I can’t think of any more of an autumn fruit, than plums. With their deep, purple colour, velvety flavour, ripening when all the other fruits are long gone (with an exception for apples), don’t they perfectly represent autumn?
Plums are used in many world cuisines, and there are many, many species.
Some countries produce alcohol from plums: famous Japanese 梅酒, umeshu, sweet plum wine or Serbian plum brandy, slivovitz (шљивовица / šljivovica), also popular and manufactured in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland. Careful, slivovitz is usually very strong!
Pickled plums are another Japanese specialty, 梅干野, umeboshi, widely used in Japanese cuisine. Sour and salty, very often used as a filling for onigiri (Japanese rice balls) or served as a side dish. Definitely worth a try, but not everyone will be a fan, I think. Same story as with English marmite – you love it or hate it (I am still not ready to appreciate marmite).
Large amounts of plums are grown in Hungary, to be later made into lekwar, a plum paste jam. Also in Poland, plum jam is very popular. It’s called powidła and is famous for its velvety yet zingy flavour. The biggest producer of plums in the world is China and plum blossoms (méihuā) are considered traditional floral emblems of China.
Also in Japan, plum blossoms have a special place in tradition, often mentioned in Japanese poetry, they are a symbol of spring. They were favoured in Nara period, until the cherry blossoms (桜, sakura) took over in the popularity ranking.
Now, the cherry blossoms are considered a symbol of Japan (even though many people still enjoy plum blossom viewing). If you are planning a trip to Japan, end of March – beginning of April is when you want to go. Nothing more beautiful than parks, alleys and roads filled with blossoming cherry trees. You can join a pan-Japanese frenzy and organise your own ohanami (お花見), cherry blossom viewing. Grab some friends, a blanket, some food and drinks and go to the park to contemplate the ephemeral nature of life, symbolised by delicate cherry petals.
A very distinctive feature of Japanese aesthetics, inseparably connected to Nature, is the admiration for the fleeting beauty, beauty which cannot be admired for long time, beauty which we know will be gone soon. The Japanese are very aware of the seasons changing around them and they like to express their appreciation for the Nature’s beauty in arts (poetry, painting) and crafts (kimono and tableware patterns) but also – food. The menu in Japanese households and restaurants significantly changes with the turn of seasons. Autumn and winter dishes are much different in flavours and ingredients than those in spring and summer.
Each season in Japan has its own symbols, best representing its atmosphere and colours. For instance, the symbols of Japanese autumn, starting in August and lasting until October are: orange kaki fruits, Japanese clovers (hagi), chrysanthemum (kiku), susuki grass, mushrooms, deers and dragonflies. The leaves on the trees start to change their colours. The autumn paints Japan in a beautiful palette of colours, from yellow, orange and red hues to browns and greys. The whole nature seems to be getting ready for the winter.
Beata Kubiak Ho-Chi in her book Japanese Aesthetics and Art says: ‘The love for nature and exceptional, not necessarily intentional, closeness with it can be seen everywhere, not only in the art. For a Westerner, a very common among the Japanese people knowledge of the names of plants – bushes, trees, flowers, characteristic for each of the seasons, is astonishing. (…) It’s an impermanent, fleeting, elusive beauty, how different from the ideal of beauty in the Western art.’
Autumn is a very nostalgic time of the year, I suppose. Watching nature slowly preparing for the winter makes us wonder about the moments long gone in our lives, too. There is something about the September’s colour festival: everything seems to be joyfully colourful, yet there is sadness underneath. In two months time all the leaves will be gone from the trees, there will be a morning frost, the air will be chilly, it will rain. The greyness will be almost overwhelming. And that’s my favourite time of the year. Time when I can snuggle at home, with a book and a cup of tea. When the house will smell of cinnamon and cloves, an apple pie sure is made for the gloomy weather outside. What a beautiful, beautiful time of the year.
Maybe that’s why I ended up writing about Japan. It’s been four years since I’ve been there. Seems like yesterday: my tiny flat in Izumi, endless nights spent on watching Friends, pulling karaoke all-nighters, cooking delicious food, sushi-challenges: who can eat the most, nabe evenings, shopping at Izumiya, buying bentō from a little shop on the corner on the way from school, eating rāmen and gyōza from a little family restaurant, evenings at tabehōdai restaurants when we would eat and drink until we’re stuffed, trips to Kyōto and Nara and Kōbe and Ōsaka, riding a bike to uni, never being able to make it to the first class in the morning. Beautiful times.
Anyway, as the title states, this post was supposed to be about the plum cake, so there it is: very nice recipe for a plum cake with a non-traditional kick (just some coconut, nothing crazy). Shall we?
PLUM AND COCONUT CAKE
250g wheat flour
100g rice flour or potato starch
50g coconut flour or ground almonds
2tsp baking powder
50g coconut oil or butter
3 egg yolks
7tbsp desiccated coconut
1 and 1/2 plums
50g brown sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1tsp potato starch
2tbsp amaretto liquor
1tsp ground cardamon
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Prepare the fruit. Wash, dry and half all the plums. Remove the stones.
2. Add the fruit into a big frying pan with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and cardamon. Cook, stirring from time to time for about 20-25 minutes, until the plums will soften. The juice released by the fruit should reduce and thicken, it should become more of a syrup.
3. Mix the potato starch with amaretto liquor and add to plums. Bring it to a boil. Take off the heat and set aside, leaving the fruit to cool down.
4. Prepare a rectangle baking tin, grease it and line with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
5. In a big mixing bowl, mix together all the flours with baking powder and sugar. Add butter (cut into small cubes) and coconut oil. Working with your fingers, mix together flours with butter, until you will get a consistence of a crumble or wet sand.
6. Add egg yolks to the mixture and knead a smooth dough. Divide the dough ball into two pieces, one bigger than the other (40/60 proportion). Add desiccated coconut to smaller part of the dough and knead again. Put the dough in the fridge for about 1 hour.
7. Using the bigger part of the dough, prepare a cake base. Simply spread it on the bottom of the previously prepared baking tin.
8. Add the fruit to the baking tin, spreading it evenly on the base. Use the remaining dough (one with added coconut) to make the crumble. Rub the dough between your fingers to get small pieces, spread the crumble evenly on the cake.
9. Bake for about 40 minutes in a previously preheated oven. The cake should have a nice, golden-brown colour when ready. Enjoy!