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Plum assignment

By Laurena Mayne Davis

Harvesting Italian plums on the last fruit-laden tree in our backyard orchard last weekend was bittersweet. Fruit season for both birds and Davises starts with mulberries in June, then apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines and finally plums. There will be less orchard and canning work now, but no more picking breakfast off the trees in the mornings. Guess I better buy some cereal.

Harvest is a good time to reflect on what went right and what to change for the next season. Plucking blue-frosted fruit in the fall morning light, I assessed what worked: The rabbit manure greened things up nicely. The amount of water was right. We hire a licensed sprayer; I never have to worry about insects.

But there are things I'll do differently. The tree is gangly; I need to revise my pruning approach. I also had thinned, but not enough. I need to get more ruthless with my thinning.

My basketful of plums in the course of a day became Plum and Vanilla Jam and two plum cakes. My kids made plum smoothies, and I had plenty to share with my mother-in-law and a friend for their own jam. We still had a bowlful left over for snacking.

Italian plums are purple with light-green flesh. They have less moisture than red plums and are easily dried for prunes. The Plum and Vanilla Jam is from a recipe by Susan Herrmann Loomis in "French Farmhouse Cookbook." It's worth popping $6 a vanilla bean to inhale that unadulterated, flowery vanilla scent as the jam simmers.

There are a lot of delicious, low-sugar jam recipes. This old-fashioned jam is not one of them.

Plum and Vanilla Jam
5 pounds Italian plums, pitted and chopped
7 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean

Mix fruit and sugar in a nonreactive pot and cover. Let set 12 hours.
Add vanilla bean and boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to low boil and skim off foam.
Cook until thickened, about 18 minutes.

(I water-bathed the jars for 5 minutes.)

This cake's equally delicious. It's adapted from a recipe by Marian Burros, food writer for The New York Times.

Plum Cake
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the above and add two eggs. Blend, then spread in the bottom of a greased 9-inch springform pan.
Pit and quarter 15 Italian plums. Toss them with sugar, cinnamon, and the zest and juice of a lemon. Place the plums, cut side up, on top of the batter. Drizzle any juice over. Bake an hour. Serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche.



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