One of my lovely followers (and a local Cambridge foodie too) asked if I knew what to do with the delicious Mirabelle plums, which are in season in abundance right now. Hailing from the Alsace Lorraine region of France, the flavourful, mostly yellow, small plums are known for their versatility. Available from July to mid-September, and delicious in August, if you can get your hands on a fresh haul, they can be used for eating, cooking and making brandy! I promised some recipe ideas and I'll be the first to admit I'm not a great fan of making desserts so here are a couple of options from a quick internet search and a flick through Paul Waddington's book on Seasonal Food (my bible at the moment!)...
Mirabelle Plum Clafouti
Given the French origins of the delightful Mirabelle, what better than a traditional French dessert to show off the delicate and dainty yellow plums. There are some good recipes for the dessert on the internet, including one on the BBC Food website by James Martin. To make this very pretty plum cake, the basic recipe is as follows:
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C and use 1 tbsp softened butter to grease a 9-inch square baking dish. Whisk together one cup of full-fat milk, 1/4 cup double cream, 2/3 cup plain flour, 3 large eggs, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract with 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a large mixing bowl. When it forms a smooth, thin batter, spread 3/4 cup of the batter onto the bottom of the baking dish and put in the oven for just 2-4 minutes. Keep an eye on it and remove it before it cooks through completely. It should just start to thicken and set when it is removed from the oven.
Arrange about 4 cups of Mirabelle plums, sliced, over the hot batter. Cover with the remaining batter and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm. This recipe, taken from http://frenchfood.about.com/od/desserts/r/mirabelleclafouti.htm serves 8.
Mirabelle Plum and Cardamom Fool
Another interesting dessert to make the most of the delicious, tart flavours of the Mirabelle plum, this time by pairing it with fragrant cardamom and fresh cream for a summery treat, is this fool recipe from a fellow blogger. You can find a fantastic recipe on the Cook Sister! blog here.
If all else fails, hit the bottle. You could soak a leftover stock of plums for months and rediscover a sweet, sharp taste of summer in the midst of winter by creating your own plum brandy. Whilst probably not the most realistic recipe for most of us (seeing as it contains a liquor sourced from Lithuania!), I couldn't resist the beautiful photos and experimental home-brewing approach to plum brandy from the Vintage Savoir Faire blog. If anyone gives this one a try, please let me know how it goes!
Some Seasonal Thoughts
As with the British plum, the Mirabelle makes a fine jam and jam-making can be a great thing to do in September as the first signs of Autumn start to appear and we apparently ought to start preserving and storing foods for winter. There are a few weeks until the end of the Mirabelle plum season yet, however, but good to bear in mind in case you find yourself overrun with them!
As usual, Paul Waddington's book on Seasonal Food has some fascinating insights on the varieties and uses of seasonal plums. According to Waddington, the brief August to October British plums season is set to get shorter; as the onset of climate change leaves plums vulnerable to early tree flowering, late frosts, and shrinking or no harvests. The early season dessert varieties, and greengages in August, make delightful puddings. Waddington suggests a simple method of baking plums with water and a dusting of sugar to create fruit syrup.
As Autumn approaches and we move into October, seasonal treats such as damsons and bullaces really come to the fore. Waddington writes that both are better cooked than raw and especially good for jams, jellies, wine and gin. In fact, bullaces are not grown commercially at all (damsons a little) and so must be harvested from the wild, making an interesting treat for foraging foodies.
Closely related to plums (although strictly a member of the apple family) is another good seasonal fruit for experimenting with recipes, the quince. Harvested in November, the quince can be delicious in desserts but my favourite use is when it is made into a relish to serve with cheese. A work colleague made a huge quivering slab of quince jelly last winter and I ended up having it with cheese after dinner every night for two weeks! Blog post to follow when I get my hands on some quince fruits in a few months...
If there's a seasonal food you'd like me to write about, let me know and I'll do my best - email me at email@example.com or tweet me.