Except during our brief jaunt to Michigan, Gourmandistan has not seen many plums this year. While both of us remember plums picked from Kentucky trees in our youths, we don’t see them often in the markets—and we’ve been too lazy to ask the farmers why. (Though should any of you be reading this, we’d be happy to hear about it.) But we spotted a basket labeled “damson plums” at last week’s market and decided to ask about them. Our question turned into a plea from the salesperson, who feared he had not heard his mother correctly and might have possibly misspelled “damson.” Obvious bookworms that we are, we assured the young man his letters were correct and, seeing as we would get no further ideas about damsons from him, purchased some and walked away.
Michelle, ever the better researcher, turned to her cookbooks and the Internet to see what might be made of this particular plum. (Steve, who was satisfying himself with some of the season’s last peaches, allowed her to proceed.) It seems damsons have a long and mystically fuzzy heritage from Britain, their name evolving from a corruption of “Damascene” as Britons believed the original fruits may have arrived from the Syrian city. (The scientists at Wikipedia would have one believe otherwise.) She also found that damsons are currently somewhat uncommon here in the U.S., and considered too tart to eat out of hand. (Steve, slurping down peaches, did not seem to care.)
Coming across a recipe for Damson Plum Pie in In Pursuit of Flavor, a 1988 cookbook by the great Edna Lewis, Michelle saw that she first had to make plum jam. Since jam-making has kind of been Michelle’s favorite jam this summer (often accompanied by this eternal hit playing on our tiny kitchen TV), she decided to give it a try.
Steve was attracted by the chance to make a pâte brisée with lard based on Miss Lewis’ recipe. Michelle decided a less porky taste would be more to her liking, so Steve compromised with half lard, half butter.
The jam-making went fairly smoothly, as Michelle has had plenty of experience and (supposedly to enhance flavor) the plums did not require pitting before cooking into jam. Once the preserves were done Steve made the crust, and we were off to a pie. Damson jam did indeed turn out to be quite tart, with a plummy undertone we quite enjoyed. The pie itself seemed a less sweet, more purple chess pie to our palates, again with the delightful taste of damson.
We’re not sure when we’ll next see damsons at our markets, or whether their name will be spelled correctly. But we will definitely remember this pie—and quite possibly that half-lard crust may be showing up in Gourmandistan again, lack of damsons be damned.
DAMSON PLUM PIE
(adapted from Edna Lewis’ In Pursuit of Flavor)
DAMSON PLUM PRESERVES:
- 1 lb. damson plums
- 12 oz. sugar
Pierce each plum a few times with an ice pick and put them in a pot. Sprinkle sugar over and let sit overnight.
The next day, heat the plums and sugar over medium heat, stirring. Bring to a boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches 220° F on a candy thermometer.
Remove from heat and let sit until completely cooled. Once cooled, remove the seeds.
- 1 c. all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- 3 TB butter, frozen and chopped in small pieces
- 3 TB lard, frozen and chopped in small pieces
- 1-1/2 TB (or more) ice water
Put the flour and salt into a food processor. Add half the butter and lard to the dry ingredients. Pulse 2-3 times. Add the remaining butter and lard. Pulse a few more times, until the mix begins to look like roughly crushed cracker crumbs. Add the ice-cold water a bit at a time, pulsing quickly, until the crumbs barely hold together.
Pour the dough onto a piece of waxed paper and gently pat into a rough disk. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Remove the disk and roll out to fit a 9″ pie or tart pan. Press into the pan and prick the bottom and sides well with a fork. Place the pan in the refrigerator for another hour, or for a shorter time in the freezer.
Pre-bake the crust, filled with aluminum foil weighed down with dried beans or pie weights, for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake for 5 minutes more. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 c. light brown sugar
- 1 tsp. flour
- pinch of salt
- 3 TB melted butter
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 3/4 c. damson plum preserves
Beat eggs in a mixing bowl with a whisk. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into partially-baked crust. Bake for about 45 minutes, until set.