Tag Archives: plums

A plum welcome to summer


I HAVE WRITTEN BEFORE about the marvelous Santa Rosa plums of early summer, and my gratitude to Luther Burbank for developing them. But again I feel the need to praise these plums. If I were to have just one fruit tree, it might have to be a Santa Rosa plum, not only for their deliciousness at the start of summer, but also because they are so hard to find in the market.

I had enough, briefly, to eat plenty of plums au naturel and to make British cookbook writer Nigel Slater’s brilliant plum tabbouleh. (I did substitute a pinch of crushed red pepper for the small red chile he calls for). I even made some plum crumble with a topping of butter, brown sugar, flour and hazelnuts.


The plum tabbouleh drew me back to one of my favorite books, Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard, and to Nigel Slater’s lovely homage to plums.

“When I find the perfect plum, jelly-fleshed and incandescently ripe, its golden skin flashed with crimson freckles, I make a great fuss of it,” he writes. “I have even been known to get out a small plate and a napkin. I eat slowly, imagining time stopped. More usually, I come across such a fruit without warning, having little alternative but to eat it from the hand, spitting the pit into the long grass below.”

And why are these plums so hard to find? Although Slater is speaking of Britain and not of Santa Rosa plums, I think his sentiments could apply to the U.S. as well.

“It breaks my heart to think of the plum orchards we have lost in the last two decades,” he writes, “but what else can a farmer do when the crop is no longer profitable, consumers have more interest in peaches and nectarines, and the stores continue to sell imports even during our own brief season? I salute the British plum grower.”

Well, I salute all plum growers, and in particular my friends John and Cathy who gave me the pleasure of a few days full of plums from their Santa Rosa plum tree. What a happy welcome to summer!



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The fruit garden

greengageMy dream has always been to have a home with a garden full of fruit trees — a fruit garden, if you will (In German, obst means fruit and obstgarten, or fruit garden, means orchard). Ivan Doig,  at a reading last week, made a comment that resonated with me.  Doig writes a lot about Montana, where he grew up, but he lives in Seattle. “It’s not where you live that matters,” he said, “but where your imagination lives. Mine lives in Montana.”

My imagination lives in a fruit garden.


Scott McManus with greengage plum tree

But back to reality, it really helps to have friends with fruit trees — especially if those friends have a whole orchard full of fruit.

Scott and Maggie invited us to Cashmere to sample the greengage plums of fall. This was a trip that had been long postponed, as wildfires and thick smoke in the area last September had forced us to cancel our greengage trip.

These plums (not to be confused with the green Japanese plums) are very special and delicious — and rarely grown in the U.S. In France they are called Reine Claude.  The tree is finicky and the fruit must be absolutely ripe–to the point of softness– to be truly enjoyed, so they are difficult to market.


A ripe greengage plum is golden inside

The ripe plums have a golden-honey flavor balanced with enough tartness to keep them from being cloying.

In this excellent article, fruit aficionado David Karp explains all about greengages, and I learned that the type Scott was growing, Reine-Claude de Bavay, is a “half-sister” of the original greengage plum,  widely grown and respected in France.


Reine-Claude de Bavay plums

Of course they ripened nearly all at once, but we had the perfect solution. We had told Georgiana, the friendly clerk in our local pharmacy, that we were making a trip over the mountains for greengages and she nearly swooned.

“I love those,” she said. “We had a greengage  tree when we lived in the country, and when we moved to town I had to leave that tree. It was the saddest thing.”

We brought Georgiana a bag of ripe greengage plums when we returned, and she was ecstatic. “Those were just wonderful,” she said when we saw her a couple days later. “They brought back so many good memories.”

bowlwithfruitIt’s the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkos, a time to enjoy the wonderful fall fruits and vegetables. The last of the fall peaches are ripe — Scott and Maggie gave us some of those as well as pears and apples. We had a lovely bounty of fruit, even enough to share. And of course, the kitchen has been full of fruit flies. It’s all just part of the season.

Today, as I’m writing this, it is September 21, the feast of San Matteo. I know nothing about the feast or the saint, except for this excellent Italian saying (which I saw on this site on Italian language).

Per San Matteo, piangi
le ultime pesche che mangi

peachypieFor San Matteo’s feast, you weep
For the last peaches you will eat

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Plum lucky

Thanks to Mr. Luther Burbank for developing the marvelous Santa Rosa plum in the late 1800s — at his home in Santa Rosa, California.

Burbank developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants, including 113 varieties of plums and prunes.

It’s hard to find Santa Rosa plums in the market at perfect ripeness (or sometimes at all)  so count yourself plum lucky if you have a bowlful …. or more.

They don’t stay in that state of perfection very long, so if you have a lot, you could do what my friend Cathy does and make Alice Waters’ recipe for plum upside-down cake, and invite some friends over to eat it with you.

I was inspired once again by Nigel Slater, who makes a tabbouleh with plums (and another with peaches or nectarines) that is quite wonderful.

