by Julie Van Rosendaa
I’ve long argued that in Canadian kitchens, plums are the mostunderutilized of the conventional fruits – for cooking with, at least. The perfect balance of sweet and tart, irresistibly juicy, never woody or stringy, the plum is ideal for cakes, pies, cobblers and crisps, but also for jams and chutneys, for stewing to spoon over
ice cream or yogurt, or tossing in halves on the barbecue. Firm, almost crunchy plums are perfect chopped into salads. A plum is such an ideal example of what we should look for in a fruit, its name is used to describe other desirable things. And yet we rarely realize its potential in the kitchen.
Like other stone fruits, plums come in clingstone or freestone varieties, the former with tiny stones fused to the surrounding flesh, the latter easier to release in clean slices. They’re more diverse than their cousins – while you may have the option of only one kind of apricot and a few types of peach and cherry, plums come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours, differing both inside and out: there are deep purple black plums, with flesh and juice as dark as their exterior; tiny, bright green greengages; yellow-orange Mirabelles; droplet-shaped pinkred Japanese beauties; and oblong, dusty purple damson plums with contrasting yellowgreen interiors. And these are just the more common varieties – you may come across a plum you don’t recognize, but regardless of its outward appearance, if it’s ripe, you can bet it will be juicy and delicious.
Which plum you choose may at least partly be dictated by your intentions for it; if you’re concerned with slicing plums cleanly or want to set them cut-side-down on the grill, a not too-ripe freestone variety may be in order. But if you’re eating them out of hand, or simmering them into jam or other preserves, there’s the option of cleaning off the pit with your teeth, or gingerly extracting the stones from the pot when your cooking is done. (I like to count the individual pieces of
fruit before they go in, to ensure the right number of pits comes back out.) Although plums are perfectly suited to dense, buttery cakes and pastries – Eastern Europeans know this – their lush tartness also makes them ideal for roasting and serving with pork, chicken, turkey and even lamb, their astringency cutting the richness of the meat and their sweetness enhancing it. I sometimes halve or quarter plums and roast them alongside meat in its juices, as you might do with potatoes and carrots, and they can be simmered into sauces and chutneys, threaded onto kabobs or tossed onto the grill to cook alongside whatever else is for dinner. And while plums are in season and at their peak, it’s perfectly reasonable to slice a few into each course.
I can think of few better accompaniments to a cheese board – for some reason, plums make a perfect pairing to cheese of every texture and intensity. It’s simple to simmer a batch, and measurements are approximate; it’s a great way to use up plums that are starting to get wrinkled or squishy.
- olive or canola oil, for cooking
- 2 shallots, grated or finely chopped
- 1 lb. plums (any kind), roughly chopped or squished off their pits
- 2 t. grated ginger
- 3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 c. red wine or apple cider vinegar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 t. black mustard seed (optional)
- 1 t. cumin seed
- pinch red chile flakes
- freshly ground black pepper
In a medium pot, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and sauté the shallots for a few minutes, until soft and starting to turn golden. Add the plums – if they’re very ripe, you can crush them with your hands right over the pot, removing the pits with your fingers – and the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the chutney is thick, soft and jam-like. Cool and refrigerate for up to a month, or freeze for longer storage.
Makes about 2 cups.
Easy Plum Tarts
A sort of fruit-heavy evolution of the classic Danish, these tarts are quick to make using store-bought puff pastry and thinly sliced plums. They couldn’t be easier, and are perfect for dessert, served warm with a scoop of ice cream, or to nibble with coffee for breakfast or brunch. I like to use turbinado sugar for its sprinklability and coarse texture.
- 1/2-1 pkg. puff pastry, thawed
- 1/4 c. sugar
- 2-3 T. sliced almonds or flaked hazelnuts (optional)
- 1 egg, beaten (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out to 1/4-inch thick (or less) and cut into 3-4 inch squares. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle each with about half the sugar and the nuts (if you’re using them), then top with thinly sliced plums, fanning out about a half plum per pastry. Fold the edges over the fruit about half an inch and, if you like, brush with some beaten egg. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.
Makes 6 tarts.
