Plum Crazy

It is definitely fall.  The air is colder, the trees are turning, and at 3pm the world suddenly explodes with school children. 

At this time of year, everyone starts thinking about apples.  I love apples, and have probably eaten a bushel already, but I am not yet fully in Apple Mode.  Lurking in plain sight, displayed in all the farmer’s markets, and, indeed, grocery stores, is a fruit that you may not have noticed.  Might I draw your attention to The Plum?

Plums are a fruit that doesn’t engender much fervor.  In spring, everyone is excited about strawberries, in high summer, it’s peaches, and in the fall, apples.  Every now and then I’ll see a magazine spread on plums, but too often the text and recipes have an air of desperation.  The background suggestion is: “No one wants to read about regular plums, only write recipes for pluots!” or “We’d better make this interesting–make all the recipes savory!”

In my opinion, plums are neither too exotic nor too plebian to have a place in the house of someone who loves good food.  I have tried every variety available at the farmer’s market, from damsons, to greengages, to Italian plums to common red and purple plums.  I love them all, and wouldn’t dream of suggesting that the more familiar varieties are somehow inferior or less worthy than the unusual.

The big, juicy, fleshy, red and purple plums are no longer in season, but damsons and Italian plums are still going strong, and I bought satisfying quantities of each at the most recent farmer’s market. 

Damsons are tiny, tart, little orbs, only slightly bigger than a cherry.  The first few pints I bought this year were sweeter than usual, and I ended up eating them out of hand as the perfect, bite-sized filler of that one last corner of an almost-full stomach.  This last week, though, the damsons were so tart that they made my mouth pucker (and I eat unadulterated lemons sometimes).  I didn’t have enough of them to make into jam, so I fell back on my most recent kick: infused vodka.  I washed the plums, poked each one with a knife a few times, then tossed them into a canning jar.  I covered one pint of damsons with about 4 cups of vodka, capped and shook up the jar, then put it on the shelf with my other aging infusions.  I’ll leave it there for a few months, then strain it, sweeten it, and let it age until Christmas.  It seems like an appropriate libation to serve alongside plum pudding. 

The prize of the week, though, wasn’t the damsons.  At my favorite fruit stall I got 4 pints of Italian plums for $10.  I’ve heard some say that these “prune” plums are boring in flavor and texture when eaten raw, but I disagree.  These plums are firm, never mealy, and in possession of a complex first-sweet-then-tart flavor that surprises and delights at the same time. 

In spite of my love of the raw fruit, though, I did cook half of my bounty–I made a plum crumble.  Two pints of the pointed, oval-shaped fruits were cut into halves, pitted, then into halves again, and tossed in a buttered pan with a little amaretto–no sweetener or lemon juice was necessary, given their aforementioned complexity.  I let the fruit sit for a few minutes, while I preheated the oven and made the crumbly topping.

I put a cup of almonds into the food processor, then pulsed them until they became a fine meal.  I added a little sweetener, a few tablespoons of butter, a shake of dried ginger, and a pinch of salt, then pulsed again, until everything was pebbly and sandy.   I crumbled (naturally) the mixture over the top of the plums, patting it down a little, and then slid the pan into the oven for about an hour, until the crumbs were nicely golden and the plums bubbling. 

Although it was slightly torturous, I did not eat any of the plum crumble until the following day–I made the glorious thing to eat for breakfast before work all week.  It was lovely.  The firmer texture of the Italian plums allowed the fruit to be juicy, but not runny or mushy, in spite of having entirely absorbed the amaretto.  The almonds in the topping and the amaretto in the filling were the perfect foil for the plums–each has a richness that played off the tanginess of the plums, and all three had a level of sweetness that combined to create something new. 

It was my favorite breakfast of the new season, and with those second two pints of plums frozen for the future, I can look forward to having it in the next season as well.

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Published in: on September 28, 2007 at 8:24 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Sounds delicious! I’ve been buying plums myself lately. One interesting use for them was to make a plum salsa with some fresh cilantro. Very nice. chefjp


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