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A tree has seeded in the yew hedge that crosses the garden path. A stone dropped by a passing bird, perhaps. More likely it was a plum stone I wanged far into the garden, too lazy to take to the compost. Whatever, the abandoned seed has grown into a romantically gangly tree that peppers the dark hedge with tiny white and pink petals in spring, and in late summer hangs low with wild green and red plums. It is sod's law that a wilding should settle in more successfully than any of my oh-so-thoughtfully planted fruit trees. There is a bowl of plums in the fridge right now, chilling, ready for breakfast tomorrow. I usually eat them with kefir, whose sour notes flatter the sweet, jelly-flesh of the fruit. I bake them too, often with a bunch of grapes (the strawberry-scented fragola variety are just coming into season and perfect for this) or a punnet of blackcurrants to add fruity clout. The warm fruit and its juice is there for breakfast or to follow a light lunch but also to share a plate with blue cheese.
A perfect plum, its flesh deepest gold, its juices honey-sweet and quick to escape, is a thoroughly good thing, but like damsons, rhubarb and gooseberries, they are something appreciated more under a sugar-stubbled pastry crust or the soft almond-scented crumb of a cake than eaten straight from the hand.
This week I made pies, one apiece, with a filling of plums, ruby-red jam and almond cream. Wrapped in pastry, they swelled like little pasties and we ate them alongside jagged pieces of cheddar with as much umami as a lump of parmesan, the pastry something of a balm for the punch of the cheese.
Plum and frangipane pies
You could make a large version of this for slicing. Small pies are exceptionally useful for hiding in a picnic hamper or for packed lunches - the filling doesn't ooze over your lunchbox in the way a slice of pie might. If you do take that route, roll the pastry less thinly than I suggest below, because it needs a bit more heft if it is to be lifted from baking sheet to table without bursting its banks.
Makes 4 tarts
For the frangipane:
75g caster sugar
a large egg, beaten
75g ground almonds
1 Tbsp plain flour
325g puff pastry
4 large or 8 small ripe plums
4 heaped Tbsp plum jam
a little beaten egg
1 Tbsp caster sugar
Make the frangipane. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy then slowly introduce the beaten egg, almonds and flour until you have a soft, smooth cream.
Halve the plums and discard the stones. Slice each half into four small segments.
On a floured board, roll the pastry into a rectangle measuring about 50x40cm. The pastry should be very thin. Using a 12cm round cutter, press out eight discs of pastry, then remove the leftover dough from around them and transfer four of them to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Divide the almond frangipane between the four pastry discs, smoothing the top and leaving a 2cm rim of bare pastry around the edge. Divide the sliced plums between the pies, setting them on top of the frangipane. Spoon over the plum jam, letting it trickle over the fruit.
Brush the rim of pastry on each pie with beaten egg then lower a disc of the reserved pastry on top of each. Press firmly around the edges to seal, then chill the pies for 30 minutes.
Set the oven at 180degC. Place an upturned baking sheet in the oven to get hot. Brush the chilled pies with a little of the beaten egg then dust the pastry with the caster sugar. Pierce a small hole in the top of each pie using the handle of a wooden spoon or a chopstick. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool a little before serving.
Roast plums with grapes and blue cheese
Greengages - you will just catch them before they disappear until next year - are wonderfully aromatic cooked with marsala and fruit preserve. In which case, I would chill the fruits before marrying them with the cheese. If blue cheese is not your thing, try a soft, very young goat's milk variety, chalk white and mousse-soft.
500g black grapes
4 Tbsp plum jam or grape jelly
4 Tbsp marsala
300g blue cheese
8 slices hot toast
Preheat the oven to 200degC. Wipe the plums and place them in a baking dish. Tuck the grapes, still on the branch if you wish, among the plums.
Mix together the plum jam and marsala then pour over the fruit. Bake for about 40 minutes, basting the fruit once after 20, until the plums have burst their skins and the juices are sweet-sharp and deep crimson.
Remove the fruit from the oven and let it cool a little (it is good hot, warm or chilled). Slice the blue cheese - or spoon if it is very soft - on to plates. Serve with the fruit and toast.
I should add that this combination of sweet fruit and blue cheese makes a fine breakfast, too; although I would probably chill the fruit and its syrup.