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Summer Stone Fruit —When it Needs Improving

August 01, 2011 | Tags: Deborah Madison , Food , Fruit | Post comment

Summer Stone Fruit —When it Needs Improving

A few weeks ago at a famous Berkeley restaurant my friends and I were served plums for dessert. Santa Rosa plums, to be exact. Whole. In a bowl. With a knife.  They were perfection, so ripe and juicy and sweet that I can’t imagine they could have been improved in any way at all. Talk about a health-supporting dessert!

Alas, most stone fruit we get —that is peaches, apricots, plums, cherries —fruits with pits in other words —are not like those plums. They aren’t sweet enough, they’re low in acid so they don’t sing in your mouth, their flavor is lacking and they’re seldom ripe if they’ve been picked green and shipped across the country. I think that’s why so often we have fruit desserts that include crusts, topping, whipped cream and the like: it’s to make up for the lack of lustrous flavor.

Another strategy is needed when fruit needs improving, and this is mine for plums. It consists of slicing them into substantial slices then briefly sautéing them in a little butter and honey or succanat. In about two minutes they start to release their juices , and as they sit, they’ll release more.  Cardamom is a wonderful spice with plums, and so are orange and clove. A Thai basil leaf wouldn’t be out of place, either. Here I’ve used cardamom and orange.

Now, what to do with these plums?  Refrigerate them first of all, then serve them cold with a mound of ricotta cheese or top them with Greek yogurt. I might also serve them with a small scoop of coffee or caramel ice cream. If crunch is desired, then I add toasted sliced almonds or pine nuts.  Sometimes I put them in a cornmeal crepe or serve them with cornbread for breakfast, for the combination of corn with plums is uncommonly good. Or, I might just eat them as they are—cold and refreshing.

Sautéed Plums with Cardamom               

4 to 6 large plums in season, such as Elephant Hearts, Santa Rosas, red plums
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons agave nectar, orange blossom honey, or 3 tablespoons succanat
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or 1 teaspoon orange flower water

Rinse, then slice the plums into wedges about ¾-inch thick at their widest part.
Heat a 10-inch skillet with the butter over medium-high heat.  When it melts, add the plums, syrup, and cardamom.  Raise the heat and cook, jerking the fruit in the pan about every 30 seconds so that the cut surfaces take on some color, eventually caramelizing.  
After two or three minutes the plums will start to give up their juices.  Stop cooking when the juice just coats the fruit and the smell of caramel is apparent.  Remove from the heat and add the Grand Marnier or the orange flower water, then transfer to a serving bowl, scraping in all the liquid from the pan.  Allow to cool before serving.

Serves 4 or more