Romania is the second-leading plum-growing country. Thanks to our family’s relevant ethnic heritage, we always seem to have a bottle of Romanian plum brandy called Tuica.
Why is “plum” used in daily language to refer to something that is highly desirable, such as a “plum job.” (A tenured professorship at a prestige university, perhaps?) Why not peach or cherry?
The Oxford English Dictionary suggests two relevant meanings. First, in medieval England “plum” referred to soft and elastic, like newly risen bread.
Another explanation is that “plum” is now-rare British slang for a very large sum of money, specifically 100,000 pounds. Like “bob” for 1 shilling in the pre-decimal days and “quid,” which is still used for 1 pound.
Most internet recipes for plum cakes don’t actually contain plums. That’s because they refer to the British plum pudding of “A Christmas Carol” fame, more similar to our fruit cake. I presume the plum adjective in the British cake refers to its luxurious set of ingredients rather than the fruit.
I don’t know why fresh plums are so scarce. U.S. plum consumption has plummeted by nearly half in the past decade. Perhaps because the supermarket varieties imported from California or abroad are harvested when they are still hard and never ripening to a pleasing softness.
Most of the recent batch of small local plums were ideal for a quick snack. Pop them in the mouth in one go, while discreetly extricating the pit.
A few of the small local plums were too soft for direct eating. So rather than waste them, I made a mini plum cake in a small bowl brought home from the annual Empty Bowls benefit soup luncheon to help fight hunger in Oxford.
Cut 1 small plum in half and place at the bottom of the bowl with 2 tablespoons butter and microwave for 1 minute. In a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup flour, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 egg, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Pour the batter over the microwaved plum. Slice a second small plum, place on top, and microwave for 2 minutes.
Years ago I worked in Ljubljana for 3 months. Early morning meetings always started with shots of Slivovitz, a plum brandy made in several Balkan countries.
I always faced a tough choice: nurse the glass of Slivovitz (prolonging the agony) or gulp down quickly like medicine (inviting a refill). Refusing it altogether would have been an insult, jeopardizing the work. What would you do?
MOON Co-op is Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery, featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. The store, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. www.mooncoop.coop.