Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Plum Torte

It seems like yesterday that I gave my last excuse for not writing. But it was 13 days ago. And now I’m back doing it again. Making excuses. The good news is that I have new excuses. I have, in fact, a whole new slew of them. It's been a whirlwind up here. Feasting. Chatting. Contemplating. Fishing (let’s not talk about how I didn’t actually catch any, and focus instead on being outdoors and on the river and in the company of those who have that magical combination of wit and fishing prowess). An impromptu remodeling of my kitchen. Breaking my camera. Buying a new one. Fixing the old one (i.e. replacing the batteries....sigh.) Thunder and lightening storms. Hot, sunny, bugless days that never get dark. Baking, and roasting, and even some braising.

See? A slew of excuses. They really are some fine excuses, if I do say so myself. Some people have the skill and talent to tell their lives in stories. Some can do it in photographs. It appears that my best chance is with excuses. In any event, I am tardy with the recipe for a 9 hour braised slab of bacon because I have been living well. Very well. And I have the excuses to prove it.

The best excuse is this: we have been very excited to share our tundra island with J’s mom for the past 10 days.

All the way from Iowa! What a fun visit it was. Full of adventure on the Kuskokwim River and the Kwethluk River (we saw owls! a cow moose and her calf! a grizzly!). We bundled her up in approximately 28 layers of warmth, and motored out to try rod & reeling for salmon at the Y and at Magic Creek (fishing spots up the Kwethluk River towards Three Step Mountain, for those that might want to Google Earth it and show me where I was).

She watched her son in a full trial – from voir dire to not-guilty. He would come home for dinner, but then return to the office for late nights. We stayed up talking about family, generations, poetry, beauty, duty and hope. I cooked. In the morning, I found the kitchen all cute and tidied, and all the dishes dried and put away. That, my friends, is most definitely a slice of bliss. Oh, it is lovely to cook for the family I am marrying into! I baked a pork pot pie in a castiron skillet, packed paper bag lunches with meatloaf sandwiches, whipped up some homemade trail mix (re-named, as a result of that fantastic fishing trip, “Captain Marvin’s River Mix”), served J’s favorite banana chocolate chip cookies, piled Greenflighted blueberries (the wild ones not yet ready) and peaches into a pie, plopped plums into a torte, presented Orangette’s beautifully simple yogurt cake to wide exclaim, recreated the bliss of our engagement with another batch of roasted banana ice cream, baked with lemon and dill a fillet of sockeye just netted by Steve and Jesse during an after-work jaunt on Jesse's boat (La Bomba), and roasted a pork shoulder a’la Mark Bittman…….Family, justice, food, conversation, dishless cooking - her visit turned into a vacation of good living for us!

I’ll put all the stories and all the meals into the hopper, and maybe I’ll manage to catch one or two of them for posting here. But, here and now, for purposes of enticing our dear friends not to give up on my ability to update this chronicle of the lives and the kitchen table that we share, I’ll simply segue into this…….

A Plum Torte.

I am so excited to share this recipe. I've coveted it for awhile now....maybe over a year. I originally came upon it in the winter, when plums were not to be found. I saved it into my "conglomeration of findings" on the desktop, and waited until plums were a bit more accessible. And then the lovely day arrived when I found them in my weekly Greenflight box of fruits and veggies, freshly arrived from Full Circle Farms.

The recipe is simple, but I did waiver a few times in the conviction to follow it. I'm glad that I did. What emerged from my stove was delicious. Warm, sugared plums coddled in little spurts of pillowy, subtle cake. Simple, hearty, effortless deliciousness. Summer deliciousness. There is a hint of cinnamon. But it is just enough to evoke the sense of dessert and not nearly enough to define the cake or overpower its simplicity. As an added benefit, for me, I can confess to also doing a little cartwheel of glee over an intuition that I could be friends with the authors of this perfect simple little recipe should we ever happen to bump into each other. You know what I mean. The global small town of simplicity......

With Greg Brown singing in the background and our conversation in that fun banter of two women sitting late night at a kitchen table, J's mother and I finished off half of it between us, split off a quarter of it for J. and took the remaining quarter to the next door neighbors. This was the perfect cake to eat late at night with my future mother-in-law whilst her son prepared for trial the next morning. I hope it made good nutritional bolster for Steve, who is studying for the bar, and Jesse, who is his roommate while he does.

I see a long and bright future with this recipe. It is going to be a standard. I just know it. If my weekly Greenflight of produce pops up again with plums, I'll be making this torte (with this one exception: I have committed myself to making this clafouti the next time I’m gifted with such bounty). If it doesn't, I'm eyeing the A.C. apricots. Apples. Pears. There is so much potential here (though the plums really are perfect and it's hard to imagine exceeding that). I simply love its sweet simplicity! This is certainly the cake I’d whip up for one of those quiet, humble nostalgia dinners when you just want a little something-something and a mug of hot chocolate. It’s also the kind of cake I’d make to celebrate the visit of an old friend visiting me amidst all these new excitements. I can already see us now with a slice of cake, jam jars of [boxed] wine, a tea kettle warming up and years’ worth of catch-up condensed into a few seconds of enriching banter.

But it’s not just a cake for chatting with the mother of the man you love, or for nostalgic dinners and old friends. It’s the kind of simplicity that soars too – I’d have no qualms baking it up for an honored guest coming over for dinner (or, in the case of my fiance’s mother, coming over to spoil our dogs). If Greg Brown were to come over for dinner (not that I know him or anything, just that I love his art – especially that perfect song "Eugene" - and would simply cartwheel myself into a surfeit of glee should I ever be gifted the opportunity to entertain him in our hovel on stilts), I could see myself serving it together with some homemade cloudberry cordial poured into the wood goblets I bartered my fleece for in Zimbabwe…..

All of this is just to say, should Greg Brown, or Marian Burros or Lois Levine (who are the authors of this recipe), or Lynne Rossetto Kasper (who hosts the Splendid Table site where I found this recipe) or Antonella (she knows who she is), ever find themselves up here in this vast corner of the Great White North, this is most certainly the plum torte I’d bake as a celebratory greeting.

(Please do consider that to be an invite. I just know that we’d get along fabulously.)

Original Plum Torte
This recipe was originally published in The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook, by Marian Burros and Lois Levine. I cut-n-paste it, however, from The Splendid Table and re-copy it here - verbatim (accompanying story and all) and with absolutely no quixotic change or kitchen adjustment.

8 Servings

Because of reader demand, this recipe has been published in one form or another in the New York Times almost every year since I went to work there in 1981. Lois brought this recipe, originally called Fruit Torte, to Elegant but Easy, and its appeal comes from its lovely old-fashioned flavor and its speed of preparation.

When I had been married just a couple of years, I had worked out an assembly-line process for making many tortes and putting them in the freezer. A friend who loved the tortes said that in exchange for two she would let me store as many as I wanted in her freezer. A week later she went on vacation for two weeks and her mother stayed with her children. When she returned, my friend called and asked:

"How many of those tortes did you leave in my freezer?"
"Twenty-four, but two of those were for you."
There was a long pause. "Well, I guess my mother either ate twelve of them or gave them away." Her mother must have liked them as much as I do. And the children. And possibly the neighbors.

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
Pinch salt
24 halves pitted Italian (prune or purple) plums
1 teaspoon cinnamon or more, to taste

1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream the butter and the 3/4 cup of sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt and beat to mix well. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Cover the top with the plums, skin sides down. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle over the top.

3. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired.

4. To serve, let the torte return to room temperature and reheat at 300 degrees until warm, if desired. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.

No comments: