It was my father’s birthday a few of weeks ago. He doesn’t do birthday’s well, especially his own. I know now not to bother him on the actual day because he will most definitely be grumpy and he dislikes receiving gifts as much as I enjoy giving them.
This year, I caught him out early by getting him to agree to dinner the day after the big day, which happily coincided with the Early Rivers plum harvest. Though birthday cake would likely be shunned, not even he could refuse a home grown plum tart.
Plums and almonds are very good friends, such good friends, I had to make this plum and frangipani tart twice, in order to eat and enjoy them together twice. The next plum tree to ready itself was the sumptuous greengage. Lovely orbs of green, plump sweetness, camouflaged from the birds so no need to net. Up early in the morning to harvest, when the fruits are still cool from the night and newly washed in dew. Straight from the tree into my mouth, dripping with juice, alone in my glee, feeling a faint whiff of guilt that I’ve woken no one in the house to share this with.
After relishing them in many different guises; freshly plucked from the bough, delightfully wrapped in Parma ham, and dunked deep in breakfast yogurt, I decided that my waistline could certainly handle no more plum tart this year and it would be more than agreeable to experience the plum harvest again when the days are shorter and I can no longer walk barefoot on the warmed ground. The idea of greengage crumble with vanilla custard by the fire once the frosts set in sounds particularly appealing.
In they go into the pan, with vanilla pods, thyme leaves and a spoonful or two of honey. Packed away safely into the freezer, away from my roving spoon, and saved for a rainy day.
The final characters in my plum triptych are the delightful damsons; hanging so small and daintily in their deep burgundy lustre. Damsons are wild and rare fellows, but I am lucky enough to have a damson tree on the common land right outside the front door where hardly any stranger ventures, accordingly I claimed the prize quite effortlessly. They had already begun to drop, the sun was setting, the fruits were warm and humming with fragrance. I must admit that harvesting took twice as long, for the little fruits that should’ve been making their way into the basket, were being stuffed into my mouth with much merriment; I simply had to cease in order to tow a few companions from the garden to participate in my contentment.
After we all had our fill of the fruit fresh from the tree, the remaining harvest was bound for the perpetuation of plum season in the months to come. A special Damson Gin to crack open in time for Christmas Eve and a Spiced Damson Chutney to be served by the fire with Christmas eve dinner… I can hardly wait.
Plum and Frangipani Tart
- 1 x sheet ready-rolled shortcrust pastry*
- 100g butter
- 125g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 175g ground almonds
- 50g plain flour, plus extra for dusting*
- 30 small plums, pitted and cut into eighths
Roll out your pastry on a surface dusted with flour. It’s helpful and less sticky to flour the rolling pin and your hands too. Lay over your tin, pushing gently into the crinkled sides and cut off any excess pastry with a sharp knife. Put it in the fridge to chill while you make the frangipane.
Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla essence bit by bit, making sure its well incorporated each time, then gently fold in the almonds and flour.
Heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Spoon the frangipane into the tart case and arrange the plum slices artfully (my favourite bit) however you like over the top, pressing slightly into the frangipane. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp sugar, place the tin on a tray and bake for 45-55 mins, until the pastry is golden and the fruit tender.
Thyme, Honey and Vanilla Greengage Crumble
- 800g ripe plums, halved and pitted
- 50g light brown sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1 tsp of vanilla essence, sliced down the middle
- 3 tbsp of honey
- 1 spring of fresh thyme
For The Crumble Topping
- 100g plain flour*
- 50g buckwheat flour
- 50g oats*
- 100g butter
- 100g demerara sugar
Heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Heat the plums and everything else in a saucepan and simmer on a gentle heat for 5 minutes. Remove the thyme and the vanilla pod making sure you’ve scraped all the seeds from the pod to leave in the plum mixture. Pour into baking pan.
Roll the butter and the flours between your fingers until you have something resembling breadcrumbs, then add the oats and the sugar. Mix well. Cover the plums with thecrumble topping, then as a finishing touch, I like to sprinkle a pinch or rock salt and sugar on the top. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and crispy.
- 750 ml of gin
- 450 g damsons
- 170 g caster sugar
Wash the damsons, and prick several times with a fork. Place in a sterilised 1 litre jar. Add the sugar and top to the brim with the gin. Shake every day for a week, then leave it to mature in a cool dark place. After three months, drink until merry.
*I use a gluten free blend or version because of an allergy but it works equally well full of gluten.