In the world of school children, June is like the ultimate Friday. You have to spend a part of it cramming for exams trying to make better grades, but you know that all that work is going to end soon and the rest of the month will definitely be the beginning of a lazy and adventurous summer. July is like Saturday, the first worry-free month, completely void of any scholastic connotations, as the previous school year has ended, the grades arrived home, and the notebooks ended up in a recycle bin in a community center. September is still too far away to muddle the happy thoughts and nobody cares about new classes and text books.
It’s the month of leisure and freedom, the month of dreaming, the month of recklessness brought on by the fierce heat of sunshine, the month of white smiles buried in sunburned cheeks and wet hair. It is the time of year when fireflies make their magic appearance and put on their glittering light show as the balmy nights become fragrant with summer grasses . It is the month of gladiolus which take over the markets, regal and elegant, wilowy and light like ballet dancers, the undisputed winners of the summer flowers.
It is in July when the crates of plump yellow peaches start to appear on the steps, their smell enough to drag you outside to take the first bite leaning forward and collecting their sweet juices in your cupped hand. The pit, surrounded by blood-red pulp separates cleanly from the fruit, and nothing tastes exactly like that first, ripe July peach, picked that morning and gently nestled in a wooden crate.
Soon after, the apricots ripen and spread their fuzzy blush across the farmers’ markets, their orange flesh the reminder of countless sunny days behind and in front of you. Their reign is short, their existence fragile, but they leave in their wake glistening jars of preserves, bottles of nectar, and smooth, round halves swimming in sweet syrup – just enough to bring a jolt of light into a distant and dreary December morning and melt away the first asymmetrical snowflakes.
Toward the end of July, the markets get flooded by plums. Serbia is a plum country and there is hardly a yard that does not boast at least one plum tree. The majority of the giving and humble fruit ends up fermented in rakija (slivovitz); the smaller percentage is dried into sweet prunes, preserved into jams and compotes, with only a small part eaten fresh.
We eagerly anticipated the plum season for the dumplings Mother made, with potato dough enveloping each pitted plum, boiled, and rolled in a mixture of fried breadcrumbs and sugar. Preceded by a soup, it was a filling and simple meal with plenty of dumplings left over for a late snack.
When I bought small, round red plums at our local Persian store, my girls thought that I would be making them those dumplings they adore. I intended to, pooling every ounce of culinary ambition I possess, but in the end I gave up until we return from Serbia in August. Making my first batch will be immeasurably easier under Mother’s tutelage. By that time, familiar Italian plums will be spilling over the crates in the farmers’ markets of Southern California, and I will be able to assemble and serve a moment of Serbian summer. The last days of August will feel like Sunday with everyone scampering to pull at least a few more truly adventurous days out of the month before school starts.
Instead of dumplings, I made a pie. We don’t make pies in Serbia, but the simplicity of the recipe won me over. It only has an upper crust which is more like a cookie than pastry. The rest of the ingredients are there just to elevate the plums to another level, give them a touch of spice, and let them shine… sweet, juicy, and just a little tart. It wasn’t a pretty dessert with the fruit spreading all over the plate and the crust crumbling under the fork. It was like biting into a summer day, sweet, luxurious, and messy.
RED PLUM PIE
This recipe is originally written by Nigel Slater and I found it on the Guardian site. I changed very little. For the original and a great excerpt from his book, visit the site.
For the pastry:
- 100g (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 100g (3 oz) light brown sugar
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 175g (6 oz) all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- a little milk for brushing
For the filling:
- 800g-1kg (about 2 lbs) ripe plums
- 2-3 tbsp light brown sugar
- · a pinch of ground cinnamon
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the lightly beaten egg, then gently mix in the flour and baking powder. Remove dough from the bowl and roll into a ball on a heavily floured work surface. Knead the dough for a minute or two until smooth and soft. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180C). Cut the ripe plums in half and remove the stones. Cut the fruit into large pieces, toss with sugar and cinnamon, and put into a lightly buttered 20-22 cm baking dish.
Roll out the pastry on a floured board and lift carefully on top of the fruit. There will be a little left over. The crust is very short and it might tear, which is to be expected. Some of the juice will probably seep through it as it cooks anyway.
Brush the pastry lightly with milk and bake for 40 minutes. The pastry should be pale-golden. Dust with powder sugar and serve warm.