Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why So Glum, Sugar Plum?

This week I purchased a half-box of organic emperor plums through a facebook group for local produce and gardens. People post their abundance, and you have the chance to buy fairly inexpensively before it's going, going, gone. I clearly had no idea how much a half-box of plums would be. Nor do I have a cache of plum recipes that I've been dying to use. Or really even know how to process plums, but that's just how I roll. When I met the owner she told me that she'd given me more than half a box because they were getting pretty ripe so her husband picked extra.

Sweet, now I not only had an abundance, but a pretty tight time frame to use them before they started to go bad and I'd wasted them. Last year, I got a beautiful box of peaches with the intent to can them and went back about a week and a half later to look at them in the garage and found a goopy, moldy mess...I did not want to repeat that mistake.

Pinterest is a girl's best friend, so I entered 'plum dessert' into the search box and saw that Smitten Kitchen had posted a Plum Kuchen recipe. I knew I'd heard my husband talk about kuchen as a treat from his childhood, so I mentally filed that one away. 

My neighbor suggested that I dry some, which would be awesome if I had a food dryer. Luckily, another neighbor of mine did, and graciously let me use it. Since these are gigantic plums, I could only use every other rack, so after filling the dehydrator I still had a lot of plums left. This box of plums was a like a giant plate of spaghetti-no matter how many I used, there seemed to be the same amount left. 
Let's hope these taste better than they look!
I processed several of them in boiling water and removed the skins and pits to puree for baby food. It's just four short months until we're back into the world of introducing solid foods, and I figured we could also use the puree in smoothees. In order to store it easily, I filled paper cupcake liners with the puree on a jelly roll pan and then froze them. Once solid, I removed the paper liner and put the puree discs in a gallon ziploc bag.

While I was elbow deep in plum goo, my husband said 'You could make kuchen!' I told him about the recipe I'd found and he looked at it to confirm what some of the comments had already revealed; this was not the traditional kuchen that people from middle america would call their own. After googling custard kuchen we found a blog called Through the Garden Gate, which specified a German-Russian kuchen, and it was just as my husband remembered. A yeast dough crust pressed into a pie plate, layered with fruit and then a rich custard gets ladled over the top, sprinkled with cinnamon and baked to golden perfection. In addition to the plums, I had enough rhubarb from the crazy starts that took off immediately that I could make a rhubarb version as well.
The dough has doubled-I used a wooden spoon to mix it, because you just have to make sure all of the flour is moistened.
Four plum and two rhubarb...I think next time I'd use more rhubarb,  but the plums were perfect!
waiting to go into a 350 oven...
The recipe turned out great, even though it was short on direction-for example, I've never cooked a custard on the stovetop before, so I didn't know to what thickness I should be stirring it before removing from the heat. Mine wasn't thick enough because I had to bake the kuchen for an extra ten minutes before the custard was set. However, the desired result was achieved, and my house smells like rich, eggy french toast. 

What was the verdict? I thought they were delicious, but they weren't exactly the custard kuchen that J remembered from his North Dakota boyhood. Not that he was unkind enough to tell me that after I'd spent the better part of a day researching and trying to recreate his childhood memories, but whatev', a girl can tell. I've recruited recipes from his aunt and sister so that I can try, try again. After, that is, we consume the FIVE desserts that this produced. Thank god for that garage freezer!

As for the plums in the food dryer, I was kind of over the quiet whirring and they were fairly dry, so a big portion of them went into the freezer, and the rest will be eaten over the next couple days.

I don't know if I'll ever perfectly replicate the kuchen. I know my dad still waxes poetic over his mom's apple butter, even when he tastes a batch made from the same recipe. Have you ever tried to re-create a childhood favorite for your beloved? I'd love to hear about it!


nycepne said...

Sara, for our first anniversary I thought I'd replicate a favorite soups of Jer's. Green bean soup... easy, right? Except Jer's mom did NOT burn the beans in the pan first. Oh well, fortunately he didn't really ask me to cook like his mom ever again...nor did I try. We are different women and different styles. See me smile. She made plumma moos... a Russian Mennonite fruit soup.... Perhaps that could use some of the plums.

Anonymous said...

You are SO ambitious! Way to go Sara!!