Friday, August 14, 2015


In my neighborhood sits a beautiful old vineyard over gently rolling hills that I pass regularly on my drive home. It is well maintained, the vines are lush green in spring and summer, filled with autumn colors as cool weather approaches and hibernating peacefully during the winter months ready to bring forth new green shoots as we pass spring equinox.

A smart owner many decades ago planted many scores of plum trees surrounding the vineyard. The beautiful white flowers covering the trees in March attract my eyes as I drive by, and five months later the trees are covered with deep-purple plums. The fruits are small, size of figs, each tree bearing hundreds of them though the crop varies greatly from year to year.

Every year a crew of Hispanics (seems like a family group) bring a pickup truck and ladders, and pluck the plums, collecting into large baskets and pails to sell at the farmers’ markets, presuming they are paying the vineyard for the right to do so. The pickup truck is soon filled with overflowing baskets, tubs and pails.

Luckily for us plum lovers, the trees were planted so close to the boundary fence that many branches hang over outside the vineyard. I pick these as soon as they ripen and seems like I don’t have many gleaners as competitors. These small deep purple plums are, I believe, prune plums, the type prunes are made from. They have wonderful taste—perfect balance of sweet and tart, great for eating or use in baking.

I don’t need to wait until full ripeness—plums, like bananas and pears, are in a group of fruits called climacteric fruits; once the reach maturity, they will fully ripen off the tree.

Today it was plum cake on the menu—it tastes great and not even hard to make. I assembled the ingredients at night and put the cake together ready to bake early next morning while I could still cool the kitchen before the hot day begins. By 6 AM the cake was cooling outside.

The only time-consuming part in baking a plum cake is pitting the plums. I first drop them in boiling water for two minutes, scoop them out, let them cool for ten minutes so they are not too hot to handle. These blanched plums are very easy to pit. If the plums are ripe, the pits just slip out.

Here is my plum cake recipe.

Plum Cake
Preparation time: 30 minutes                                               Baking time: 45 minutes


4 oz (½ c) butter at room temperature
½ c sugar
2 eggs
1 c all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ lb prune plums, pitted (blanch plums in boiling water for two minutes for easy pitting)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar in an electric mixer (or by hand) until fluffy, about five minutes. Slowly add beaten eggs. Sift flour, salt and baking powder and gradually add to butter mixture.

Spread batter in a greased 8-inch springform pan. Spread plums over batter, place a baking sheet under springform to catch possible drips. Bake for 45 minutes and let cool before loosening side of springform pan.

This is a good cake by itself, it's even better served with a scoop of ice cream or a sauce. I serve it with a pastry cream that's neutral in flavor but adds richness and moisture to the cake.

Serves 8.

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