plum upside-down cakes

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

fruit enhancer
ingredients
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

cake
ingredients
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

create
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.

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harry potter’s pumpkin juice

Oh no! It’s happening! Hurry up and stop me before I post another recipe that’s saturated with glimpses of what appears to be the beginning of a Harry Potter pumpkin series!

Too late.


harry potter’s pumpkin juice
ingredients
1 pumpkin’s worth of roasted pumpkin purée
2 cups apple juice
1 cup white grape juice
1 cup pineapple juice

create
Place the cooked pumpkin in a large fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and push the pumpkin through using a rubber spatula (I don’t have a sieve, so I just used a plain ol’ sifter). Scrape and mash as you push; it will take several minutes. Discard the pulpy mass left in the sieve. Stir the sieved pumpkin in the bowl to evenly distribute the juices, and then measure out 1 cup.


Place the cup of sieved pumpkin in a pitcher along with the apple juice, grape juice, and pineapple juice. Stir vigorously until the pumpkin is completely dispersed. Chill the juice until it’s very cold.
Before serving, stir the juice well, as the pumpkin will settle to the bottom. Fill glasses with ice cubes and pour the juice over the ice.

This recipe is, again, taken from Dinah Bucholz’s The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. Pumpkin juice in the Potter series is like the wizarding world’s water. The characters drink it all the time. I remember reading the books and becoming so incredibly thirsty every time Rowling mentioned it and craving this juice, something I had never even had before. The juice is very fruity, almost punch-like, with a not-at-all overpowering pumpkin oomph.

Right now, you’re like Harry. You must down that glass of pumpkin juice, for you’re about to do something very important. Be careful, though. Someone may have slipped some Veritaserum into that goblet.

dried cranberries

Autumn in South Carolina is a little bit of a tease. And also a bit humorous. As soon as the temperature drops below 70 degrees, people find it necessary to pull out the coats and big socks. Hey, I’m not doggin’ ya. I’m just as guilty. Last night, the husband and I slept with five blankets and a puppy. With the radiator on. And fleece pants. And wool socks. And I love it. Even if SC is teasing us with little spurts of cold, I’m okay with that. I can be patient. And I’ll continue wearing my scarves and boots in 65 degree weather.

So! Since it’s getting cooler (eh, here and there), I like to think of foods that remind me of this glorious time of year. Heck, I think of those foods all year long. My friends make fun of me because I have Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on my running playlist. It’s a good song, people.

Off topic.

I really like cranberries. No, not the kind shaped like a can. I like their tartness, the tiny bit of sweetness you have to search for, and their beautiful color. And they fall perfectly into this time of cooler weather and holiday menu planning! Dried cranberries are great because you can throw them into lots of recipes for a little pucker and raisin-like chewiness. Now, please don’t hate me. The process of drying cranberries (without a dehydrator) is a little time consuming. It requires very little hands-on work, but drying fruits takes time. It’s worth it. You know your result is fresh and you know what ingredients are in it. No guessing!

dried cranberries
ingredients
12 oz fresh cranberries
2 quarts boiling water
1 tbsp natural cane sugar (optional)

create
Preheat oven to 170º. Gently rinse the cranberries and place in a heat-proof bowl or saucepan (this bowl is not over heat). Pour the boiling water over the cranberries. Let the cranberries sit until their skins pop. Some of my cranberry skins popped instantly, but some took a little longer. It should altogether only take a few minutes. You can see that the skins almost look split down the middle.

Drain the water and toss with the sugar. You can certainly leave the sugar out if you’d like. Lay the cranberries in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the oven and leave them there for at least 8 hours.

I’m going to be honest. I dried my cranberries in shifts. If you’re brave enough to leave your oven on all night, an overnight drying should do the trick. I tried to dry mine on my day off so I could be awake and available (not that you have to do anything to them while they’re in the oven, but, you know, safety and junk). Of course, I realized there were things I had to do, so I ended up drying mine at random times of the day and and at different intervals each time. Not the best method, but it worked. You can store them frozen to last longer and they don’t need to be thawed before baking or cooking with them.

Mmm.

I love you, Autumn.

And I love you, SC. Thank you for busting your pride a little bit and bending over to the cool nights and having to see your natives carve pumpkins and wear sweatshirts with palmetto trees on them. I’m sure you’ll get us back next summer.