“Want some plums?”—the brief text from my sister was music to my ears. An abundance of plums (or “plummage” as she so aptly put it) meant plum chutney, plum jam, roasted plums, dried plums, or if I’m feeling flush with time and energy—a plum tart.
Italian prune plums are those egg-shaped, purple plums that droop the branches every other year, lay on the ground covered with wasps in September, require little preparation, and cook down into dark fuchsia goodness.
If all the hard work in spring and summer pays off, a gardener is rewarded with almost too much of a good thing. However, we are seldom burdened with an excess of tomatoes, green beans, Rainier cherries, raspberries, or eggplant. When we lived on Vashon, we had an old, scrubby apple orchard that produced tons, (I’m not exaggerating) of warty, knobby, apples every September. What the deer and squirrels didn’t eat, were juiced, sauced, pied, tarted, crisped, dried, smoothied, and eventually raked into the garden for compost.
By the first of October, I winced at the sound of a full bushel basket thumping down on the back porch. Ginny and Ron had an old, hand-cranked, apple press that they trundled out of the shed every Fall, and set up…under the apple tree…for their friends and family to use. The Sweetie and I would shovel the excess apples from our yard into the back of our beat-up, orange pickup, hose them off, drive along Quartermaster Drive and Tramp Harbor to their house, and squeeze apple juice into recycled milk jugs. There is nothing like drinking fresh-squeezed apple juice as it pours down the chute into your cupped hands, picking out the stems and worms as you go. We were blissfully unaware of the dangers of unpasteurized raw juice and, aside from an occasional case of the “runs”, suffered no lasting harmful side effects.
On Eld Inlet, Nancy faces their grape surplus by making juice and jelly and uses the over abundance of Romas by making superb tomato jam. In California, where backyard produce is impossibly brilliant, a gardener’s bounty is likely to be lemons, oranges, grapefruits, almonds avocados, or figs. My friend Karen, used her lemon crop to fill the garage refrigerator with lemon curd, lemon panna cotta, lemon juice, and lemon zest—I want her harvest.
Nancy and Tom’s Concord grapes
Can you see the handsome man in the swing?
But for now, I peek frequently into the pantry to admire the top shelf lined with shining jars of chutney, jam, and applesauce and thank my gardening friends for the apricot cherry jam, Red Kuri squash, and lots of plums.
- 1 ½ pounds Roma tomatoes peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup fine diced sweet onions
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon grated or minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes or to taste
Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.
Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use; this will keep at least a week.
- 10# Italian plums (preferably free from a friend)
- 3 c. sugar
- 2 c. rice wine vinegar (cider works too)
- ½ c. fresh chopped ginger
- 3 T. chopped garlic
- 2 t. nutmeg
- 1 T. cinnamon
- 1 t. allspice
- 2 t. salt
- 1 t. cayenne pepper
Combine all and cook one to two hours until thickened. Process in water bath or freeze.
Plum Streusel Tart (an old City Restaurant dessert— steppy, but worth the trouble)
- 8 Tbs. (1 stick unsalted butter), softened
- 1 cup + 6 Tbs. powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 3⁄4 cup flour
In an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and salt, and beat until combined. Add flour, all at once, and slowly mix until flour is evenly moistened. (Don’t overmix).
Transfer to a plastic bag and form dough into a 6” log. Seal bag, pressing out any air, and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
Divide log in half for one tart. To roll, soften dough by pressing it with your hands until soft and malleable. Form a 4” round disk. On a lightly floured board, roll from center out, lifting dough, turning slightly, to prevent sticking. Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness.
Fold dough in half, and lift into tart pan. Unfold and press gently into bottom and up the sides. Clhill 1⁄2 hour before baking.
- 1⁄2 cup + 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
- 1 cup almonds (I’ve used both blanched and unblanched)
- 9 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Process sugar and almonds in a food processor until fine. Add butter, one Tbs. at a time, pulsing after each addition until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- 1⁄2 cup packed brown sugar
- 7 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1⁄4 tsp. salt
- 1 cup + 2 Tbs. flour
Cream together sugar and butter until smooth. Add cinnamon and salt and mix until blended. Add flour. Mix with your fingers just until crumbly.
To assemble tart:
Roll Paté Sucre and use to line a 10” tart pan with removable bottom. Preheat oven to 350 ̊. Bake empty tart shell for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and spread almond cream in hot tart shell. Bake another 10 minutes. Remove from oven.
Cut 8-10 plums in half and remove pits. Arrange plums, cut side down, over baked almond cream; sprinkle with streusel and bake 20-30 minutes, until plums are soft and crust is golden brown.
Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream