Thursday, July 17, 2008

Plum Crazy


Summertime presents a bounty of fruit even within the urban confines of San Francisco. Danielle and I ventured over to my mother's place in the Marina District answering the call to help pick plums. We were more than happy to climb ladders, tree limbs and fences in search of ripe fruit in the upper reaches.

Danielle was definitely more fearless and got right into the thick of things; climbing barefooted and balancing on wobbly fences. The picture here is us reaching over into the neighbors yard for cherry plums. They are small, yellow/pink plums that are like nothing I ever tasted. My mother says that all the surrounding yards used to have those plum trees but when the houses got new owners and re-landscaped they ripped out the trees because the fruit was too messy. I can imagine how the neighborhood was long ago, filled with largely Italian families all harvesting fruit from the trees and making jelly.

You never know what kind of bounty you might have in your own yard if you just moved into a new place. Even if you aren't a gardener, check it out and you might re-discover what fruit is supposed to taste like. Most of what we buy in the stores is not tree ripened and ultimately tasteless. Just one or two generations ago, people used to grow and harvest their own varieties of fruit and vegetables. They canned and preserved what they couldn't eat to keep enjoying their crops through the winter months and to share with friends/family. I am going to try to plant one of those cherry plum trees myself from the pits. I don't care how messy they are too tasty to risk losing. Plus I know my family, friends and the birds will enjoy them if I can get them to grow.

Jam and jelly making isn't a lost art but fewer people I know are doing it. Until recently, Danielle was the only person my age that I knew who did it. I have since met one or two other women but it seems to be a tradition they got from their mothers or grandmothers. (I find it very daunting myself but it really isn't much more than boiling fruit in water, adding sugar, straining the juice then boiling again to the "jelly point.")

I prefer to bake with fresh fruit and I tend to freeze extra for the winter months. I have been eating many plums every day since I picked them but plan to make a plum dessert with more of my bounty. The following are two recipes for plum desserts;

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  • 6 tablespoons white sugar, divided
  • 14 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Butter a 10 inch pie plate, and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the bottom.

Arrange the plum halves, cut side down, so that they cover the entire bottom of the pie plate. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the top of the plums. In a blender, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, eggs, milk, flour, lemon zest, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Process until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour over the fruit in the pan.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and lightly browned. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

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Plum Cobbler

Preheat to the oven to 425 degrees F.

FILLING

  • 7 cups of pitted plums, cut in quarters
  • 1 1/4 cups of sugar (usually plums are a bit tart but the ones I picked are very sweet so I will reduce this to 3/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons of butter (1/2 stick)

Place the prepared plums in a 8-inch square baking pan and sprinkle with the sugar. Drizzle on the lemon juice and dot the plums with butter. Set aside to make the biscuit topping.

BISCUIT TOPPING

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons of butter (1/2 stick), chilled
  • 6 tablespoons of milk

Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir them together using a fork. Cut the butter into bits, drop into the bowl and work it into the dry ingredients using your fingers, a pastry cutter or two knives. You want it to be a mixture of fairly even and fine crumbs. Slowly add the milk while stirring constantly with the fork.

There are two options for covering the cobbler. My preference is the spoon the biscuit dough over the top so you can see the fruit and juice bubble through. Then you can ignore the need of adding a separate glaze.

However, you can also completely cover the top. So if you prefer this second method, continue with the following steps; gather the dough together and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead 8 to 10 times, until dough it fairly smooth then roll or pat the dough into a shape that will cover your baking dish. Place the dough over the prepared fruit, pressing it down around the edges. For a glazed crust, drizzle 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the top and sprinkle 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar over that.

Bake the cobbler for 35 to 45 minutes or until the juices are bubbling, the crust is golden brown and the fruit is tender. Remove from the oven and place on a rack. Serve warm or room temperate.

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Happy harvesting!

1 comment:

Danielle said...

I'm sorry I didn't get to try the Plum Clafouti... but that plum picking day is one of the best memories I have of summer in San Francisco! That was so much fun!!!

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