Fredericksburg First Friday Food Ministry
I haven’t had food this good since I went to Europe as a young woman. It’s not fancy food. It’s good food that’s well-prepared and nicely served. It makes me feel special.
GINGERY PLUM GRATIN

Plums. The word almost captures their plump, juicy deliciousness. With their drum-tight skins and meltingly soft interiors, plums of all varieties make knock-out desserts that don’t break either the calorie or the bank account.

Ranging in size from that of a cherry tomato to a tennis ball, plums come in all colors: yellow-green to crimson to black-red, blue to purple. Their flavors range from a sweet-tart tang that nearly puckers the mouth to a rich honeyed sweetness that envelops with overtones of flowery vanilla and spicy cinnamon. Plum trees also grow great in Texas, and are compact enough to fit into even the smallest town-sized lot or large container. Beautiful fragrant flowers in the spring are a bonus, and the trees are remarkably disease resistant. Unlike peach trees don’t seem to attract every pest this side of the Mississippi. Methley, Ozark Premier, Morris and Bruce varieties all do well in the Hill Country.

Lacking your own plum trees, buy whatever variety of plum looks best in the market. Look for even color and plump fruit that yields gently to pressure. Since supermarket plums usually aren’t fully ripe when we buy them, simply enclose your purchase in a closed paper bag at room temperature for one to two days to let the fruit fully ripen. Then either store in the refrigerator for two to three days or use them right away to make our gratin. It’s homey and comforting and perfect for an everyday dessert. At the same time, it’s definitely company worthy and light enough (if you don’t use a heavy hand with the whipped cream topping) to serve after a substantial meal.

INGREDIENTS

12 ounces fresh plums (plan on 6 to 12 plums depending on their size)

1 Tablespoon orange juice concentrate or an orange-flavored liqueur such as Grand Marnier

1 ounce gingersnap cookies or leftover gingerbread

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons white vinegar

1 Tablespoon granulated or raw sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom, cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg

1 large egg yolk, beaten

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 450F.

Wash the plums. Cut them in quarters or eighths, depending on size of the plum, and removing the stone as you cut. Place the plums in a single layer in a shallow pan. A pie pan or a 9-inch quiche pan is just the right size for this quantity of plums. If you want to take the time to arrange the plums in a pretty pattern, go for it! We usually just throw the plums in the pan, shake to settle and let the pieces fall where they may.

Sprinkle the plums with the orange juice concentrate or liqueur. Crush the cookies into coarse crumbs or crumble the gingerbread over the plums in an even layer.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix the whipping cream with the vinegar. Let the mixture sit for five minutes to thicken up and “sour.” Stir in the sugar. Add the beaten egg yolk and mix thoroughly. The mixture will be thick and lush looking.

Drizzle the cream mixture over the plums. It won’t totally cover the plums and crumbs, but take the time to lightly smooth the surface to even things up a bit. Let the unbaked gratin sit for 20 minutes to let the crumbs absorb the cream.

Pop the gratin in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and crusty on top. Serve warm with a dollop of unsweetened or barely sweetened whipped cream on top. (A scoop of best quality vanilla ice cream is nice, too!)

Serves 4.
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