I have to admit that I do not understand those folks who return to the workforce once they are retired because they say they are bored. I do sympathize with those who are forced to return for economic reasons, and who knows, maybe most of the "bored" folk just say that so the rest of us don't know they are struggling financially. I've been retired for eight years now (and I'll boast just a bit here and point out that I retired when I was 57, not because I planned it that way, but because of the fortunate convergence of a myriad of details when the company where I was employed went out of business, enabling my wife and I to take advantage of the situation and make not working work), and even after eight years, I haven't even caught a whiff of boredom.
That beings me to plum tarts. If you were retired, you might more easily see the connections here, but since you probably don't have the luxury of spending the time to connect those particular dots, let me save you some time. One of the reasons I am not bored is that my wife has a green thumb. I don't, of course, but I did read a magazine years ago that showed how, using raised planting beds, you can transform a yard from a field planted with grass (which is a crop that you harvest once a week and then throw into the recycle bin to be hauled of to the municipal mulch pile) to a productive urban farm that produces tasty, usable crops that will make you healthier and might save you money. Might. I'm going to be like Elon Musk here and keep telling you about how good food straight from the garden will be and how much you will enjoy it, and I'll skirt past the start-up costs and will downplay any talk of profitability. Elon has managed to avoid profits for fifteen years now at Tesla, but he eats well. That to me is a good business model.
My point here is that with my wife's interest and skill in planting things, and I having the time on my hands to do stuff like construct raised planters, we were able to create a bit of a suburban farm that produces lettuce, spinach, chard, collards, turnips, beets, peppers, zucchini, beans, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, the occasional cantaloupe, cherries, lemons, oranges, avocados, strawberries, mint, parsley, grapes, garlic, corn, peas, pomegranates, and tomatoes. The pomegranates and the tomatoes are the "money" crops -- they are prolific producers and very useful. For example, my wife is shooting for 400 pounds of tomatoes out of the garden this year. That's $600 to $800 dollars worth of product at grocery store prices from an approximately $20 investment in plants. However, growing this stuff is only half the challenge -- the other half is what to do with once you harvest it.
It really irks me to have a whole bunch of stuff that just goes bad sitting on the kitchen counter. You might as well just have the lawn and toss the clippings in the green can. So the challenge is to come up with ways to use and/or preserve the harvest. We do a good job with tomatoes. We make killer BLT's, an outrageously good fresh tomato and basil pasta sauce, have fresh diced tomato on salads dressed with a garlic olive oil dressing, sliced tomato on sandwiches, and tomatoes quartered and eaten with just a bit of salt. We also make pico de gallo, salsa, and enough canned tomato sauce to last the year until next tomato season. It took a few years to ramp up tomato processing to match tomato production, but between what we make and the bounty we share with the neighbors, no tomato is left behind.
I'm not as satisfied with other crop utilization however. Collards, for instance. It is a tremendously easy plant to grow and is prolific. For us, one plant would do, I suppose, but collards are also a spectacular winter landscape plant here in California, so I tend to over-plant. Before the next harvest, I need to look into better ways to preserve it so I don't just end up with huge plants next spring and tossing them.
And that, obviously, brings us to the plums. A couple of years ago, my wife brought home a pigmy plumb tree (I think 'dwarf" is the more politically correct terminology for plants) and informed me that it was going to live in a pot on the back patio. I wasn't expecting much from this tree in terms of production or quality of fruit. The first season, we had maybe four plums off the tree, and I thought 'yeah, right, I told you,' but I had to admit, they were very delicious plums. This year, the tree surprised us with a very generous crop. As the plums came on, my wife and I would go out every morning and pick a handful while they were still cool from the night air to have with our coffee and tea, but this past week, the rush to ripeness began producing more plums that we might be reasonably expected to eat.
So (finally getting to my point) I looked up ways to use our plum abundance. Boom, I saw it -- plum tart. So simple, and as it turns out, so good, a perfect recipe for my style of cooking. I like rustic kinds of dishes, those that effectively and deliciously use the things you have on hand, and yes, dishes like your grandmother used to make.
Plum Tart Recipe *
For the tart shell:
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 4 to 6 tablespoons ice water
For the plum filling:
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 2 tablespoon shelled walnuts
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided use
- 3-4 plums, halved, pitted, and sliced 1/4 inch thick (keep sliced halves together)
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream, for brushing
- 2 tablespoons of butter cut into small chunks
- Whisk flour, salt, and sugar together in a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal, with some larger pieces remaining. Drizzle 4 tablespoons water over mixture. Mix with a fork until mixture just begins to hold together. If dough is too dry, add water one tablespoon at a time and mix with a fork.
- Gather dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll out dough into an approximately 8-inch oval, 1/4 inch thick. Transfer dough (on parchment) to a baking sheet.
- Pulse walnuts, 3 tablespoons sugar, and the flour in a food processor until ground to a coarse meal. Sprinkle walnut mixture over center of the dough leaving a 2 inch border. Place plum slices on dough, spacing close together and still leaving a 2-inch border. Fold edge of dough over fruit. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Brush dough with cream; sprinkle tart evenly with remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, and place the butter chunks on top of the fruit. Bake until crust is deep golden, and plums are juicy and bubbling, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely.
Oh my. Flakey crust, not too sweet filling, and served with a little vanilla ice cream, it is sensational. I think the reason for the goodness of this tart is the walnut meal. The earthy taste of the walnut is just the right foil for the fruitiness of the plum.
So bring on the plum harvest. Between breakfast fruit snacks and delicious tarty desserts, we got it covered.
* This recipe is adapted from one found on www.dessertfortwo.com