Monday, 30 September 2013

Warm Plum & Citrus Compote

Warm Plum & Citrus Compote

Jane Grigson wrote in 1982 of the ubiquity of the Victoria plum.  Since 1840, when a stray seedling was found in Sussex, the Victoria has been grown for its qualities as a good cropper rather than for its flavour. Even today, more than 30 years on from publication of Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, we seem reluctant to acknowledge its inferiority and so we have reached a point where it's difficult to find other varieties of plum. That's not to say Victoria plums can't be made palatable by cooking, but to eat one straight from the tree is invariably disappointing.  Grigson agreed with Edward Bunyard  (Anatomy of Dessert).  He said, of plums intended to be eaten uncooked, that there was little "encased in red, black or blue" worth growing.

Neither Edward Bunyard nor Jane Grigson seem to have rated the dark, dusky Damson plum.  It is a personal favourite of mine, not just for making Damson gin.  In a Damson souffle its sharp, bitter qualities are hard to beat, but a yellow- or green-skinned plum is my first choice for most other plum dishes.  These range from the tiny intensely sweet Mirabelle, its yellow skin blushed with a fingertip of rouge as its season progresses, to the honeyed flesh of the green/gold Greengage.  I've previously written about Greengages so rather than repeat myself, here's a link to that post which includes a recipe for Plum Tart

The recipe below is based on A Warm Compote of Plums with Honey and Orange from The Art of Cooking with Vegetables by Alain Passard.  Unsurprisingly, Passard uses French Reine Claude plums (Greengage) for this dish, as do I.  The citrus fruit pairs surprisingly well with the Greengages.  However, I've found, if the plums are a little on the tart side, then the quantity of lemon needs to be reduced.

I think it's time I planted a Greengage tree.  Perhaps it should be a self-fertile 'Early Transparent Gage', or, better still, the elusive 'Coe's Golden Drop', if I can only find a source.

Warm Plum & Citrus Compote
(Serves 4-6)

1kg (2lb) ripe Greengages or other plums
40g (1½oz) salted butter (or unsalted with a pinch of salt)
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp runny honey
1medium unwaxed (or well-scrubbed) orange, cut into segments with skin intact
1 small-medium unwaxed (or well-scrubbed) lemon, cut into segments with skin intact

Choose a lidded frying pan large enough to eventually take the plums in a single layer. Gently melt the butter (and salt if using), honey and sugar in the pan, stirring to amalgamate.  Add the orange and lemon slices.  Partially cover with the pan lid and cook gently for 15 minutes. Wash the plums and add them whole to the pan in a single layer. Partially cover again and cook gently for 30-40 minutes - the fruit should be tender but not mushy.  Take off the heat, remove the lid and leave to stand for 10 minutes.  
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or double cream.  An almond biscuit goes well too.