Now a little curious, I hopped off my bike and hiked into the hedge row for a closer look. My first thought was that it might be a crab-apple. Wild crab apple trees (if you've never seen one, it's a tree that grows miniature apples which are technically edible, but incredibly sour and crunchy, so no one much bothers with them) are pretty abundant in these parts. But this fruit was squishy and smelled good. I snapped off one of the juicy little globes and off I went, peddling home for further analysis from the experts (my parents).
I handed the fruit to my dad, who looked it over once and hastily announced, "crab apple!"
Now my parents know more about plants than anybody. My Dad has been farming crops and raising a garden for over 30 years. My mother is part of an Herb Guild that holds monthly meetings and recently attended classes so that she could earn the honorable title of "Master Gardener."
But I was prepared to battle the experts on this one. This was NOT a crab apple, and I fervently argued this point as I compared it to the crab apple tree in our yard.
"Well, bite into it and see," said Dad. Obviously, he was unconcerned that I might ingest a poisonous wild berry of some sort. However, I was willing to put my life on the line to prove that I was right. (Good thing Mom wasn't around.) I took a hesitant bite....and then choked and grasped my throat as my knees buckled beneath me and I fell to the ground, gasping for air; the corners of my vision went fuzzy, and then everything turned to black.
Ok, so that didn't really happen. But if I had been thinking I would have done that! There are few opportunities in life when one can act out a death scene by poison, and one should always jump at these opportunities when they arise. (Sadly, I missed my chance, and now I'll have to wait until I find another obscure edible fruit. Also, please don't try this at home...eating unknown fruits from hedge rows that is; feel free to reenact the death by poison as much as you want) In reality, I was happily surprised to find a fleshy, mildly sweet, yellow fruit inside. YES! Definitely not a crab apple.
Dad looked over the fruit again and proclaimed it to be a wild plum. Now we're talking. That was an estimate I could get behind.
With the new found info, I headed straight to the source of all knowledge, Google, to double check the findings. A quick google image search and a little background info later, I was sure that my father was correct. Wild Plums! I found Wild Plums!
I was perhaps far more excited about this than a normal human being might be. Fruit trees make me happy.
I left the bucket in the sun for a day and half to let the fruit ripen up a little.
On Monday morning I rolled out of bed and headed straight to the kitchen. I had scoured the internet for wild plum recipes the night before and was ready to try my hand at a wild plum pie. You might even say that I went to bed while "visions of sugar plums danced in my head."
Ok that was cheesy, I know.
In any case, this stunning little recipe starts with a homemade pastry crust called pate sucree. Don't be scared by the fancy name though, it really just means "sweetened dough" in French and is quite easy to put together, although since it needs to be chilled, you'll want to start it first thing, or possibly make it the night before.
If you have to cut the pit out with a knife, the plum probably isn't ripe enough, so just toss it in your compost bowl. Thats the bowl I keep around when I'm in the kitchen to toss in all the discarded fruit and veggie parts: old banana peels, egg shells, apple cores, tomato tops, you name it. After I'm done in the kitchen, the bowl gets emptied out behind the barn into the compost pile. Its not a pretty thing, but you can't beat composted soil for nutrients! Well anyways, if you don't have a compost pile, throw it in the garbage disposal, I'm not going to judge :)
Then its back to the oven for another 35-40 minutes.
The recipe and instructions below were modified ever-so-slightly from the Phoo-d blog.
Pate Sucree (The tart shell)
1 stick room temperature butter
1/3 cup Sugar
1/4 tsp. Vanilla extract
1 Egg yolk
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
(You can also double this recipe, as I did, to make two tart shells if you have lots of plums. Or simply freeze one of the shells for use at a later date)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the vanilla and egg yolk and mix until the ingredients are well combined. Next add in the flour and continue to mix until no dry bits remain. Scrape the ball of dough out of the bowl and onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Gently press the dough into a flat disk, about 4″ across, and wrap it completely with the plastic wrap. Place the dough in the fridge for several hours or overnight until it is firm. (To speed things up, you can also place the dough in the freezer for half an hour.)
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the dough from the fridge and let warm up for about 5 minutes until it is just barely pliable. If the dough is too stiff to roll out and is just crumbling, let it sit for a few more minutes to warm up slightly. Lightly flour both sides of the dough and place it between two pieces of parchment paper or two silpats. Use a rolling pin to gently roll the dough into a large 12 inch circle. (I just rolled my dough out on one piece of parchment paper and it worked just fine)
Gently peel the top sheet of parchment off of the dough. Ready a 10″ tart pan (I used a pie plate because I don't own a tart pan, which is why the original recipe is called wild plum part and my recipe is wild plum pie), and then invert the dough into the pan. Pinch off any dough that hangs over the edges of the tart pan, and use it to patch any tears. (Your pie/tart does not need to look perfect since you will be filling it with plums anyways.) Next place the tart pan in the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up again before baking. If you don’t do this the dough will shrink in the pan and you will be sorry!
Take the tart pan straight from the freezer and place it in the center of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until the tart shell is slightly golden. Check on the tart shell about halfway through baking and if you notice any bubbles, use the back of a spoon to press them down. Transfer the tart to a rack and let it cool completely before filling. (If you should happen to forget to pre-bake the pie shell, no worries, I made two pies, but forgot to pre-bake the pie shell the first time and the results were still excellent. )
Wild Plum Filling
15-20 wild plums (Wild plums are small. Reduce this to 8-10 if you are using regular plums!)
1 pre-baked 10-inch pate sucree tart shell (recipe above)
1 stick salted butter
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons plum brandy, grappa or kirsch (I used amaretto since that was all I had on hand)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons heavy cream (I used whole milk because we were out of cream)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the plums in half, remove the pits, and slice into 1/2 inch wedges. As you cut the plums, arrange the wedges in concentric circles in the prebaked tart shell. This will help you determine exactly how many plums are needed to fill the tart.
Place a small saucepan over low heat. Add the stick of butter and let it melt and bubble. Keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, continue to cook the butter, giving the pan an occasional swirl, until it has turned a toasty light brown color. Immediately take the pan off the heat and add in the lemon juice to stop the cooking. Set the mixture aside to cool slightly.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until it forms a mixture that drops thickly from the beaters (about 5 minutes of mixing). Add the browned butter, brandy, vanilla, flour, and cream into the bowl. Gently beat the mixture until it is just combined (about 1 minute).
Pour the batter over the top of the plums, jiggling the tart pan gently to evenly distribute the batter. Cover the edge of the tart crust with a pie crust shield or a ring of foil. Place the tart in the top third of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is a golden brown. Transfer the tart to a rack and remove the foil or pie shield. Let the tart cool for 15-30 minutes and then remove the outer tart ring (if the ring sticks in places, gently insert the tip of a knife between the ring and the crust to remove it). Serve the tart warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.