Word of the day: plumdom.
Dough fat of the day: olive oil.
Writer and NPR alum Frank Browning explains all below.
Keep reading for his Wild Plum and Pear Tart recipe, and click here to enter YOUR delicious pie (or pies) in the 4th Annual Good Food Pie Contest on Saturday, September 8th at LACMA. The deadline is this Monday, so enter enter enter!
Where I live in France in the “little chateaux” country along a tributary of the grand Loire River called “Le Loir,” wild things are everywhere. In our yard is a wild pear tree that every August rains downs little pear nuggets a touch smaller than Seckel pears but bitter to the tooth when eaten raw. Alongside the narrow roadway there is a hedge row of wild bluish plums–and across the field from there are even more tiny wild plums the French call “prunelles” about the size of olives that don’t ripen until October after the first frost. As it happened we were invited to dinner at the home of a fine ceramicist last weekend where he’d made a cake using pear butter simmered with fresh ground cardamom seeds. Sublime. Hmm, I thought. Why not marry our small astringent summer pears simmered with cardamom as a base for the wild plums? One of the problems with making plum tarts is that they often express too much juice, but the thickened pear compote just might absorb the excess. And so it did. But I did cheat just a bit: not everything was wild fruit. At the center I placed two halved oblong Quetch plums, which over here are regarded as the royalty of plum-dom.
One last thing I learned from our Swiss neighbors down the hill. In making a standard pie pastry, cut the butter in half and make up the difference with . . . olive oil. It not only cuts the cholesterol, but it makes a lighter pastry with no olive oil taste.
Wild Plum and Pear Tart
(From Frank Browning)
2 lbs small wild or seckel pears, cut in half, skin, stems, blossoms and all
25 or so round blue hedgerow plums (or any other tart plum you can find); the quantity depends upon the size of your pie/tart
1 teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom seeds
3/4 cups raw cane sugar plus a tablespoon of plain white sugar
Cut the pears in half and simmer in just enough water to come one-third of the way up the fruit; simmer gently until the plums are soft, then press the cooked pears through a food mill to separate the flesh from the stems, seeds and skin. (If they’re wild, there may be worms; don’t worry about it–they’re cooked and dissolved.) Turn the pear “sauce” into heavy bottom pot, add the cane sugar and the ground cardamom seeds. Simmer slowly–about 20 minutes–stirring regularly until thickened. Set aside and cool.
Cut and seed the plums in half and lay them out in a flat pan or bowl and sprinkle with the rest of the sugar. Let them rest an hour or so to draw out some of the juice.
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the pie pastry in the pie pan and pinch the edges. Turn the cooled pear butter into the pie and smooth out. Then place the plums, skin side up, in rings starting at the outer perimeter until the pie is full. Place the tart on a low rack in the pre-heated oven. After 10 or 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 300 degrees. The lower temperature will avoid burning the crust while drying out the excess plum juice. After 30 more minutes, wet your finger in cold water and touch one of the plums to feel if it’s fully cooked. (I once new a New York chef who tested everything that way–even bubbling hot honey; he claimed the cold water on the finger protected him from burns, but you do it at your own risk.)