Come August in this part of Germany, there’s always a mad glut of stone fruit. This year, presumably due to the exceptionally long, hot summer we’ve had, there seems to be a larger than average excess of plums. The fruit stands at the market are overflowing with fat, round, purple and yellow fruits, and I’ve heard numerous stories of people having to refuse second or third bucketloads of them from generous neighbours and their prolific plum trees.
I became embroiled in a lengthy plum discussion on Twitter last week. My friend Rachel asked for recommendations for plum recipes, someone replied asking the difference between plum types, and before I knew it, we were 70 tweets deep in plum talk with a host of summer fruit enthusiasts.
I've accidentally bought a bag of incredibly unripe damsons. What should I do with them? (Other than waiting an awful long time for them to ripen) CC @asausagehastwo— Rachel Preece (@rachelinmunich) August 22, 2018
And then out of nowhere, my world was turned upside down. It turns out that Zwetschgen – the small, darker cousin of the plump, purple Pflaumen (plum) – which I’ve always understood to be damsons, are in fact not damsons but a subspecies of them. Damsons, I was informed, are Haferschlehe, a word of which I’d never even heard. It’s taken me a few days to get over this revelation, but I’ve finally updated my Seasonal Eating Guide to reflect the facts.
All this taken into account, that and a party for which I was suddenly required to provide a dessert, seemed like a good excuse to experiment with Zwetschgen. As I’ve said here countless times before, I’m not a good baker – I don’t have the patience, and I generally prefer savoury dishes to sweet – but last Saturday, I decided to bake a Zwetschgenkuchen, or damson (subspecies) cake with a shortcrust pastry base, using some Zwetschgen I’d bought earlier in the week.
Upon unscrunching the paper bag they’d been sitting in since I’d been to the market the Wednesday before, I discovered I had in fact bought Pflaumen (try to keep up), so my cake ended up being a Pflaumenkuchen instead, and it turned out considerably better than I’d anticipated. The pastry was wonderfully buttery and the fruit sweet, sticky with juices, and soft: I’ll try to test the recipe a couple more times before the season’s end and share it here, of course, if I do.
Plums and Rum
My next traditional German plum project will be a little less family-friendly, as I’m going to embark on making a Rumtopf, literally “rum pot”, or fresh fruit – in this case plums – preserved in rum. First stop, picking up a traditional ceramic pot from the second hand shop down the road. I’ll keep you updated.
My father spent a large part of every summer of his later years in search of both the perfect plum cake recipe, but more frustratingly for him, trying to find the right sort of plums in the UK. And now I know. There are several damson trees right next to my house. So I know what I’ll be doing next week.
How lovely 🙂 But your poor father – did he ever find his perfect plum cake?
Sadly no. And the plum tree he planted in my parents’ garden fruited finally the month he died (in August 2007). The plums were pretty good – I know because I spent the week between his death and his funeral picking them, and making plum cakes.
Oh how bittersweet, but what a lovely way to honour your father. I’m so sorry for your loss.
I still miss him, especially when there is plum cake around.