So it's old news autumn is here, but I never said I was going to be keeping the calendar for you so this post is not meant to announce that. No, this post is about how the colors are beautiful now and how I have a deep and abiding love for plums.
The autumn colors, of course you have all your myriad shades of yellow, orange, red, brown: siennas, ochres, ambers, umbers, shades you forget exist until you see them again the next fall. You know they're coming, but you can't quite remember the richness or the depth possible; they surprise all over again. In some places it seems like the foliage was set on fire. I looked for those colors that astound you with their translucence, but I didn't find them this time. What we did stumble upon were nooks and corners that looked like they'd been painted by some whimsical forest-dweller.
Before you get to this, to all these shades each trying to best the next one, there is a perfect period where summer and fall kiss each other briefly and make friends. The days are still warm but with a faint breeze in the air, a slight chill across your back. The sun grows less cheerful, less overbearing in its embrace. It's the time of the plums.
Plums. All sorts of plums. I like them purple the way they are most often thought of, the Damson plums(les Quetsches), but my favorite ones are the perfect little golden ones, the Mirabelles and their regal bigger sisters the Greengages (la Reine-Claude). When I was little, there was a fruit orchard behind the house in the country. Come the end of August, we'd go on the weekends and, with the caretaker, lay large sheets under the trees and shake the fruit out of them. I still remember watching him catch the large branches with a hook on a long pole. Sometimes he'd let me hold on to the pole as he shook, my four year-old body bouncing up and down, the plums pitter-pattering on the sheet as they fell. It was a reward, a prize, being able to eat the mirabelles just off the tree.
It was a challenge, making something with them. Usually they don't make it any farther than the colander; I eat them out of there, just washed, not even bothering to put them in a bowl. But such is the power of Michel Roux and his clafoutis recipe*, which I had tried with cherries during the summer, that I couldn't resist and wanted to try it with the mirabelles, knowing full well that as they cooked, a wonderful scent would pervade the house and I would even be able to smell them as I went to bed. It's unusual, his clafoutis, in that most people don't make it with a crust anymore, but his pâte brisée (short dough) is so flaky and delicate that it's worth a try making clafoutis this way. My little twist on this was using lemon myrtle leaf that Y sent me from Australia, just a tiny bit infused into the milk before adding it to the batter, and there you have it, mirabelles and custard and just a hint of lemon. Heaven.
But what about the Greengages you ask?
Well, that's even more straightforward. For the greengages I simply followed Roux's greengage tart recipe*, no mysteries there, no additional ingredients. Greengages do not play well with others. As their name indicates, they are the queen of all plums. Mirabelles are the cheruby Spanish infantas to their stern Elizabethan monarchs. They retain a tart undertone about them even when fully ripe and cooked which is why Roux pairs them with pâte sucrée (sweet short dough) and pastry cream.
Plums. When I can revel in them, I know autumn is on its way.
This is more of a mild set of fall colors, but I've no doubt that if we'd gone back a week later, the trees might have been about to combust from all that fire within. Sometimes it's hard to know when the foliage will give in to the relentless courtship of autumn; one year it might be a week early, the next it might be three weeks late. Early or late, soft or vibrant, understated or lively, I'll take them all, thank you.
And thank you for the plums too.
*If you must have them, I will give you the adapted recipes. If there is little demand, we'll leave this as is.
** For beautiful pictures of Mirabelles, go see Meeta's Mirabelle lemon poppyseed focaccia post.