I grew up on a farm – and as any farm kid knows, autumn is the time of year when all of nature’s activity is rushing to a climax – it’s not hard to see that most of the hard work of the farm has been saved up to all be done at the end – seems like all of it! As a farm kid, I smile when I see warm, fuzzy references in the media to America’s Harvest Season. Well, that’s not exactly the feeling that pervades during a farm Thanksgiving “celebration” – I can tell you from first hand experience that the celebration sense is not so much in the joy and thanks of the harvest bounty, but is solidly centered around the joy of finally being done with all the crush of work that comes with harvest time.
I’ve never really outgrown that – here in the northwest, there is much the same sense of the seasonal flow. As a gardener, a majority of the garden’s production must be harvested -and processed/preserved- if one is to reap what has been sewn. But my friends, this simple requirement coincides with a myriad of other “requirements” scheduled by nature – it is also my beloved mushroom season – it is the prime crabbing time – it is the time of year when the salmon return to their fresh water birthplace to spawn – and it is the exact time when it seems all my fruit trees are begging to be picked.
It never seems that I’ve planned well for this onslaught of all this needed activity – sure, I’ve got a vague mental picture of what needs doing, but it always seems to require last minute adjustment. You know how that goes – you planned on digging all those potatoes today, but it rained. You wanted to process green beans today, but you discovered that you hadn’t checked your supply of canning jars, and you’ll have to hold off on that until you get more. You wanted to squeeze in a crabbing trip, but the tides are all wrong this week. And you finally sense that the apples and plums are ripe and just about ready to be picked, but when you go out to the trees, you see that the squirrels and raccoons have stolen all your ripe fruit. And the ultimate result of all these required adjustments is that a great deal of the things which had to be done in a timely manner, simply weren’t! Tis the season.
But I’ve painted the dark side of the above scenario for you, and there is another perspective – as humans, we learn to be resourceful, even as we are required to make adjustment after adjustment. And in regard to my battle with the squirrels and raccoons, I’ve learned to appreciate the slightly underipe plum, and I want to share that appreciation with you today.
I have two Prune Plums in my back yard – these are not the more rounded and softly sweet Japanese plum of California, but the smaller and more oblong shaped fruits that are most often dried to make prunes – a European plum. I have two varieties, one is identified simply as an Italian Prune Plum, and the second is a Brooks – the Brooks is a larger fruit and makes magnificent prunes. But to make good prunes, one must allow the plums to fully ripen, and that’s a problem for me.
After several years of watching my plums ripening and going through their beautiful color changes, only to have them disappear off the tree mysteriously just as I was about to pick them, I decided I needed a way to beat the squirrels and raccoons at their game. And for the last few years, I have been relatively successful with two simple strategies – I pick some plums early and simply let them continue their ripening on my kitchen counter (supposedly almost as good as letting the fruit ripen on the tree – but how do you know for sure?). But the second way is actually my favorite, and damned delicious as well – Roasted Plums.
A Roasted Plum is not unlike a baked apple, but they are also quite different as well. Baked apples are always baked when the apple is fully ripe – an unripened apple has an astringent quality which is unattractive – but an unripened plum simply has a sour overtone, which the baking process and the sugar/spices used tend to meld into a wonderful “sweet and sour” quality which is simply delicious – especially with a little cream or topping of your choice. An unripe plum also has nice solid flesh, which stands up well to the heat of the oven.
When I do my Roasted Plums, I usually include some Baked Gravenstein Apples, since they are just coming ripe in my yard as well. Gravensteins make good baked apples because they soften easily, and so by the time the plums are nicely roasted, the Gravensteins are also done – other apples may need a little extra time to be nice and soft.
The recipe for Roasted Plums is so simple it almost doesn’t deserve a formal presentation, but out of respect for a noble fruit, I’ll go ahead and present it formally.
Roasted Prune Plums
10-15 Prune Plums, not fully ripe
1/4 cup of soft butter
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of ground cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cumin
Preheat oven to 350F.
Cut each plum in half down its cleft and up the other side.
Separate the halves and remove the pit (it should come away easily).
In a small bowl, mix the soft butter together with the brown sugar and spices – you want a paste not a liquid.
Put a small amount -a scant tsp- of the butter mixture into the middle of each plum half.
Place the stuffed plums on a baking pan with a rack, and place pan in upper 1/3rd of preheated oven.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the plums are nice and bubbly.
Remove and cool before serving.
These Roasted Plums are not only dessert fare, but lend themselves well as a side dish to any roasted meats also. Feel free to adjust the spices at will – I’ve used just cinnamon and cardamom alone, and it was great. I also suspect that using pears here would be quite nice as well. Enjoy.
(Photo Credits: Top, www-keepapitchinin-org)