Enough about the united colors of Benetton or the number of angels that fit on the head of a pin. For a real challenge, try to identify all the guests at a reunion of the plum family!
The plums, some wild, some tame, range in size from 1 to 3 inches, and although "plum" is a color (a dark reddish purple), this chameleon fruit may also be yellow, green, red, indigo blue and a number of shades and hues in between.
In this country alone, there is the hortulana branch of the family, which includes the Wayland, Kanawha and golden beauty; the Niagara or Canadian plum; the Chickasaw -- also known as the mountain cherry; sand plums that inhabit the plains, Munson plums from the South and beach plums from the Atlantic coast. (( Standouts for taste include gages and quetches, while the damson is unsurpassed for making jelly and preserves.
Add to these the many other plum varieties that can be found all around the world. There are apricot plums, cherry plums and "sugar plums," which -- if the truth be known -- aren't plums at all but raisins used by English cooks in desserts such as plum pudding. (It should come as no surprise in the midst of all this confusion, that one place you cannot find a real plum is plum pudding!) To the French, the plum is prune, while the dried plum, our prune, is pruneau.
Nonetheless, cooks find wonderful things to do with them, which may explain the title of a book published some years ago, "Plum Crazy." The following recipes should fit nicely into midsummer meals.
1/2 stick butter
1 pound ripe plums (about 2 cups sliced)
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 sheets phyllo pastry
1/3 cup ground toasted walnuts
Melt butter and allow it to cool to room temperature. Slice the plums into bite-size pieces; discard pits.
In a bowl, combine the plums, cranberries, sugar and cinnamon. Mix well and set aside.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lay a clean kitchen towel on a work surface. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on the towel and brush lightly with butter. Sprinkle lightly with ground walnuts. Repeat with second, third and fourth sheets, buttering and sprinkling walnuts on each sheet.
If juice has formed in the bowl, use a slotted spoon to distribute filling evenly along the long side of the dough in a 3-inch-wide line that begins 1 inch in from the long side and stops 2 inches away from the short sides. Fold the outer 2 inches of the short sides inward as if making an envelope. Tuck long end against the filling and roll up jelly-roll fashion. (Use the towel if the phyllo begins to crack.) Brush the top and sides with remaining butter.
Lightly grease a baking sheet. Transfer log to the sheet, seam side down. Place in oven and bake until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven, place baking sheet on wire rack and allow strudel to set.
Cut crosswise into slices and serve warm or at room
Plum sauce for game birds
Makes about 2 cups.
3/4 pound fresh, ripe plums or 1 16-ounce can purple plums in syrup
1/3 cup water
1 stick ( 1/4 pound) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup French or Spanish brandy
1/2 cup port wine
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
10 drops hot-pepper sauce, or more to taste
Cut the plums into pieces, discarding pits. Grate enough orange rind to yield 1 tablespoon. Reserve. Squeeze juice from oranges.
In a medium saucepan, combine the plums and 1/3 cup water or the canned plums and syrup with the orange juice, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, brandy and port. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, until liquid has reduced by half, about 1 1/4 hours.
Strain sauce into a 1-quart measure. Puree plums and add to the sauce along with reserved orange rind. Return to the saucepan and simmer as needed to reduce volume to 2 cups. Remove from heat, stir in mustard and hot-pepper sauce.
Use sauce to baste game hens, duck or chicken cooked on the grill and serve it as a condiment.