When God Gives You Plums

Or rather, when your neighbor Glennis — who is godlike in her own ways — gives you plums…

About this time every year, we get the call from next door. “The plums are ready!” The kids and I head over and wind our way down into the Watermans’ terraced backyard, where sure enough the plum tree is overloaded with beautiful purple plums. And we gather and gather and gather.

Plums as far as the eye can see.

Plums as far as the eye can see.

Unlike, say, a tomato plant which may continue giving you tomatoes throughout the season, a plum tree comes full and ready all at once. If you get a week, you’re lucky — especially with the incursion of various lean and hungry summer critters. We hit Glennis’ tree on the perfect day, just as the leading edge plums were ripe and ready, and the rest were good to be picked and set on the counter to ripen for the better part of a week. Gnawed fruit all over the ground told us of our competition.

Without wanting to be greedy, we picked as many as we could carry in one small grocery bag, which was plenty. The next day, our mutual housekeeper Rosa dropped off a much larger bag that she had collected from the tree. And here we were, waist deep in plums.

We snacked on them, I sent them in Willa’s lunch bag to distribute amongst the kids and counselors at her day camp, I put them in salads and shakes. Still, the pile seemed the same exact size. And worse yet, they were now becoming overripe and soft! Averse as I am to throwing anything out, panic began to set it. And then it struck me on the eve of a pizza dinner party — inspiration!

I’ve always been a fan of Chinese plum sauce. I drizzle it on grilled pork jowl, slather it on a very unusual pizza with duck cracklings and confit, and dot it on top of dumplings. As much as I like the gooey Lee Kum Kee Hong Kong brand I buy in the little jar, how hard, I wondered, would it be to make your own?

Pizza with homemade Chinese plum sauce, duck confit and red onion

Pizza with homemade Chinese plum sauce, duck confit and red onion

I first consulted my favorite Chinese cookbook, “Madame Wu’s Art of Chinese Cooking” (published in 1974), and found nothing more than a reference in the glossary. Then I turned to the greatest cookbook in the world — the Internet — and discovered dozens upon dozens of hits. I looked first for those recipes offered up by real Chinese people, and second for recipes that included similar ingredients to my beloved Lee Kum Kee brand. I zeroed in on what I thought were the key flavors I wanted, added my own contributions of star anise and cornstarch, and got to work.

The result was a fresher, tarter, more ruby version of the sauce I was familiar with, which wound up shining brightly and beautifully on a gloriously colored pizza with duck confit and sliced red onions.

Langoustine puffs with homemade plum sauce

Langoustine puffs with homemade plum sauce

The next night, visiting some other friends for dinner, I was asked to bring an appetizer. With some langoustines from the freezer, a dozen or so wonton wrappers and the last of a small tub of whipped cream cheese, I threw together some langoustine puffs — a riff on the classic Chinese American appetizer, crab puffs (which I did find in my Madame Wu’s cookbook). Drizzled with my plum sauce, they were out of this world.

Now, what to do with the other 75 or so plums ripening in the kitchen???…

*    *    *

Langoustine puffs with homemade Chinese plum sauce
serves 4 as appetizer

1/2 cup langoustine meat (or crab), shredded
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese
a few grinds fresh pepper
12 wonton wrappers
1 egg, beat with 1 tbsp. water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup homemade Chinese plum sauce (recipe below)

In a bowl, stir together langoustine meat, cream cheese and pepper until thoroughly combined.

Make your egg wash by beating together the egg and water. Lay out your wonton wrappers and place 1 teaspoon crab mixture in the center of each. (If you have extra crab mixture at the end, distribute to those that look like they didn’t get as much filling.) Using a pastry brush or your finger, brush to adjacent edges of the wonton wrapper with egg wash, and fold over, pressing down with your finger to seal tightly.

Once all the wontons have been made, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat for one minute. Add the wontons and reduce heat to medium. Cook about 2 minutes per side, until crisp and golden (add more oil if needed). Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain off excess oil.

To serve: Arrange on a plate or platter and drizzle with plum sauce.

*    *    *

Chinese plum sauce
makes about 1/2 cup

2 cups pitted plums
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1-inch slice of ginger root, chopped
1/2 onion
1/2 tsp. Chinese five spice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 star anise
pinch dried, crushed red pepper
1 tbsp. corn starch
salt to taste

Place plums, sugar, water, ginger, onion and spices in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower heat to low, cover pan and cook for 1 hour. Remove from heat.

Pass the plum sauce through a fine sieve to remove all solids. Return to saucepan over medium heat and simmer until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Make a slurry with your cornstarch, mixing 1 tbsp. with 1/3 cup water. Drizzle half the slurry slowly into the plum sauce, stirring. You’re looking for a thickness that will coat the back of a wooden spoon — it should be quite thick. Continue drizzling in as much slurry as needed to make the sauce thick.

Remove from heat and season to taste with salt.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lori Koefoed
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 01:13:58

    Hey, I got an error message when I tried to read the rest of this post!


  2. scolgin
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 03:28:20

    Reblogged this on skinny girls & mayonnaise.


  3. glennis
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 05:16:04

    Ooh, plum sauce, I didn’t think of that! We’ve done plum cocktails, plum tarts, plum jam and plum chutney!


  4. Jessamine in PDX
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 03:43:30

    Brilliant! Never would have thought to make plum sauce. Bravo for trying it out and — clearly! — rockin’ it. Those puffs are making my mouth water.


  5. Michelle
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 14:40:44

    Wonderful! Now if only I had a neighbor with a plum tree…


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