A fragrant and delicately spiced Italian plum cake
A year after marrying, one of us bought a house in the city. Our new home came with a finished wood-paneled basement, a kitchen with original cabinetry (which we have yet to get rid of by the way) and a bathroom with baby blue and pale pink tiles cemented onto the walls, to match the blue bathtub and toilet, of course. We love our home, and love that despite being in an urban area, we have a backyard that is large enough to have accommodated baby pools and sandboxes, gardens, football games, badminton nets, gangs of people during Greek Easter, and most recently a spa. That is not to say that outdoor living was always easy however, and here’s why.
Although large, our backyard is certainly not expansive the way our parents’ yard is, a fact that was perhaps lost on our father. A few weeks after settling into our new home, we returned to work and during an afternoon call to our parents our mother mentioned that our dad had gone over to the house to drop something off. How sweet, we thought. They knew how busy we were and decided to let themselves in to bring over supper; maybe a tray of yemista, or husband’s absolute favourite, spaghetti with meat sauce! How lucky that our parents lived close by!
When we got home, famished, we entered the kitchen and saw nothing more than a small bag of koulourakia on the counter. And then, out the kitchen window, which overlooked our back yard we saw our dad, and what was the real reason for his popping by. A plum tree. An actual plum tree that he took it upon himself to plant, pretty much right in the middle of our large enough, but not huge, yard. He was very pleased with himself, and asked us if we loved our housewarming present. We told him we did (we weren’t sure that we did), but that perhaps it would be better to move the tree so that it was off to the side, or in a corner, by the fence. We also may have mumbled that it would have been better if he had brought over new kitchen towels, or a toaster.
He shrugged, and said that we could move the tree if we preferred, but that he had planted his present where it was so that it would have the space to grow freely, so that we would be able to see it through our kitchen window while washing the dishes (couldn’t even make that up!), and so that when it was full of ripe Italian plums we would have the space to walk around it to pick the delicious, delectable fruit easily. Against all logic, we understood his logic, and kept the plum tree where we found it.
As the years passed and our plum tree grew, it obviously took up more and more space. Backyard designing, decorating and outdoor activities revolved around that tree, sometimes quite literally. Every year we contemplated cutting it down, but whenever we talked about it we would say, …but Ba planted that tree, and we would remember how proud he was to offer what he clearly considered to be the perfect gift. And, every spring it flowered so much that we knew it would produce the richest plum harvest – we didn’t have the heart to give that up. That tree was so fruitful (pun totally intended) that we supplied plums to our neighbors by the bagful, we made plum jam, we froze plums to use in smoothies and in baking, and of course, we ate them right off the tree, easily.
And then, after many years of toying with the idea of chopping the tree down, the decision was made for us. Our plum tree started to grow black nodules all over the trunk and branches, the leaves didn’t look right and it wasn’t producing much fruit at all; our plum tree was sick, and dying, and it was time to say good-bye. As hubby went out with an ax and a saw, you would think that we would be relieved, finally, to free up some precious outdoor real estate. But the truth is, we were a little bit sad. We reminisced about picnics under that tree, and how our daughters would carry their toys to the blanket spread out under it, in order to escape the hot afternoon sun. We remembered how our girls would pluck the fruit from the tree as they sat on their dad’s shoulders, and how much they loved the sweet, warm taste of the freshly picked fruit. We also recalled how proud our dad was of his gift to us, one that he offered with only good intentions and a bounty of love, and in a way which was entirely his own. It’s been a few years since the plum tree was cut down and still today, when we stand by the sink washing the dishes, we can’t help but think that something is missing.
Can we use any plum variety for this cake?
We think that this cake is most wonderful with Italian plums, sometimes called prune plums. These are the plums that grew on our tree (and which still grow on the plum trees in our parents large yard!) and they are in currently in season and wonderful. If you can’t find Italian plums you can ask our dad to come over and plant a tree for you, or you can use another variety of small plum.
Do I peel the plums for this cake?
Nope, no peeling required. Actually, peeling is not even recommended. Wash your plums well, remove the stem if there is one, and the pit. Chop in half or in quarters as directed in the recipe, depending on how large your plums are.
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