Orcas Island Wild Plum Streusel
Thanks to a wild ((or at the very least aged, unfettered & prolific)) plum tree and the kind-hearted generosity of my friend, Orcas Island potter, Mr. Weatherman, I have the pleasure of sharing this simple sour plum streusel. I went to visit Mr. Weatherman and his Olga Pottery shop during our second day on the island. His place is always a favorite stop of mine because of his beautiful pottery, his friendly conversation and his gracious accommodation of my “bubbly” herd.
I walked past his yard, through the door of his shop to find him exactly where I last left him – his potter’s wheel. I hated to interrupt but couldn’t resist the urge to say hello. I reintroduced myself to him and expressed my admiration of his work and went on to say I first met him 4 years ago and then returned 2 years ago. As that last bit of my Orcas Island history slipped past my lips, I caught my words midway and amended them.
“Well, I never made it over here last time. My husband came in my place – he and my mother-in-law chose a bowl that has the most beautiful design of abstract trees with the scape of island and sea.”
At first he greeted me like he would any customer who broke the soothing silence of his studio by asking him to remember our brief encounters from years past, so very gracious and kind. He warmly thanked me for returning and I went about the task of limiting myself to just a few pieces of Jerry Weatherman’s Olga Pottery. I hadn’t even taken my third step when he called back to me “Didn’t you have some sort of a medical emergency the last time you were on the island?” And with that little question, I was reminded of just how much this beautiful place feels like home.
As we caught up and Shep introduced himself, Gracie walked in holding a small dark purple piece of fruit asking if it was edible. “Well, I think it’s a crab apple – no…that’s a plum! Sure, give it a try.” I answered, waiting for her to taste and grimace at the unappealing sour flavor. Instead she let out a quiet moan of delight and ran out to gather more. I think she ate 20 of those cherry-sized plums before I could convince her to save me some.
With the permission of our host, I enlisted the boys and Gracie to gather plums in hopes of using them for a recipe. In spite of the onslaught of “Plum Wars 2016”, my beastly herd managed gather about 2 pounds of nicely ripened, honey-sweet, cherry-sized, purple Orcas Island plums. ((I can’t help but see a depiction of the Plum Wars in the beautiful “sprouted sourdough toast-sized” plate below.))
What’s interesting about these plums ((aside from where & how they were gathered)) is the contrast in flavor when cooked verses fresh. When fresh, the plum has an overwhelming honey-like flavor balanced with a nice tartness from the skin. But when cooked, the sweetness subsides and the tartness becomes much more pronounced. I would have entitled this recipe “Sour Plum Streusel” if weren’t for the fact that these plums are so deliciously sweet when picked fresh.
Even knowing that these plums will finish off in the oven quite sour, I still find limiting the sugar is key to this recipe. The final addition of sweetened whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream is the perfect amount of sweet to balance out the tart fruit.
This recipe starts off with a homemade quick cake batter. A stick of butter, a scoop of sugar, a couple of eggs, vanilla, a pinch of salt, a few tablespoons of buttermilk, baking powder, flour and my favorite addition — lemon zest are the short-list of cake ingredients.
After pitting the plums, a task made speedy thanks to a cherry pitter, and layering them atop the cake batter, I mixed up a simple streusel topping made of flour, sugar, cinnamon and butter.
The butter was closer to melted than softened, which resulted in a creamier ((rather than crumblier)) streusel topping. Although the “over-softening” was unintentional, the outcome was so delightful, that I am making it a permanent step in the recipe instructions.
While baking, the dollops of creamy streusel batter melt over the plums and cake forming a crisp, sugary coating that oozes into and among the sour plums. The streusel not only adds a warm cinnamon flavor, it also creates a crisp outer shell, adding a nice crunch to the otherwise soft fruit cake dessert.
I was delighted to see the deep red plums & juice peeking through the streusel when I pulled the dish out of the oven. The aroma of warm cinnamon sugar, baked fruit and homemade cake is almost enough to satisfy the urge to dig into this dessert. “ALMOST” being the key word.
All that is needed is a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and a spoon ((well, a plate would be handy too)). That first bite where warm tart plum juice, steamy homemade butter cake and crisp cinnamon sugar streusel meet with sweet, slightly melted vanilla ice cream is as close to heaven as one can get — in my humble opinion.
Orcas Island Wild Plum Streusel
- 4 c fresh small plums, pitted & halved*
- 1 c softened butter, I prefer salted
- ¾ c sugar
- 2 t vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 2 T Bavarian-style buttermilk**
- pinch of sea salt
- 2 t lemon or orange zest
- 1½ c flour
- 2 t baking powder
- 1½ sticks softened, slightly melted butter
- ¾c flour
- 2 t ground cinnamon
- ¾ sugar
- Preheat oven to 375°. Grease a 10″ round baking dish or deep skillet. In a medium mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, buttermilk, sea salt & citrus zest. In a smaller bowl, combine flour and baking powder, stirring lightly to combine. Add the flour mixture to the sugar/egg mixture stirring until most of the lumps are gone.
- Pour the cake batter into a prepared pan. Top with plums and any plum juice that may have settled after the plums were sliced.
- In the same bowl used to prepare the cake batter, combine the streusel ingredients. Dollop the streusel over the plums.
- Place the dish into the preheated oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the center is set and the batter is cooked through.
- Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
- Serve with vanilla ice cream.
- *my plums were cherry-sized. Fresh cherries, apricots, peaches or plums will all work nicely for this recipe. Just make sure the fruit is ((or is cut into)) quarter-sized pieces.
- **plain buttermilk will substitute if you can’t find the Bavarian.