Sunday, July 29, 2007

stone fruit

Plums are a-plenty at market now. We get them in at the restaurant for plum tarts made with a baked pastry cream, a delicate finish to dinner. In 479 B.C. Confucius spoke reverently of plums in his writings and songs. In 65 B.C. Pompey the Great introduced plums into the orchards of Rome. We are, however, always on the look-out for native wild plums which are now considered an endangered and threatened species in Vermont. The wild plum also appears on the list for SlowFood's The Ark of Taste. It's known by many names: American plum, American wild plum, sandhill plum, Osage plum, river plum, sand cherry, thorn plum, wild yellow plum, red plum, August plum, goose plum, hog plum, sloe.

When the colonists first came to the east coast, the land was rich with wild plum, especially beach plum, which is still a prized treasure in places like Cape Cod. In late summer, foragers go out with pails into the sand dunes, going to old family spots, and favorite picking places to fill their buckets for jellies and preserves. In Vermont, one used to be able to find them on roadsides, riverbanks, woodlands, and at the edges of farmland. In the 19th century, wild plum produced succulent fruit every year. Now, in the 21st century, they produce every other year. Those hardy colonists used to serve the plums with wild game, but over time replaced them with European cultivated plums leaving what remained of the thickets of wild plums to the turkey, black bear, wolves, foxes, black-headed grosbeak, and ring-tailed cats.

We are lucky to have neighbors who have a prized and very old wild plum near their house, probably dating back at least a couple of hundred years. Last year we had a treasure trove of plums for tarts, for poaching, for eating fresh. Stewed plums with fresh whipped cream make a perfect summer dessert, and while we're hopeful to one day make this dish from fruit grown from solid rootstock in our own orchard, the European plum will always do.

Plums for Four
6 plums
water, or red, white, or rosato wine
fresh whipped cream
Split 6 plums and remove the pits. Melt 1 teaspoon butter and 1 tablespoon sugar in a skillet large enough to hold the plums, and then put in the plum halves, cut-face down. Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, then gently turn the plums. If the pan juices are drying out, ad a couple of tablespoons water, or wine--red, white, or rosato--and cook another 5 minutes, or until the plums are tender and moisture is still in the pan. Remove the plums to serving plates or bowls, and reduce the juices to a syrup and pour over the fruit. Chill at the point--if desired, or serve immediately. Dollop with fresh whipped cream.

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