Welcome to my blog all about the things I love to grow and cook. You'll find a collection of seasonal gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly recipe posts, as well as a round up of my gardening throughout the year. I wish you good reading, happy cooking and perfect planting!
I hadn’t intended to write another post about plums this week, but after making several pots of jam with the largest, juiciest plums, I was down to my last kilo of the smallest fruit. Flicking through an old book on preserves, I happened upon a recipe for making damson “cheese”, and I decided to have a go. It turned out to be very similar to Spanish quince paste, so I’m calling it membrillo. And very delicious it is too 🙂
It takes a bit of time to make plum membrillo because you need to keep stirring the fruit mixture to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan, and it can’t be rushed otherwise you will end up burning the mixture. Other than this, there are just 3 ingredients and a little water. I like the herbal aroma of bay with stoned fruit, but cinnamon would work well, or you could omit the extra flavour altogether for maximum fruitiness.
The flavour is intense and fruity. It is very rich so serve in slices as a sweet treat or as an accompaniment to cheese and cold meats as you would quince paste. It needs to be stored in the fridge, but will keep for a month in a sealed container, or it can be sliced, wrapped and frozen. It would make a nice gift for a foodie friend – wrap in waxed paper for keeping at it’s best.
I also cut a couple of slices into small cubes and rolled in granulated sugar to make melt-in-the-mouth home-made fruit pastilles.
Makes: 8 slices
1kg small plums (damsons or apricots would also work)
4 fresh bay leaves or 2 dried
Approx. 500g granulated sugar
Line a 500g loaf tin with baking parchment. Wash the plums and place in a large saucepan (there is no need to stone them). Pour over 200ml water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until very soft. Cool for 10 minutes, then rub though a nylon sieve to extract as much pulp as possible – I ended up with about 1l of pulp.
Pour the pulp back into the saucepan, add the bay leaves, and bring to the boil. Simmer gently, stirring to prevent sticking, for about 15 minutes, until reduced by half. I find a spatula is good for stirring preserves because it enables you to scrape the pan more thoroughly. Cool for 10 minutes, then discard the bay leaves.
Measure the pulp and pour back into saucepan. Add the equivalent amount of pulp in sugar – I had 500ml reduced pulp and added 500g sugar. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved completely.
Turn up the heat and cook the mixture until it becomes very thick – about 30 minutes – until the spatula leaves a clear line across the bottom of the pan. If you prefer, it needs to reach 105°C on a sugar thermometer. You need to keep stirring the mixture which will be very hot, so do take care. I find it easier to wear a long rubber glove when stirring, because the mixture can spit.
Scrape the thick, pulpy mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the top and leave too cool completely. It will set firm as it cools. Chill until required.
When ready to serve, remove the lining parchment, and slice the membrillo with a sharp knife – a warmed blade should make for easier slicing. Wrap and store in the fridge for up to a month, or freeze for later use.
The garden’s taken a bit of a battering this week. It’s been very windy since the weekend and yesterday the remnants of the recent US Hurricane blew through. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been too much damage, but any plums that I left on the tree are no longer.
I had been picking the Victoria plums since the beginning of last week, and thankfully harvested the majority of what was left at the weekend. I’ve been busy making jam, and freezing a few in bags for later use. The tree is only small, but it has done very well this year in spite of the dry summer, although some of the plums are smaller than usual.
Stoned fruit like plums, apricots and peaches go very well with the flavour of almond. If you crack the stones open, the inner part of the kernel has a strong almond aroma – I always add the kernels, in a muslin bag, to jam as it cooks, to give it more flavour. I realise marzipan isn’t to everyone’s taste, but is one of my favourite ingredients and in my mind, is perfect for eating with plums. This week’s recipe will work fine without it, the cake will be lighter in texture and will cook slightly quicker.
You can make this cake with most fruit, just be aware that if a fruit is very juicy, the bottom of the cake will be quite sticky and may not completely cook through. The cake also makes a great pudding served warm with custard. I use spelt flour, the white variety, for this cake, but use gluten-free plain if you’re intolerant to wheat, and ordinary plain white flour if you don’t have spelt.
300g golden caster sugar
175g dairy-free margarine
175g non-dairy yogurt (coconut or soya work well)
175ml unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used soya)
190g white spelt flour (or gluten-free plain flour)
12g gluten-free baking powder
175g ground almonds
175g marzipan, cut into small pieces
20g flaked almonds, toasted
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Grease and line a deep, 23cm round cake tin. Sprinkle the base of the tin with 2 tbsp. sugar and put to one side.
Halve the plums and remove the stones, then arrange in the bottom of the tin to cover it completely. If you have any plums left over, chop them and sprinkle them over the layer of plums.
Put the margarine in a bowl with the remaining sugar and whisk together for 3-4 minutes until creamy and light in texture and colour. Gently whisk in the yogurt and dairy-free milk with half the flour until well blended. Sieve the remaining flour and baking powder on top; add the ground almonds and marzipan, and mix everything together until thoroughly blended.
Spoon the cake mixture on top of the plums and smooth over the top. Put the tin on a baking tray and bake for about 1 ½ hours until richly golden and firm to the touch. Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes in the tin before serving warm, or leave to cool completely in the tin if serving as a cake.
To serve, turn the cake out on to a serving plate and sprinkle with flaked almonds to serve.
My first harvest of plums in the year marks the end of summer in my mind. There is, of course, something to celebrate in having such lovely fruit to pick, and yet, I feel a bit sad that autumn is approaching. I managed to get a head-start on the wasps this year, picking about 1kg of unblemished fruit. There are plums a plenty yet to ripen, so I need to work on my timing over the next few days and harvest them before the wee sugar-seeking beasties move in.
My plum cookery isn’t very adventurous or fancy. I usually make jam or a plum sauce. Sometimes I make a compote. Baking them in wine is another very simple way I enjoy the rich, distinctive flavour of this particular fruit. Fresh bay-scented orchard fruit is something I tasted for the first time in Cyprus. The familiar glossy-leaved herb has become a flavour I use a lot in my kitchen, both in sweet and savoury cooking, and now that I have a bay tree in the garden, I use the herb all the more. Fresh bay gives a refreshing, herbal taste to fruit. You can use dry leaves, but as the flavour is much more intense than the fresh, you may want to experiment by reducing the quantity of leaves by at least half. If you don’t have any wine, or prefer not to use it, cranberry juice makes a good alternative in this recipe. If you don’t have plums, the recipe works equally well with apricots, peaches or nectarines. The baked fruit also freezes well too.
750g fresh Victoria plums
60g Demerara sugar
4 fresh bay leaves
300ml fruity red wine or unsweetened cranberry juice
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Wash and pat dry the plums. Cut in half and remove the stones. Arrange the halves neatly, cut side up, preferably in a single layer, in a baking dish or tin.
Sprinkle with sugar and push in the bay leaves, then pour over the wine or juice. Bake for 30-40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes, until tender.
Discard the bay leaves. Carefully strain off the cooking juices into a saucepan . Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 5 minutes until reduced and syrupy. Pour over the fruit and leave to cool. Cover and chill for 2 hours before serving. Best served at room temperature for maximum flavour. Delicious accompanied with coconut yogurt or rice pudding.