Monday, September 27, 2010
Store Up the Sun
The pear tree in the back yard is the first to show fall. Sprinkled throughout the green are golden yellow, eyed shaped leaves. We had a cool week, lots of rain and foggy days. One morning, sitting at the outside table with Coral drinking tea, I gazed across the land at the pear tree.
I looked at the light smattering of yellow in an otherwise still solid green landscape. The wind was blowing, but some of the yellow leaves looked like they were actually darting around. Training my eyes over the distance I slowly came to see that in with the yellow leaves were also darting yellow shapes, not leaves but bright yellow Goldfinches. As I watched it slowly came into focus: a cocaphany of thirty, fifty maybe a hundred goldfinches, too fast, too tiny and too many to count, in the tree.
They were elated, eating with their tiny beaks the ripe pears hanging on every branch. The yellow birds flying up and out and all around, eating the pears was beacon to the fast arriving autumn. Before the leaves fall, before the grey, white and earthen brown of winter, before the birds and bugs fly away or go to sleep, the colors dazzle us one final time.
The birds and bugs dance and feast on the sugar and stored up sunshine in the fall fruit. All the while, the leaves change their colors, yellow, pink, red, orange, alerting our eyes, our bodies to that arrival of cooling nights.
Air out the blankets, darn the socks, can the peaches. Learn from these tiny dancing teachers, the crickets and the goldfinches. Store up the sun. Dance one last time barefoot on the grass. Winter is coming. But now, the feast of Autumn.
Here is a recipe from Cooks Illustrated that my friend says is SO good, I will make it soon with the last of the Italian Plums appearing at the market.
Rustic Plum Cake, Published July 1, 2007
Serves 6 to 8
This recipe works best with Italian plums, which are also called prune plums. If substituting regular red or black plums, use an equal weight of plums, cut them into eighths, and stir them a few times while cooking. Arrange slices, slightly overlapped, in two rings over surface of cake. Do not use canned Italian plums. Blanched whole almonds can be used but must be processed 30 seconds longer until finely ground. The brandy can be omitted, but then you will need to melt the jam with 1 tablespoon water before adding the plums. Don’t add the leftover plum cooking liquid to the cake before baking; reserve it and serve with the finished cake or over ice cream. The cake can be served with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
2 tablespoons red currant jelly or seedless raspberry jam
3 tablespoons brandy
1 pound Italian prune plums (about 10 large or 14 small), halved and pitted (see note above)
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces), plus additional for dusting pan
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1/3 cup slivered almonds (1 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg , room temperature
1 large egg yolk , room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Confectioners' sugar for serving
1. Cook jam and brandy in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until reduced to thick syrup, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and place plums cut-side down in syrup. Return skillet to medium heat and cook until plums shed their juices and thick syrup is again formed, about 5 minutes, shaking pan to prevent plums from sticking. Cool plums in pan, about 20 minutes.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9-inch springform pan. Process sugar and almonds in food processor until nuts are finely ground, about 1 minute. Add flour, baking powder, and salt; pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, about ten 1-second pulses. Add eggs, vanilla, and almond extract (if using) and process until smooth, about 5 seconds, scraping bowl once if needed (batter will be very thick and heavy).
3. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges and smooth surface. Stir plums to coat with syrup. Arrange plum halves, skin-side down, evenly over surface of batter. Bake until cake is golden brown and wooden skewer inserted into center comes out with few crumbs attached, 40 to 50 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cake to loosen. Cool in pan on wire rack until just warm or to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into wedges and serve.