot days of the year. Read on, or jump straight to the recipe HERE.
Plums might be available all summer long, but Italian Prune Plums (the small oblong kind) arrive just as summer is ending and fall has started to wake up. They are a transitional fruit, marking the end of one thing and the beginning of another. It’s like it’s their job to come along and say, “keep moving, folks.”
To honor that, I made this plum and cardamom iced tea. Because to me, iced tea says summer (and god knows it’s hot enough to need it), and cardamom says fall. It’s one of those flavors I associate with chilly nights and cozy sweaters, just as surely as cinnamon and nutmeg mean pumpkin pie and family.
So into a pot went my plums, sugar, and cardamom.
Plums perform a certain kind of magic when you cook them. Their soft yellow bellies turn from gold to pink to deep, vivid red, and as their color blooms, so does their flavor, from a delicate perfume to a thing of real substance. It’s as though by adding heat, one were turning up the volume.
There are so many acts in cooking that, although I might understand some of the science behind them, always strike me as a little magical. (Think eggs, butter, and flour going from batter to cake, or glistening egg whites transforming into a billowy meringue.) Silly as it may sound, watching the color of plums change as they cook is one of the things that never fails to mesmerize me. It’s like I’m an alchemist at the stove, mixing potions of deliciousness.
I’m pretty sure if I had known that was an option when I was a kid, it’s what I would have said I wanted to be when I grew up.
I kept my plum and cardamom syrup on the slightly-tart, not-too-sweet side, so that when it was mixed with the tea it created a light and briskly refreshing drink. If you like your tea unsweetened, this is the way to go. If you prefer a bit more sweetness and “oomph” to your tea, feel free to increase the sugar to taste.
Come to think of it, this is a very to-taste kind of drink. How much sugar, how long you steep the cardamom, and exactly how much tea you mix with the syrup will all make for a very different beverage. I encourage you to play around to find the balance that suits you best.
Speaking of playing with the recipe, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention how good this syrup is in other applications: I love to stir a couple tablespoons into a mug of hot tea instead of iced, drizzle it over yogurt or ice cream, or just add some to sparkling water like a homemade soda.
The versatility of something like this is one of the things I love about food. Give me a cookbook that offers a long list of variations with a recipe, and I get giddy with all the possibilities. Is that just me? Do you like it when a recipe comes with suggestions for ways to change it up, or would you rather have it given to you straight? I’d love to know.
Italian prune plums won’t last much longer, but if you can’t find them you could certainly make this with other kinds of plums (or other kinds of stone fruit, generally). Just taste as you go, and adjust the sweetness according to your fruit, and your tastes.
- 1 lb. italian prune plums, very ripe (the small, oblong kind)
- ¾ - 1 cup granulated sugar, or more to taste
- 3 - 4 pods green cardamom, crushed against a flat surface to crack them open and reveal their seeds
- 6 - 8 cups strongly brewed black tea, to taste
- Sprigs of mint for garnish (optional)
- Add the plums and sugar -- start with ¾ cup -- to a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the plums have given up their juices and the syrup has turned from gold, to pink, to a deep red. Once the plums are soft enough, you can speed the process by smashing them against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the smashed cardamom (pods and seeds). Let steep for anywhere from 5-10 minutes, tasting now and then until the cardamom flavor is as strong as you like it (I suggest aiming for "clearly present but not overpowering.")
- Pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the cardamom and plum pulp. You should have about 1½ cups. Taste, and stir in more sugar if you feel the syrup isn't sweet enough.
- Store in a jar or other lidded container in the fridge until completely chilled, and up to two weeks.
- Brew a large pot of your favorite black tea, and chill well. You can mix the syrup in while the tea is hot, or let it all chill first.
- Stir together the syrup and tea in a pitcher. Taste, and add more tea, or more sugar, to your liking. (If you add sugar at this point, be sure to let it dissolve fully before tasting and adding more.) Store in the fridge, and when you're ready to serve, add ice. Stir before serving.
If you aren't a fan of cardamom, you can leave it out altogether, or experiment with using other flavors in its place. A few I considered were lavender, ginger, or vanilla. For lavender or ginger, I suggest following the recipe as written (using maybe a tsp. of dried lavender or a few thin slices of ginger), but for vanilla I would add a pod (cut and seeds scraped) into the pot at the beginning.
This syrup is great in iced or hot tea. For the latter, I like to add just a tablespoon or two to one mug at a time. The syrup is also great over yogurt or ice cream, or stirred into sparkling water for a homemade soda. Come to think of it, you may want to mix some into iced tea, and save the rest in the fridge for other uses!