The aroma of plum wine told me that while I had spent a week on vacation, the garden hadn't.
Sure enough, the tomato plants, shoulder high but with solid green fruit when I left, were dotted with fiery red, convoluted Costoluto Genovese tomatoes--the first variety to ripen this year. While most of the summer squash had succumbed to an undiagnosed ailment, one zucchini bush was bright-green and studded with flowers and squash.
But the kicker was the fruit tree by the garage--a temperamental hermaphroditic thing that is half plum and half nectarine. Though it had failed to bear fruit in the three seasons we've lived in the house, it picked the week we went on vacation to dump a massive haul of plums.
They were everywhere--under bushes, on top of the picnic table, smashed into sidewalks. And so was the ripe, heady smell of tangy red plums fermenting in the heat. Waving off hordes of fruit flies, I sorted through the fruit, tossing most of it in the dumpster, putting the best to one side. Then I gave the whole back yard a nice hosing down. It's amazing how sticky plum smoosh is.
The whole time I was cleaning, the plums kept falling. Bomp! One came rolling down the roof, sounding for all the world like some kind of fruity bowling ball on a shake shingle lane. Splat! One hit the ground beside me, splitting along one side. Couldn't keep that one, so I brushed it off and stuck it in my mouth. Thump! Another landed right in the middle of my wife's new straw hat.
After the dirty work came the fun. I went to the vegetable garden and picked the first tomatoes. This is always one of the special days of the year--a kind of combination of birthday and New Year's--even when the current cool temperatures along the coast had prevented the tomatoes from getting as fully luscious as they will a little later. I picked some zucchini too and gave them a gentle washing. It was good to feel the itchy scratch of really fresh squash after a long period of slick supermarket gourds.
The zucchini I cut in long wedges and fried in a non-stick pan in some olive oil. When they had cooked soft and golden, I beat a half-dozen eggs and added them to the pan. When they were barely set, I stuck them under the broiler to puff and firm the top. While the frittata was still hot, I scattered torn basil leaves over the top and drizzled it with a fine rain of balsamic vinegar.
I served the frittata with wedges of tomatoes that we dipped in coarse salt, just enough to bring out their flavors. A single perfectly ripe one--silky and explosive at the same time--let me know what we are in for in a couple of weeks, when the heat comes on.
Having eaten my fill of fresh plums while cleaning up the yard, I wanted to do something different for dessert. So I seeded a couple cups worth and put them in a pan with some sugar. (Here's a hint: The cleft in the top of the plum runs in the same direction as the pits, which are flat and clingy. If you'll cut the plum in half along that cleft, the pit comes out fairly easily.)
To complement the tart, spicy flavor of the plums, I added a cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves. At first, the plums gave off so much juice I thought they'd never thicken, but soon the magic of pectin took over and the whole thing jellied up into a nice compote.
This was wonderful simply served with some vanilla ice cream, but it was even better spread over these corn crepes and glazed. I'm not sure exactly where the idea for combining plums and cornmeal came from. I have a vague memory of having tasted it somewhere before, but I can't remember where. Anyway, the provenance is not as important as the produce. Get good tangy plums for this dish. The edgy sweetness of the cornmeal crepes plays perfectly against the tart spiciness of the compote, and the combination of melting fruit and tender crepe barely crisped under the broiler makes it a perfect dessert for a fancier meal.
If you want, you can top it with some ice cream and eat it in the back yard. Just don't forget to duck.
CORNMEAL CREPES WITH SPICED PLUM COMPOTE
4 cups seeded, coarsely chopped Santa Rosa plums
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 (3-inch) sticks cinnamon
4 whole cloves
8 Corn Crepes
Combine plums, sugar, cinnamon and cloves in small saucepan and cook over medium heat until soft and thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on ripeness of plums. Remove from heat and let cool.
When cool, spread about 1/4 cup plum compote over crepe, then fold crepe in quarters. Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar. Place on baking sheet and glaze under broiler 2 to 3 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
Each serving contains about:
422 calories; 142 mg sodium; 176 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 76 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 0.62 gram fiber.
2 egg yolks
2 cups milk
1 cup flour
1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter
In blender combine eggs, egg yolks, milk, flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt. Blend until smooth. Mixture should be consistency of unbeaten whipping cream. Set aside in refrigerator at least 1 hour.
Remove batter from refrigerator and stir well with whisk. Heat 9-inch non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Rub lightly with butter. Pour about 1/4 cup of crepe batter in center of pan, tilting and angling pan to spread batter evenly over entire bottom. Return pan to heat and cook 1 minute, until top of crepe appears dry. Turn crepe and cook briefly on opposite side. Remove to plate and repeat until all batter is used.
Leftover crepes can be stored in refrigerator wrapped in plastic wrap 2 days. Makes 12 crepes.