Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back for Seconds: Prune Plums Take 2

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 like to put some frozen prunes in a baking dish when I get up in the morning, drizzle them with a little honey, and bake them for about 20 minutes at 375˚.  Cooking transforms them, their yellow centers deepening along with their flavor.  The finished dish, with the rosy colored syrupy juices, purple-black skins, and golden flesh offers a cheery start to a fall or winter morning.  And they taste wonderful, with or without yogurt.

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 egg
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. 


Janis said...

If you have lost of plums left try this recipe:

I have made it for years and it is one of my favorite!

Thérèse said...

Love the Back for Seconds format--must find some prune plums before they're gone.

Giovanna said...

Janis--sounds good. Now if I can only keep 1/2 cup almond paste hidden from my husband long enough to use it in baking!

And glad you like it, Therese. Oh--and one of these days I'll figure out how to put the accents in the comment box. Sigh.

Able Mabel said...

This is just delicious! I made it tonight for the first time with the new crop of Italian prune plums, and it won raves from my husband, who had two pieces. The combination of the tart fruit with the sweet, slightly crunchy topping is really special, and the tender cake is so easy to make. I made it as written, and although it doesn't need tweaking, next time I might experiment with five-spice powder in place of the cinnamon. I love five-spice with red fruit. I also just got some mahlab from Penzey's, and I might try adding some ground to a powder to the batter. But really, it's just terrfic as it is!

Giovanna said...

The mahlab sounds really interesting--I've never tried it. I have made this with star anise powder (also from Penzey's) mixed with the sugar--a hit as well.

I was at the Wednesday Portland Farmer's Market today and saw piles of dusky prune plums--looks as if it's getting to be that time of the year. Prune plums are one of the main things (Gravenstein apples are another) that help me get ready to leave summer behind. Saying good bye to rosé and gin and tonics is a little trickier!

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