The end of a novel, like the end of a children’s dinner-party, must be made up of sweetmeats and sugarplums. – Anthony Trollope
I’ve had an unexpected windfall of greengage plums. It rained hard for most of the summer, summer not arriving in the Loire Valley until mid-July. It rained hard and long and the chill seeped into the earth, the rivers clawed their way up the banks and flooded fields. June to July and we pulled on sweaters and closed-toe shoes and listened to the wine growers mourn the loss of their crops. Black frost and rain.
And then summer arrived suddenly, rather unexpectedly, like a postcard in the mailbox from a long-forgotten friend. Mild, at first, then blazing, making us forget the rain and the chill, now seemingly so long ago. But neighbors began worrying, aloud, about the fruit. Not just the professionals, the wine producers, but friends and the fruit farmers: “the strawberries are water-logged, the peach trees are bare, we’ll have no cherries this year.”
And we began to worry about the jam.
We rely on small, local producers, and, even more importantly, our friends and neighbors whose gardens afford us an abundance of fruit, which I turn into jam for the hotel. Our first summer at the Diderot, my first summer making jam, and I was surprised almost on a weekly basis, sometimes more often, with pretty baskets overflowing with peaches, figs, wild plums, and green tomatoes brought to me from one of the neighbors, one of our staff, the owner of our building, or, more surprisingly, a stranger who was in the habit of selling fruit, cheap, to the hotel. Each Thursday, I would haul back three crates, nine kilos of fresh, ripe strawberries “pour confiture” from one small producer’s stall at the market, and spend the next 3 days hulling berries and making jam.
Have I mentioned the little man that showed up one day last summer, walked into the hotel, scruffy as can be in an old suit and cap, and mumbled gruffly “will you be taking my plums this year?” Baffled and amused, we exclaimed “why yes we will, thank you!” aiming for that confident “we-know-who-you-are-and-what-you-are-talking-about” delivery. He tipped his hat (or so it seemed in character that he should have), turned around, and stalked off. The following day if that old man didn’t return to the hotel carrying several crates of plums in varying colors, purple, green, yellow, golden. And figs, beautiful garnet-hued figs. “Will you be wanting peaches this year?” he threw our way as he stood in the doorway. “Why of course, whatever you have!”
Last summer was one, long, continuous jam session, day in and day out, pitting, peeling, hulling, slicing, weighing, then cooking long and slow in the steady, searing heat that hung low over Chinon, bathed the streets in white light, wedged its way into every nook and corner. My cupboards in the diningroom were stocked to bursting and the girls would shake their heads each time I slowly descended the stairs balancing yet another tray laden with jars. “There’s no more room,” they would wail, and I would wonder if there would be enough to last the year, to see us through the autumn, winter, and spring until the same fruit would return in abundance next season.
But as long as friends and neighbors continued to bring us fruit, as long as there were strawberries and apricots on the market, I continued to make jam.
But this year, the strawberries and apricots are in short supply, the peaches are suffering, and there are no plums. The trees are bare. “I can’t give you greengage plums this year,” Jane explained. “There are 10 plums on the tree, 8 for the birds, 2 for us. No plums.” It was a good thing that I had made so many jars of greengage jam last year with the near endless supply that kept showing up on my doorstep, so much more than I needed, because it was becoming evident that I would need that jam to last one more year.
The fan blows hot air around the room. I sit in the kitchen on the other side of the apartment away from the blazing sun where the tiled floors keep the temperature down. I test recipes for my cookbook, work on what I can, drink Coke and try and stay cool. I hadn’t made jam for several weeks since berry season wound down, since the cases of apricots for jam disappeared from the market stalls. It did allow me the time to work on my cookbook, but I began to worry about my dwindling jam stock.
