One of the first houses I lived in was a little one-story brick dwelling with black shutters and a side yard made up of a cement pad that my grandma made with her own hard-workin’ hands. She would mix up each small batch of cement in her wheel barrow with a garden hoe that had the handle broken off and would call my sister and me over to help her scrape out the mixture into her two-by-four square frames she was working in. I felt like she was making that cement patio for the first 16 years of my life. That’s not real. It didn’t take her that long. She had muscles. But I remember in the summer we’d take a break and walk to the front yard where our plum tree lived and she’d flick a branch and we’d run around the bottom of it catching fruits as if the tree were a piñata. And we’d sit on our railing-less porch with our feet dangling and eat those plums like we didn’t know anything different. I used to be afraid of the skins. I remember peeling the skins off and throwing them in the grass. Don’t listen to my child self. The skins of plums are really good and the whole fruit kind of tastes like a giant grape.
Plums, along with other stone fruits like peaches and apricots, love this time of year and taste best right about now. The category of fruits called stone fruits is called that because of the pit in the middle. The seed is really hard, like a stone. And, in addition to them tasting good, plums have lots of fiber. Ah, yes, now you remember. Prunes=dried plums. Haha. Prunes. That word just makes me laugh. Feeling clogged up? Try eating a plum before reaching for that prune juice….pbbb, prune.
I decided to make a version of a Martha upside-down cake I found on her website. Hers are way prettier than mine, but I wanted to use some little pans I recently inherited from my family’s bakery, which, unfortunately, no longer exists. My great grandmother and her husband opened the first one in Myrtle Beach in the 1940s and they made some really neat, intricate cakes and, according to my dad, some awesome doughnuts. After seeing Martha’s recipe and remembering these cute, little, family-enriched pans, I decided to make a few individual plum upside-down cakes.
plum upside-down cakes
adapted from Martha Stewart’s nectarine, plum, and apricot upside-down cake
prep time: 30 minutes cook time: 30 minutes yield: 36 small cakes
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp dark rum
2 cups light-brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 pounds black plums, about 10
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups natural cane sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the fruit enhancer: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, maple syrup, dark rum, light-brown sugar, vanilla extract, and salt until well blended.
Grease pan of your choice. You can make one big cake or multiple small ones. I used small tart pans (about 5”). Divide fruit enhancer evenly among pans and spread to make smooth. Slice fruit into 1/4-inch wedges. Arrange fruit slices in a fanlike, circular pattern on top of fruit enhancer.
Make cake: Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then beat in vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until combined after each addition.
Divide the batter between the pans prepared with the fruit. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool. When completely cool, loosen sides of cakes with paring knife and invert onto plate or cake stand.
I have another little brick house plum tree story. My sister and I had a good friend who lived across the street named Pedro. We did everything with Pedro. We had Power Ranger marathons, I saw my first Coolio music video at his house, and I’m pretty sure we purposely made mud pits in his back yard to play in. One day we decided we wanted to bury a box in the ground with our most precious valuables enclosed so the future explorers of the world would dig it up and learn of the vast history of the time and we’d become famous long after we’d already passed. I’m pretty sure I just placed a plastic Barbie shell bracelet in the shoebox and I know we all signed our names with the date on a piece of paper. We dug a hole under the plum tree and scooted the dirt over the box with our hands. It is still there. We never dug it up. I’m actually impressed. There have been several families that have lived there since we left and I’ll bet none of them were aware of the shell bracelet beneath the dirt, but I’m sure they enjoyed those oh-so-good plums every summer. To those families: you’re welcome.