Marian Burros’s Plum Torte
This torte – really just a simple butter cake – was so popular in the nineties, it ran in the New York Times every September from ’83 to ’89. In its final run, the recipe was printed with a dotted line frame “to encourage clipping.” This version is adapted slightly – the original has the eggs added along with the dry ingredients and calls for 24 plum halves, which I find is a bit too much for the pan to accommodate. I use about 5 large plums, cut into quarters, or 8 small ones, halved. Press them cut side down into the batter, and let them slump down into it as the cake bakes. This cake is delicious eaten out of hand with coffee, or warm with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
- 1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. salt
- 5-8 plums, pitted and cut into wedges (or halves, if they’re small)
turbinado or granulated sugar and lemon juice, for topping Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the eggs, and then the flour, baking powder and salt, beating on low or stirring just until combined. Spoon the batter into a buttered 9-inch cake pan or pie plate, smoothing the top, and arrange the plum slices skin side up in concentric circles (or whatever works). Press the fruit lightly into the batter. Sprinkle with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, if you like. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden; the fruit should be soft and juicy, the cake springy to the touch.
Kataifi Torte with Ricotta and Plums
Kataifi is finely shredded phyllo dough, available in most Middle Eastern groceries alongside the phyllo and often used for baklava. Here, it’s tossed in melted butter and pressed into a pie plate or cake pan, layered with honey-sweetened ricotta and topped with more kataifi, for a ridiculously delicious creamy-crunchy dessert that’s divine topped with sweet-tart stewed plums. The plums can be simmered in advance and kept in the fridge until you’re ready for them.
- 1 pkg (about 340 g) kataifi (shredded phyllo dough), thawed
- 1/2 c. butter, melted
- 1 c. ricotta
- 1/4 c. honey (or to taste)
- 2 T. cream
- 1 c. sugar
- 1/2 c. water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- a few green cardamom pods (optional)
- 1 t. vanilla
- 3 plums, pitted and chopped
- 1/4 c. sugar, or to taste
- crème fraîche or whipped cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, gently pull the kataifi apart with your fingers, and cut it with scissors so that it’s in roughly 2-inch pieces – just enough to make it easier to handle. Drizzle with the melted butter and toss to coat the phyllo well. Press a bit more than half of the mixture into a deep pie plate, baking dish or cake pan, and use your fingers or the bottom of a measuring cup to press it down into the bottom and up the sides. (It doesn’t have to be perfect.) Stir together the ricotta, honey and cream and spread it over the bottom. Top with the remaining kataifi, pressing loosely to make an even surface.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until deep golden. As the torte bakes, bring the sugar and water to a simmer, adding the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. Simmer for a minute, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan or skillet, cook the plums and sugar over medium-high heat until the mixture is soft and saucy. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods from the syrup and pour it evenly over the torte while it’s still hot. Once cooled at least slightly, invert it onto a plate and serve in wedges with the stewed plums and a dollop of crème fraîche or whipped cream, if you like.
Maple Pork Tenderloin with Plums
Plums are magic with roasted pork, chicken and turkey – browning the meat first makes it easy to make a sublime sauce by loosening up those tasty bits with juicy plums.
- 1/4 c. maple syrup
- 1 T. Dijon or grainy mustard
- 1 T. lemon juice
- 1 T. soy sauce
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1-2 pork tenderloins
- olive or canola oil, for cooking
- 2 T. butter
- 2-3 plums, pitted and cut into wedges
- 1/4-1/2 c. heavy (whipping) cream
In a small bowl or zip-lock bag big enough to hold your pork, combine the maple syrup, mustard, lemon juice and soy sauce. Pour over the pork (or place the pork in the bag), add the rosemary and let sit for half an hour, but preferably refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight. When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat a drizzle of oil in a large ovenproof skillet set over medium-high heat. Remove the pork from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and brown the tenderloins on all sides, turning as necessary. (You can also grill them on your barbecue, if that appeals to you.) Slide it into the oven for 15-20 minutes. It’s finished cooking when a meat thermometer registers 155°F/68°C . Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let it stand (cover with foil if you like) until you’re ready for it. Don’t wash out the skillet. Instead, add the butter to it and sauté the plums for 3-5 minutes, until they soften and caramelize on the edges. Add the reserved marinade to the pan and bring to a simmer, scraping up any flavourful browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the cream and cook until the mixture thickens slightly, and your spoon leaves a trail along the bottom. Slice the pork and serve it topped with the plums and sauce.