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30 August 2006

when life hands you plums.....

Italian plums I, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Autumn moves through the air these days, even though it is just past the middle of August. In the mornings, the sun rises just a touch later than it did last week. The warmth of the day feels like an echo, an old memory instead of a present moment. The sky over the Olympic mountains settles into darkness more quickly than it did in June, when light lingered until well after 10 pm. Within a few weeks, summer will clearly be done.

Normally, I flinch against these days, these days of transition and fleeting sunlight. The incipient chill in the air signals the end of long days of freedom and a return to the alarm clock. This summer, in particular, has been so extraordinary that I simply don’t want it to end. Long mornings with the Chef, eating gourmet breakfasts and reading the paper, studying menus of our favorite restaurants online, walking through the neighborhood holding hands and chatting happily. We flew to Tucson for a birthday trip with his marvelous parents, three days of laughter, driving around the neighborhood in a golf cart, and lightning storms that split the desert sky in half. We drove to the coast of Washington, sipping on Slurpees and singing, then drove in go-karts, played miniature golf, and trash talked with each other during video games. (Also, there was the ocean.) We have walked in the long grass of Discovery Park in the late afternoons, sat atop the grassy hills of Gaswork Park at midnight, and lingered long in the sand at Madison Park beach after he is done cooking for the night. We have laughed and looked into each other’s eyes and stayed up late at night talking in bed. We have eaten better than I have ever eaten in my life.

Why would I want summer to end?

But if the Chef has given me anything — besides wide-open love — he has taught me to appreciate the moment even more than I did before. When we were driving away from our home the other day, and the cooling winds of autumn came through the sun roof and ruffled our hair, I instinctually flinched. Before he could notice me, he shouted out, with school-boy glee, “It’s fall!” When I started to complain, he looked at me and said simply, “Comice pears. Wild mushrooms. Butternut squash.” I laughed and felt immediately better. Oh, that’s right. The earth has its reasons.

With this in mind, I was stopped at the front door of Ken’s Market when I meant to go in to buy milk. Sitting in a little bin before me? Italian plums. I discovered these last year, in between summer and autumn, when I was new to the joys of farmers’ markets and buying fruit when it had just become available. I bit into their dusty skins and swallowed their slithery flesh for days on end. Inspired by a story in The New York Times, I made an incredible plum crumble that made everyone moan. I made it again. And then, Italian plums disappeared from the stores and stalls of the farmers’ markets, and I had not seen them since.

I don’t eat anything out of season anymore. I stick to that rule, steadfastly. Before I went gluten-free, I did not pay attention to my food the way I do now. In fact, I often bought pale tomatoes in January, their fat pink globes taunting me in the taste. Now, I only eat fresh tomatoes during this time of year. Soon, they will be gone. I miss them, in January, when I dream of that plump red goodness. But when they return, I devour them until I am sated, happy for the chance to eat something when the earth wants it to be eaten. And so, when I saw the Italian plums for the first time this year, I snatched up a pound immediately.

Then I walked back home and made some plum crumble for the Chef. He moaned and smiled and asked for more. I love making food that he loves.

A few days later, by some wonderful coincidence, a 33-pound box of Italian plums arrived at our door in the arms of a Fed-Ex man. Now, I know this doesn’t happen often — it has certainly never happened to me before — but this is one of the unexpected joys of having a food website. I am often sent free food and promotional items. Most of the time, I make no mention of that food in these pages, because it simply doesn’t meet my standards. But who could refuse a 33-pound box of Italian plums? This nice man named Eric read my website awhile ago, noticed how glowingly I wrote about my Italian plum crumble, and offered to send me some of the Italian plums from Blue Mountain Growers in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, the farm he represents.

There must be something about the sun of Milton-Freewater, Oregon, because these Italian plums are gorgeous. Their dark purple skins are stretched taut across their fleshy yellow innards. Every bite brings globules of juice and tartness. And I can strip every shred of flesh from the little wooden pits, so that nothing remains but the echo of dusky plum taste. I could eat five or six at one sitting, and not yet be done. I have.

Still, even if we eat ten handfuls a day, the Chef and I could not possibly finish a 33-pound box before all the plums go mushy. So we have plans to make jam. We have been handing out bags of plump plums to friends and employees at the neighborhood coffee shop. We have eaten enough crumble that we grumble at the thought of taking one more bite.

Driving the Chef to work one day, I said to him, “What do I do with them?” He suggested a savory sauce, softened and sweet, for on top of meat.
“Pork,” I said immediately. And he nodded his head vigorously. I had chosen well.

And so, on Friday, my dear friends Molly and Brandon ambled up the stairs of our home. Sadly, the Chef was at his restaurant, cooking food and making people happy. But we raised glasses of champagne in his honor. We were happy with each other. We sat at the little table by the window and gawked at the vivid red streaks above the Olympic mountains, as the sun set earlier than it had the day before. We talked of difficult friends and literary agents and catering jobs and computers. We laughed. There was a romaine salad with a lemony dressing. There was chocolate mousse. But first, there was the plum sauce, warmed and slightly sweetened, which I had made with the Chef’s cell phone instructions. It lay draped across seared pork chops. (Brandon ate his over a grilled piece of polenta, since he has never eaten a piece of meat in his life.) We dipped our forks into its jammy goodness, then filled our mouths with the taste of early autumn.

No one was complaining about the end of summer any longer.


plum sauce on pork chops

I can't help it. Whenever I hear the phrase "pork chops," I always think of this moment from the Brady Bunch when Peter Brady said slyly, out of the side of his mouth, "Pork chops and applesauce." What was the reference? I only vaguely remember something about him pretending to be a hard-boiled detective. But I have remembered the intonation so well that I still mutter "...and applesauce" every time someone says pork chops.

