A friend wrote that she had discovered a unique flavor pairing while gathering wild plums from a tree in the ravine by her house in Seattle:

How I learned today that plums would go good with rosemary:  From picking one off the bed of pine needles and eating it. From the vestibule of bouche, dual perfumes filled my nose. You might say the discovery was a windfall! What it teaches me personally is that the pairing of pine and plum is not a superficial conceit as I had maybe thought. 

When she tasted the plum that had landed in pine she “got” the affinity of plum and pine and by association ROSEMARY. (If you look closely below, you’ll see the plum sitting among pine…) Plum and rosemary IS a lovely combination, as are plums and thyme and/or lavender. I made the discovery myself long ago when I tried throwing some herbs into a plum dish on a whim.

Susan Schneider
Susan Schneider

I’ve used the technique of tasting foods that sat side by side “just to see” for many years to discover new and often unlikely flavor pairings, like vanilla bean and avocado discovered when I cut both on different ends of the same cutting board and decided to taste them, or cracked coriander on just about everything by sprinkling it onto whatever was around.

A favorite discovery remains dulce de leche caramel and crunchy peanut butter which were sitting next to each other in the fridge when I opened it during a late night forage. Another late-night sweet tooth forage evolved from pairing the only delights around: amaretti cookies and creme fraiche

Ellen Silverman
Ellen Silverman

Of course, I knew of the flavor perfect of chocolate and peanut butter since I was a kid but didn’t realize I could MAKE my own homemade peanut butter “cups” until I saw chocolate wafers sitting next to a jar of peanut butter…

peanut butter cups copy

Nor did I realize that whipped cream is great with a pinch of salt until I saw was whipping cream in sight lines of my bowl of sea salt…

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

Or that strawberry stems and cherry pits could be used to flavor vinegar until a bottle of balsamic vinegar was sitting on the counter where I was preparing the fruit…

Sally Schneider's cherry vinegar
Dana Velden/The Kitchn

Or that the rosemary-thyme-lavendar-SALT that I had made to season a pork roast would be so good on the cookies I was rolling out…

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

OR that dry sherry would make a fabulous flavoring for vanilla milk shakes

OR that bacon fat would go great in chocolate cake UNTIL I ran out of butter and saw the jar of bacon fat sitting next to its place in the fridge….


I found out that plums — and other red fruits —  get a “wilder” flavor, by throwing some thyme into a batch of plums cooked with honey. And that led to throwing lavender into a Plum and Raspberry Crisp (below).
Recipe: Plums with Honey and Thyme

Serves 4

6-7 medium plums (1 1/2 pounds) halved, pitted and sliced into        1/2-inch wedges

3 tablespoons honey

1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

In a heavy medium size saucepan, combine all the ingredients and 2 teaspoons water.  Cover and cook over moderate heat until the plums release their juice, about 4 minutes.  Uncover and continue cooking until the plums are tender but still hold their shape and the juices are syrupy, about 12 minutes longer.


Recipe: Plum Raspberry Crisp with Lavender

Serves 6

6 tablespoons sliced almonds (1 1/2 ounces)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Pinch salt

3 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, slightly softened

1  1/2 pounds ripe plums, cut into 1/2-inch slices

2 cups raspberries

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Scant 1/4 teaspoon lavender flowers (optional)

Whipped Cream or vanilla ice cream 


Preheat the oven to 350. For the Topping, spread the nuts on a baking sheet. Roast until they are just golden and fragrant, 6-7 minutes (do not allow the nuts to brown past golden). Set aside to cool. In a food processor, grind the nuts, 6 tablespoons of the flour, the brown sugar and salt to a medium fine meal. Transfer to a medium bowl. With your fingers, work in the butter by pinching and rubbing the mixture until it is very crumbly. Refrigerate 15 minutes. You may prepare the topping up to 4 days ahead; seal in a plastic bag and refrigerate.

In a 10-inch gratin dish, combine the plums with the raspberries. Toss with  the remaining 2 tablespoons flour and the granulated sugar. Sprinkle the lemon juice, vanilla and lavender over the fruit and toss again. Spread the fruit in the dish and spread evenly with the topping.

Bake until the fruit is bubbling and the top is browned, about 40 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, cover lightly with foil.   Serve warm with small scoops of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


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4 replies on “How to Discover Unique Flavor Pairings (with a Trove of Recipes)

  1. Or sweet thai chili sauce on vanilla ice cream …with or without chocolate sauce. Or peanut butter and bacon sandwiches.

  2. We just discovered by accident that if one leaves dill and apples sitting next to each other in the refrigerator will cause the apples to be flavored by the dill.

    I’m still trying to figure out what can be done with dilly apples other than just eat them.

  3. Hmmm. Wonder what would happen if you put apples next to rosemary, a great affinity I use in apple pie? Or berries next to thyme, which they love…

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