I’m running out of adjectives. This must happen a lot to people who are trying to describe food on a regular basis. Yes, the plum is juicy, but it’s not juicy like an apricot. It has a wincing tartness and it’s wetter. It’s sweet, but it has a different sweetness to, say, a cherry. It was a surprise to eat a perfectly ripe plum, because on some level I wasn’t expecting it to be so luscious. I have no memory of plums growing up and have always believed them to be rather serious. Perhaps it’s the fact that in England they are an autumn fruit. Evenings are drawing in, there’s a chill in the air. Sundays become Mondays, there are hot water bottles, feet trudge. It’s also the winy red of the skin and a tannic roughness on the tongue. It’s a dark fruit. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
Here in Southern California, plum season starts as early as May and goes through to September. And then there are pluots, a horrible name reminiscent of toilets. It’s a hybrid of plum and apricot, the result of generations of intricate and painstaking crossbreeding. It sounds off-putting, I know, but the fruit is crossbred naturally – not genetically modified – through hand pollination. Think of bees in nature, except here each hybrid takes, not minutes to develop, but years.
The picture above is of the Flavorosa pluot; the white dust is its natural bloom, its skin is less fibrous than a plum, with a soft, plush almost transparently crimson interior. It is sweet but pleasurably so, with some sharpness bringing up the rear. The juice, when you pierce the skin, spills out. Think of it as a summer plum, born under blue skies.
I put it to use sautéed, as a pairing for a cold, dark chocolate pudding, and layered in a chocolate and amaretti tart. I brought them both to the herb garden, where I volunteer, for the other gardeners to test. The chocolate pudding was devoured in silence, standing up by the tool shed. The tart was eaten after lunch. As it almost melts on the spoon you must feed yourself fragments. I didn’t want to applaud my own efforts, but I thought it was pretty phenomenal. Sandy, deeply fruity and blanketed in a heft of complex chocolate, just shy of crust. It’s a mess to look at, so you may want to work on the aesthetics.
“Rich,” said Tony. He wiped the ramekin clean with a paper towel, and placed it back on the table.
“Marzipan?” said Tristan.
“No.” The conversation continued in this way for a while, one word here and there, nothing too formed. It’s helpful to know sometimes that’s what food does. I’ll feature this recipe when I’ve managed to make it look less like a cowpat.
The plum and chocolate pudding is nice cold but not too frosty; you want to be able to taste the marriage of flavours which will start to come through as it warms up. The almond extract – which I was considering forgoing – is really lovely and works well with the plums. I tried Penzeys cocoa powder, because some cocoa can be underwhelming. The key is the colour: look for a reddish-brown, like an old brick. It should also smell bewitching, simply in its dry state.
Sautéed plums with dark chocolate pudding and crushed amaretti
Adapted from Deborah Madison, Seasonal Fruit Desserts
If you want to make this gluten-free simply omit the amaretti biscuits. Try toasted almonds instead.
For the sautéed plums:
4-6 plums or pluots
2 tbs (28g) unsalted butter
¼ cup (50g) organic sugar or maple sugar
2-3 cardamom pods
1 tsp (splash) orange-blossom water (optional)
For the dark chocolate pudding:
2 cups (500ml) milk
Zest of 2 oranges (less, if you’re less partial)
2oz (60g) dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa)
½ cup (50g) unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup (100g) organic sugar
Pinch of salt
Scant ¼ cup (25g) cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup (50ml) of water
¼ tsp (or a small splash) almond extract
1 amaretti biscuit per pudding
For the plums
Rinse the plums, dry, then slice them into wedges. Heat a frying pan/skillet with the butter over a medium heat until it melts. Then add the plums, sugar, and cardamom pods. Raise the heat and cook, jerking the fruit around every now and then so the cut surfaces start to catch and caramelize. After about 10 minutes, the plums will start to give up their juices and cave into one another. Add the splash of orange-blossom water – if you want – and be prepared for a sticky mess.
For the pudding
Warm half the milk with the chocolate and orange zest over a low heat. Meanwhile combine the cocoa, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Stir in enough water to make a smooth paste. Whisk this paste into the warming milk. Mix the remaining cup of cold milk into the cornstarch. I find it works best by slowly introducing the milk to the dry powder, which then becomes slacker the more liquid you add. The other way round results in a lumpy glue. Now add this cornstarch mixture to the pan.
Raise the heat slightly and stir as the mixture thickens. Then lower the heat and keep stirring until it appears custard-like, but still with some movement. You don’t want the spoon to stand up of its own accord. Remove the pan from the stove and add the almond extract and give it a stir. Pour the pudding into little ramekins and place plastic wrap directly on the surface if you don’t want a skin to form. Served chilled with a spoonful of plums and a smashed-up amaretti biscuit on each.
Plums for Breakfast
I like to think of these as ‘sleeping plums.’ They are overnighters, having been tucked into the pan and lapped by their own considerable juices. By morning, they are deflated, dilapidated even, but the juice is spicily intense, having been concentrated by the wait. Nothing quite prepares you for the depth and zing of that first slurp. I quote Nigel Slater, from his book Ripe, in his entirety here. Feel free to add your own spices – such as a cinnamon stick or some cardamom pods. I would also add that it took a fair bit longer for my plums to collapse – you could go to 30 minutes, easily, on a very low heat. That’s when you clap the lid on, turn off the heat and leave them til morning. And remember there are stones to navigate before you dole this out. I used pluots instead of plums.
“A pot with a sturdy bottom, a pound of plums (500g), ½ cup (100g) of sugar, a vanilla pod split down its length, its seeds exposed, and just enough water to leave a wet film on the bottom of the pan. Place over a gentle heat, let the sugar melt and the plums burst, their juices mingling with the sugar. Keep the heat low and your eyes on the job. After ten minutes, maybe fifteen, the plums will have collapsed, their juices taken up some of the warm, vanilla notes and you will have a dish of plums to cool, then thoroughly chill, and eat for breakfast.”