A glorious excess

plum crumble with lemon-ginger-corn Let me be clear: I like Hemingway over Faulkner (though really, I’ll take either over most) and I read the newspaper rather than watch the news. Why? Because while I have my moments of living in a world of gushy exclamation-point laden excess (Sunset tour and lemon cake anyone?) I generally like a quieter point. Still waters run deep, right? Right.


But summer … oh summer. Summer brings those heaping piles of bright-colored goodness and I am inclined to pile on the adjectives until we lose track of what we’re even talking about. For now, I will restrain myself, and say simply: plums. 

plumsI spent all day Saturday down in Watsonville, learning the fine art of preserving fruit from my friend Eleanor’s husband’s brilliant Aunt Ann and cutting up twenty pounds of backyard plums in the process. (Later this week I’ll be sharing that story, along with a recipe for Blueberry Plum Basil preserves – yes yes.)

plums in pan

I thought I was pretty much done with plums for the season, but when we dropped my niece off that night my brother handed me a plastic bag filled Santa Rosas from their yard – rich, tangy, soft-fleshed and fragrant. I got home and placed them gently on my counter – and just like that, summer’s sweet bounty was all piled up again.

cornmeal lemon zest and ginger

Jacob’s friend Rinji had given us a bag of small, soft, and sweet yellow backyard plums earlier in the week … and we had a few more bright greeny-pink pluots from the market, with their red-kissed flesh … plus  a couple of decadent and juicy black plums from a neighbor … and our own backyard variety, origins unknown, which are red with the barest smattering of yellow, and slice to reveal orange-hued and velvety flesh.

plum crumble

I was doing my best not to start squealing in plum-fueled excitement about what I might bake, but oh the irony when Jess posted her rhubarb crumble recipe … I think I may have yelped. Marion Buross’s plum crumble as shared by Luisa has been a go-to in my kitchen for a few years now, but Jess’s take on it – swapping rhubarb for the plums and then playing with the topping as a riff on the Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Cake from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard – sounded too good not to try.

But of course, I had plums, not rhubarb. And while Jess gets all swoony about cinnamon, what’s really turning me on these days is ginger. I had my work cut out for me.

I’ll skip the superlatives and just say: make this. Oh, please make it. It’s so good.

plum crumble

::Plum Crumble with a Lemon-Ginger Polenta crumb
I adapted this from Jess’s Rhubarb Polenta Crumble, which was inspired by Nigel Slater’s Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Cake from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard and adapted from Marian Burros’s Plum Crumble (via Luisa and Molly).

Jess cuts the butter down to six tablespoons, and out of sheer necessity I went down to five (that was all I had). It was wonderful and I will not go back. I should also add that I use an excessive amount of fruit – almost double what the original recipe calls for. I prefer my crumbles (and cobblers, and slumps, and crisps) this way, since it makes me feel less guilty when I feed them to my children for dinner and eat them myself for breakfast. I also use whole wheat flour here, and would argue that you really won’t know the difference.

When you serve this, you get big piles of fruit that slump and fall into the bowl, oozing juice.The ‘crumble’ over top is more like a cookie – crispy on top, soft underneath where it baked against the fruit. Jacob mixes it all around in his bowl with the yogurt, and while it looks gross it tastes divine. I prefer to take careful bites with plum pieces, crumble-cookie, and a dab of yogurt on each spoonful. Either way – you can’t go wrong.

A word on that oozy juice – when baking with plums, it is generally advised to mix a little flour in with the fruit and sugar to help thicken the juices. I prefer to leave it runny. I eat my crumble with a big dollop of Greek yogurt (the kind that still has some fat in it), and mixed with those runny, tart-sweet juices … nothing better. It is my favorite part of the dish. If you prefer your crumble not to leak and spurt when you cut into it, then by all means add a tablespoon of all-purpose flour to the sugar that you mix in to the fruit … or use cornstarch if you’d like to keep those sparkling gem-colored juices from clouding.

About 20 small plums, mixed varieties or your choice, sliced (but not peeled)
2 – 3 tablespoons Demerara sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup coarse-ground corn meal
1 inch peeled, grated ginger
Grated zest of a small lemon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten well with a couple drops of cream
5 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Stir together the plums and Demerara sugar in a bowl.  Put the fruit into an ungreased 9-inch pie plate (it will heap over the edge, see photo) and set aside.

Combine the granulated sugar, flour, corn meal, ginger, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to blend. Add the beaten egg, and work it into the dry ingredients with a fork. It will be slightly doughy. Spread with your fingers evenly over the fruit.

Drizzle the melted butter evenly over the topping. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is browned and plum juice bubbles up around the edges.

As Jess says: Serve warm or at room temperature, with yogurt, à la Luisa, crème fraîche à la Molly, vanilla ice cream à la Jess … or thick creamy Greek yogurt  à la me :)

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12 thoughts on “A glorious excess

  1. What a beauty of a crumble! Did you like the grit of the corn meal in the topping? I love it, but a friend of mine (who also loved it) wondered whether it might turn some people off… Can’t wait to hear about that day of preserving. That’s something I’ve never done.

    • I love it too Jess. But I tend to like grittier things – I gravitate towards whole grain flours, and always pick medium grind cornmeal over fine. I think if you like what I think of as “white” baked goods, it might turn you off? But not me :)

    • Sometimes I forget that we get things earlier and more abundantly than the rest of the country … thanks for the reminder ;) I know when I lived in NJ we were able to get some really good local peaches and plums – don’t those make it to NYC?

      • Peaches are just starting to come in! We are in the middle of a heat wave right now, but thankfully we have had rain. It comes in giant thunderstorms though. All the water at once.

        We are still getting fruit, but I heard that we got 2/3 LESS cherries this year because of the weather!

        • As I recall, NJ corn, blueberries, and occasionally peaches were pretty darn special … also, we have very limited access here to the Highline ;)

    • I think that, as a category, the stone fruits might be my favorites. Although, berries have a lot to offer … and individually speaking, persimmons are my best. :)

  2. I love this post! That crumble topping looks amazingly crispy. How do you think it would go with cherries? I have some of those on the counter. I would probably want plain old whipped cream on top though – I can’t believe none of you suggested it! Love that golden glow on the topping – is that the light or the cornmeal?

    • molly – it is indeed a very crispy-on-top crumble (though underneath it is softer where it meets the fruit). I am sure whipped cream would be excellent. I like the yogurt because it is tart and kind of dense, which seems to work well – but something lighter textured and still creamy would also be great I think. You can’t go wrong with cherries! A mix of tart and sweet ones would give much the same effect as the plums I think, actually.

      The crumble was definitely corn-meal golden, but that is also late afternoon light in my kitchen, so it could be enhancing the glow.

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