And then a neighbor, Mr. S, a good friend of Raymonde, arrived. I found him on the terrace one late morning with 2 baskets brimming with beautiful greengage plums. My eyes popped! Where oh where did he get greengage plums? How did he succeed? “I have loads of plums this year,” he said. “Would you like them for jam?” It was all I could do to keep from jumping up and down and clapping my hands! Jean-Pierre ran and grabbed 2 wooden crates and we poured the plums out of the baskets so Mr. S could take them back home. “Do you need more?” I stared. “I’ll take all the plums that you can spare!” And he returned several minutes later, both baskets refilled with perfect plums. “Can I bring you some jam when it’s made?” I offered. “No, I don’t want anything in return, these are for you, the overflow.”
And that’s how I found myself washing, slicing, pitting, weighing, cooking 20 kilos of greengage plums over 5 days, my fingers and fingernails stained a brownish orange. And inventing a few new flavors of plum jam. There’s that for the season.
Reine Claude, such a pretty name for a plum. This sweet, small green-hued, yellow-fleshed fruit is named Reine Claude in France after Queen (Reine) Claude, daughter of King Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne, herself later Queen of France when she married François I in 1515. She died at the age of 24 after having brought 7 children into the world. During her reign, she oversaw the royal fruit orchards at the Château of Blois, just an hour and a half from Chinon. In her honor, the gardeners named this pretty little plum after their queen.
- 2 cups (255 grams) flour
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons (5 ounces/145 grams) cold unsalted butter, cubed
- ¼ cup (60 ml) + 2 tablespoons very cold water
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1-1/2 pounds (750 grams) stone fruit – I used Reine Claude plums (Greengage plums), washed, pitted and cut into wedges ¾–inch (2 cm) thick
- ½ cup (113 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons flour
- Dash cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- Pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
- Granulated brown sugar and slivered almonds to decorate
- Place the flour, sugar, lemon zest and salt in a large bowl. Add the cubes of butter and toss to coat with the dry ingredients. Using only the tips of your fingers, quickly rub the flour and butter together until it resembles damp sand and there are no more large lumps of butter left.
- Using a fork, quickly stir in the water combined with the lemon juice until a shaggy dough forms.
- Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface and using the heel of one hand, smear the dough little by little away from you in quick, hard strokes in order to make sure that all of the butter is blended in well. Scrape it together once again and knead briefly and quickly, adding more flour if the dough is wet and sticky, until the dough is smooth, homogeneous and soft but no longer sticky.
- Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 30 minutes until it is firm enough to roll out without sticking to the rolling pin. The dough can also be prepared in advance.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Unwrap the dough, place it on a lightly floured and roll it into a large round disc, about 15 inches (38 cm) in diameter. Lift and rotate the dough, a quarter turn each time, as you roll, flouring underneath it to prevent sticking. Trim the excess dough around the edges to make a 14-inch (35 cm) round. Carefully and lightly roll the disc of dough around the rolling pin and transfer it to the parchment-line baking sheet (don’t worry if the dough hangs over the edges at this point), cover with plastic and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
- Place the prepared fruit and the lemon juice in a large mixing bowl.
- Blend the brown sugar, flour, lemon zest, dash of cinnamon and the salt in a small bowl to combine. Pour it over the fruit and toss until the fruit is evenly coated with the dry ingredients.
- Remove the galette crust from the refrigerator and the plastic wrap and pile the fruit in the center of the disc.
- Push the fruit around until it is evenly distributed, leaving a 3-inch (7.75 cm) border all around it.
- Fold the dough edges up and over the dough, pleating the dough as you go. The fruit should be uncovered and showing in the center. Using your finger, dab a little water under each pleat and gently press the pleats to seal.
- Brush the dough with the cream or milk. Dust both the fruit showing in the center and the dough with granulated brown sugar and slivered almonds.
- Bake the plum galette for about 40 minutes until the dough is a deep golden brown, the fruit is tender and the juices are beginning to bubble. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a couple of minutes before sliding the parchment paper with the Galette onto a cooling rack.