I have always loved plums since I was a little girl but the strange thing is, until last night, I had never baked with them (and still have yet to make plum jam). You might say that last night's inspiration might be from two years of looking at plum-colored wall-to-wall carpeting in this here doublewide. Or maybe it was just from the lingering effects of revisiting a favorite childhood poem, The Sugar-Plum Tree by Eugene Field (doesn't the name "sugar plum" just say so much?), in a recent blog about local produce. But it was even simpler than that: I saw about a dozen black plums, alas not local (with apologies to Barbara Kingsolver), in a crate at Sunny Valley Bulk Foods in Casey County yesterday. I just had to do something with them. (And I bought a lot of other produce, too, for canning projects this week–more about those later.)
As well as a perfectly ripe fresh plum–and that can be a fine line–I enjoy canned plums and their slightly textured skins and their sweet, thick juice. I love plum wine and plum jam and plum jelly. I even love prunes and prune juice. [Have you noticed how some ad person has convinced the prune people to start marketing them as "dried plums"? Check next time you go to the grocery store.] PHOTO: Some of Harvey Hoover's Casey County-grown plums, purchased in early July and enjoyed fresh.
I've also been reading many of Anne Lamott's essays on her faith and spirituality (this is a woman who writes about what I've been thinking about the same subject for some time and I appreciate her irreverent candor) and we'll be reading her writings together at Cupcakes in September. Anyway, my point here is that many of Lamott's book covers brilliantly use church signs as part of their graphic element. I photographed this one the other day in a town nearby. Rather apt, don't you think–to fruit, I mean, and canning season? [And had I been Eve I would have tempted Adam with a plum.]
On Sunday, feeling a bit off and couchy, I caught up with a few Barefoot Contessa programs on Food Network that I had recorded earlier in the summer. This year's roster has been focusing on largely easy-to-make simple foods, most of which are featured in Ina Garten's recent cookbook, Back to Basics–Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients [Clarkson Potter: 2008]. Ina Garten is a woman who uses the word "fabulous" like most of us use "uh, huh" and it suits her as she not only is fabulous but has an uncanny knack for being down to earth. She also seems to be an unfussy, relaxed hostess and a lot of fun, not to mention cute and plump and like she might smell of vanilla and cinnamon (and I mean that in the nicest possible way, from one squishy cook to another).
An old Shaker preserve label from Pleasant Hill, Kentucky
On one episode she made "Plum Crunch"–I liked finding my cookbook, one of last year's Christmas presents, and following along [I have all of her cookbooks except for her Barefoot in Paris and Barefoot Contessa Parties!] Last night I made her recipe but with some modifications. For one, I had no butter and used margarine (only 1 stick–Garten's recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter in the topping)–horrors!–and cut the sugar by half in the topping–this was also for dietary reasons. I was also too lazy to chop up walnuts so threw in a bit more oatmeal. Garten makes her topping with a food processor but I find that too fussy (unless using very cold butter, then it is just easier) so I used my hands to make the crumble. I also had no creme de cassis liqueur, which Garten said enhances the plum flavor, so added just a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier instead. With the addition of the flour to the fruit, the mixture gets nice and thick and with a jam-like flavor. We did not miss the full amount of sugar, or butter, that had been called for in the recipe. Also, the plums were still a bit firm and not overly ripe but probably a day from being ripe–and still quite tart. That didn't matter as they cooked down nicely, were not watery, and their full plumminess shined forth.
I found this recipe to be reminiscent of a warm "plum crumble" I used to enjoy on occasion at the dining hall of Ifor Evans Hall in Camden Town when I attended the University of London for a year back in 1982-83. Slathered with pouring custard, even if likely prepared from Bird's Custard mix, it was bliss. [Now with our infusion of fresh eggs from our own hens, next time I make something like this, diet or not, I will make my own homemade version of pouring custard–I truly think it is ambrosia.] Instead, we topped our dishes of crumble with some low-fat Stonyfield French vanilla yogurt–not a bad substitute, really. I also think you could use just about any stone fruit, or even sliced apples, in place of the plums with great success.
Plum Crunch (revised from the Barefoot Contessa's recipe here)
- 3 pounds, more or less, plums (I used about 10 black plums)
- 1-1/2 cups light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/8 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup oatmeal (plus another hand full)
- 1 stick margarine (OK, you can use butter)
Make topping by mixing all ingredients in same bowl with your hands, until butter is size of peas. Scatter evenly over fruit mixture.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until nice and bubbly. You will want to cool it a bit before serving.