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Friday, November 9, 2007

Domesticity: Plums

Let's talk about plums. Plum kuchen, for example. Or plum pudding, which has no plums at all. Or Little Jack Horner, sticking his hand into the pie and coming out with a plum on his thumb, the symbol of the corrupt politician.


My husband gets the ters "plum" and "prune" mixed up. We keep a jar of brandied prunes on the pantry shelf. When we're searching for a dessert course for an upcoming dinner party, he might say, "Can you use the brandied plums?" My answer depends on my mood. The gentle, patient wife once again quietly reminds husband of his deficiency by saying, "Prunes, dear, not plums. And yes, what a good idea to use them."


The impatient wife, however, masks her anger over this recurring lapse by asking, disingenuously, "What brandied plums, dear? Whatever could you mean? We have no brandied plums." I think the term is passive-aggressive.


Plum slice is what the German bakeries in our neighborhood make with plums. Myself, I make plum slice only in the fall, when those pretty little purple Italian prune-plums (ah-ha! No wonder my husband is confused!) are the featured fruit at our open-air greengrocer stands. Like the Concord grapes, the Italian prune-plums are always surrounded by the wasps of September.


Buy your prune-plums. Make a slightly sweet, slightly eggy, slightly buttery yeast dough, similar to the dough of a Sally Lunn cake. After it has risen once, spread it out flat onto a large buttered cookie sheet with a one-inch rim. While it's rising for the second time, deal with the plums.


With a sharp knife, cut a cross into one end of the plum and remove the stone. In bakeries, they clamp a hand-operated machine onto a counter and run the plums through. The machine, like magic, makes a cross-cut in one end of each plum and removes the stone. What's left is a partially opened plum, like an early tulip. Lacking a machine, you get to do this by hand. Then arrange the plums cut-side-up on your dough. Do not add sugar or butter. Bake.


After baking, sprinkle the plum slice with sugar and let it cool slightly. Then eat it all.


If you eat it all, you will be enacting one of the ways to commit gluttony, of which Thomas Aquinas says there are five: eating too much (that would be you eating the entire the plum slice). Eating too soon (it's 10:30 a.m.; does that count as lunch-time?). Eating too eagerly (slow down; chew each bite 27 times). Eating too expensively (but the plum slice is cheap to make). And eating too fastidiously (oh, I'm allergic to wheat! Is there any dairy in this plum slice? Are these plums organically grown? Did you add any sugar to this?)


Where was I? Plum slice. We once borrowed our baker friend's clamp-on plum-pitter to process a half-bushel of plums for the freezer. With my first attempt to use it, I cracked off a two-inch piece of the formica topping from our counter. It was years before we finally re-did the kitchen and replaced the whole counter. But while the blemish lasted, it was a constant reminder of plum slice (eating too eagerly? Thinking about eating instead of paying attention to what I was doing?).


All my good plum memories are of these purple Italian prune-plums. Other plums are 1) too messy to eat; 2) so tart they hurt my sensitive teeth; 3) inconsistently tart and sweet so I never know what to buy. I'll just plumb the depths of the plums I know.


 Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

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