The desperation sets in every year, in the end of the summer when nectarines and plums are making their last appearances in markets. Their perfumes follow me around the produce section; once brought home, they sit in their fruit bowls, ripening further. I catch a whiff as I pass by, and a vase of late roses Pavel picked drop their petals onto the fruit, adding their scents. (Fruit flies start to gather as well, but that's just not as pretty a picture).
But even while I'm hoarding these last stone fruits (I've been known to hide a particularly perfect nectarine away in my bookshelf, waiting for it to reach perfection), I always make room for their neglected cousins: the blue prune plums. Thinking back on those trips to my grandparents ranch, I realize that even then I appreciated the prunes' yearly return. I liked--and still do--things coming back around; it's comforting.
If you end up with a bag of prune plums left on your porch by friends (as I was lucky enough to this year!), you could make jam. Or just cut them in half, remove the pits, and stick them in your freezer. Then you can make jam whenever you like.
I was lucky--besides receiving a prune delivery at home, I gathered some this year (as I have in the past) at a friend's weekend house near Mt. Adams.
View Prune Plums in a larger map
But if you aren't lucky enough to find those plums on sagging trees in a friend's yard, at the market, or even on trees in (hopefully) abandoned lots, perhaps you're lucky enough to live somewhere with an urban fruit group? Here in Portland we have the Portland Fruit Tree Project, which helps people share their harvest (which might otherwise go to waste) with people who need and can use the fruit. At the Urban Edibles website you can browse by location or category, and track down anything from apples to walnuts. One probably should click on their 'ethics' link; the organization does assume people will be responsible about gathering fruit in town.
However they arrive, when the first prune plums show up, I always do the same thing. Bake a prune kuchen. We have it a couple of times each year, and I hope its yearly appearance gives my kids the kind of comfort and reassurance that wandering my grandparents' orchards gave me.
The recipe I use comes from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book. It's the kind of cake you can throw together on a weekday on a whim. The butter is melted (no need to plan ahead and pull a cube from the freezer), and the dry ingredients are tossed together, then combined in the butter pan. Halved prunes are laid on the top and covered with a generous spoonful (okay, 2 or 3 soup spoonfuls) of cinnamon sugar . It's a quick and satisfying cake. Bonus:any leftover cake will make a nice breakfast with a cup of tea or coffee!
Fresh Prune Kuchen
from Marion Cunningham's The Fannie Farmer Baking Book
12-15 fresh prunes
3/4 cup sugar, divided (1/2 cup and 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup milk
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400˚. Grease and flour an 8-inch square cake pan. Mix the 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon, and set aside. Cut the prunes in half, and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from heat. I often slightly warm the milk at this point, so the butter doesn't seize when combining--just to body temperature. Then mix the egg with the milk, and add to the melted butter.
In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and the 1/2 cup sugar. Add to the butter/milk/egg mixture and beat until the batter is smooth. Pour into prepared pan.
Arrange the cut prunes, skin side down, on the batter. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mix over the prunes--it will seem like a lot, but go with it!
Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted between the prune halves and into the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven, and cool on a rack. This cake is best served warm--possibly with ice cream or whipped cream.