I’ve already made it a couple times. So here is the recipe, which I’ve tweaked a bit. Adding some lemon to the water when soaking the bulgur makes it more flavorful, but if you don’t have enough lemons, just use all water.

Plum tabbouleh

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 6 large juicy plums (or more, of course, if they’re small)
  • 6 green onions
  • a bunch of parsley (Slater says 8 bushy sprigs)
  • a bunch of mint (or 8 bushy sprigs)
  • a small red hot chile (I used a jalapeno pepper)
  • several lemons for lemon juice
  • olive oil
  1. Put the bulgur in a bowl and pour over 1 cup of boiling water and a scant half cup of lemon juice. Cover and let rest for half an hour or till the water is absorbed.
  2. Finely slice the green onions, and chop the mint and parsley
  3. Chop the chile finely (mince, really) — you may want to use only half of it at first and add more if to your taste– and add to the onions and herbs
  4. Halve, pit and coarsely chop the plums and add to the onion-herb-chile mixture. Pour in 1/3 cup lemon juice, a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a generous seasoning of salt and black pepper.
  5. Rough the bulgur up with a fork, making sure it’s absorbed all the liquid. Crumble it into the plum-onion-herb mixture, stir in another glug or two of olive oil (and/or more lemon juice if you like — of course, I like it lemony, but you should taste it to make sure it’s right). The mixture should not be wet, though. Add more salt if needed, then serve.

And if you have only one plum — just enjoy it!

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A delicious mouthful, in season


The name is quite a mouthful: Zwetchgenkuchen (pronounced ts-vetch-gen- koo-hen), the German for plum cake.

Really,  it’s not exactly a cake in the usual meaning of the term, but more like a bready tart, an open circle of yeast dough loaded with  juicy, sweet plums.

One reason it’s special is that you can make it properly only in the fall when the dusky blue Italian plums or prunes are ripe.

This kuchen speaks of autumn, of harvest – the culmination of the season’s riches embodied in the jewel-like ripe fruit slices, a layered rose mandala of overlapping concentric circles, baked to a deep wine-gold.

Oma's 1940 passport from Germany

Oma’s 1940 passport from Germany

My grandparents escaped Nazi Germany in 1940, and weren’t able to bring possessions….so the heirlooms are the wonderful recipes my grandmother brought.

Like Zwetchgenkuchen— a pastry so delicious that the secrets of making it have been passed from one generation to the next.

I’m just kidding about  “secrets” — it takes a little time and effort but is really quite simple, I assure you.

First, the prunes, or plums, whichever you prefer. You can buy these at a grocery store or fruit stand or farmer’s market in late fall, unless you’re lucky enough to know a tree in need of picking.

Steve and I walked around the neighborhood last week, and in one front yard I spotted a tree with dozens of Italian prunes fallen to the ground beneath it. The next day I came back to the house and asked the owner if I could pick some.

“Sure, sure, pick all you want!” she said. “We’ve used all we can and the neighbors have been picking them and they’re still falling off the tree.”

I sure was glad I asked rather than stealing the fruit. I picked the inside branches and filled up a big bag. The prunes were very sweet and still nice and firm. Yum.  But this is one fruit that may be even better when cooked….

Starting from the outer edge, place the cut plums around the circle of dough

Starting from the outer edge, place the cut plums around the circle of dough

There are fancier versions, with buttery rich crusts and streusel on top, and though these are wonderful, I still make my family’s version, plainer and less caloric, most often, and it serves just as well for breakfast or with afternoon coffee or tea as it does for dessert.

If you’ve made a challah dough already and kept some of it in the refrigerator, you can just pull out a chunk of dough and make the Zwetchgenkuchen as big or small as you like, depending on the number of plums you have and how fast you think you can eat it. It is best the day it’s made. Though it’s still tasty the next day (breakfast!), the crust tends to get pretty soggy from the juicy plums.

Zwetchgenkuchen, ready to eat

Zwetchgenkuchen, ready to eat

Here’s how to make it:


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Take a ball of challah or other rich yeast bread dough, about the size of a small grapefruit. Pat it into a disc, then roll into a circle about 10 to 12 inches wide. It helps if you roll a little, then let the dough rest a bit before rolling again.

Start with about 20 medium size Italian prunes (more if they are small). You probably won’t need more than this but it’s always a good idea to have a few extra.  Cut the plums lengthwise into quarters (some people use halves, but I think it bakes better with the smaller pieces) and put them in a bowl. Squeeze half a lemon over them, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, along with a grating of lemon zest, and mix these together.

Now layer the plums on the circle of dough. Start with the outer edge, and go around, overlapping the plums slightly. When you get to the middle, spoon any remaining sugar-mixture over the plums.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the plums are juicy and beginning to turn plum-colored. Let cool on a baking rack. Extra delicious when warm!

For this one, I put just a little streusel on top

For this one, I put just a little streusel on top and baked it on my pizza pan


Filed under baked goods, bread and pizza, breakfast, dessert, fall, fruit, musings