(Don't even let me mention the word phenomenon and a certain little rhythmic song from Sesame Street. If you are about my age, your brain is singing it right now.)

And so, perhaps this recipe will help me extricate that broken-record repetition from my mind. Pork chops and plum sauce. The tartness of Italian plums, with a resilient sweetness, softened by warm butter, enhanced by puckery orange juice -- this sauce lingers in the mind long after it is gone. Long after these chops left our plates, long after Molly and Brandon left our house, the taste stayed with me. Pork chops and plum sauce. It has a certain resonsant ring to it.

Now, if only I could invent a phenomenon sauce.

Two tablespoons of high-quality, unsalted butter
One red onion, finely diced
Twelve Italian plums, slivered into quarters
A handful of sugar (about one-quarter cup, if you want to be fussy)
A glug of white balsamic vinegar (two or three tablespoons)
Half a glass of orange juice (or half a cup)

Melt the butter over medium-high heat, being careful not to brown it. When it has melted and becomes bubbly, tip the diced onion into the skillet and stir it frequently. As the onion becomes soft and translucent, add the slivered plums and sautée them for a few moments. When the plums have started to grow soft and sag, add the handful of sugar and the glug of white balsamic vinegar. Stir and cook, simmer and allow the plums to become fully softened, until the flesh yields easily to the fork. Add the orange juice and stir and sautée some more, until the entire mixture has congealed and smells so good that you can no longer resist it.

Spoon the plum sauce over pork chops you have seared in a skillet, then thrown in a 500° oven until they have reached at least 155° degrees. Enjoy the crispy bits and juiciness even more with this plum sauce dripping down the sides of the chop.

Say aaaaahhhhh.

Serves three, amply.


At 2:13 AM, Anonymous beastmomma said...

How good to learn that living in the moment can bring such sweetness.

At 8:47 AM, Blogger UnGourmetGal said...

Looks heavenly, I just love pork chops. The sauce sounds great, but I have never seen Italian plums in my market. Would any variety of plum do the job or do you recommend a specific variety to sub for Italian?

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Shauna said...


What a sweet comment in return. Living in the moment -- even the hard moments -- always seems to yield sweetness, for me. And you and I have to have coffee sometime soon to talk more about this!


Oh, the sauce is heavenly. And heavens, I'm sure that any variety of plum would do the job here. (But ask your market to stock some Italian plums. They are delicious.)

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Tea said...

To think that if I lived in Seattle I might have been lucky to snag some plums!

I'm not usually a big plum fan, but I love these guys. Sadly, the tree in our garden had only four (4!) plums this year. Usually there's plenty for munching, just off the branch, but not this year.

Might have to move to Seattle:-)

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Leanne said...

I have been dipping in to read your blog for about a month. I have always find it hard to connect with people because I don't want to go out for coffee, I want to go grocery shopping with them in the sweetest little shops that are found off in the dusty corners of our city. Reading your blog reminds me that I should treasure the moments I have with others and the gift of my food will not always be the most important part of the evening but the connections made over the food will be invaluable.

I always feel a little lighter after I read your posts.

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous fiona bizwaps said...

Oh Shauna,

What an amazing recipe! Reading through made my mouth water so much that when my wife asked me what I was mmmm-ing at, I drooled on my keyboard! Classy huh?!

I am definately making THIS sauce soon. We even get these plums in dear old London

Plum's the word!
now in London

At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

Check out the recipe in The French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis for Plum and Vanilla jam. I just made it today in fact -- the third summer in a row (and the second time this summer!). I just can't wait to see those plums in my market each August, and then I pounce. The recipe calls for 5 pounds, so you can make a dent in your 33 pound box. I cook gluten free for my son and have been so happy to find your site. Your enthusiasm makes me happy --

At 11:17 AM, Anonymous lace said...

ahh... it is the grounding energy of fall/harvest foods that I love so much... they just warm your body and soul. It is my very favorite season for eating and cooking!!

The plums sound amazing and your meal, mouth watering!! I must get to the market and see what I can find!!


At 9:55 AM, Blogger Angela said...

Come visit me... I have access to an entire Italian Plum tree, during the Fall (Delicious!), just a few feet away from my back door! Oh, wait...then you would have even MORE plums...whatever would you do?


At 3:09 AM, Blogger Jeanne said...

Looks absolutely divine Shauna! Pork chops rock - and plum sauce was just made for pork. Makes a welcome change from applesauce too. I can't think about pork chops without thinking about Homer Simpson and pork chop night... :-)

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Emmaluscious said...

Your plum crumble recipe from around this time last year is still one of my faves. I just made it a couple of weekends ago with local plums. Thanks for eating in season! You inspire me.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Shauna said...


This is simply a sign. You must move up here. Immediately. (I mean it -- I still have half a box of plums left!)


My goodness, thank you for such a lovely comment. I agree with you -- I would much rather walk through a farmers' market with a friend than go a coffee shop or bar. And what I have found is that the people who will go food shopping with you are the people you want to keep in your life.

Fiona, my dear,

I would pay to see that moment of you drooling on the keyboard! Say hello to the wife for me, and send me tales of plums in London. Miss you.


I'm so happy that this site helps. My goodness, that makes my day. That plum and vanilla jam sounds divine! If only I had that book....


I agree with you about the grounding energy. Just this morning, some truly chilly air came through the bedroom window as I was waking up. It's actually autumn now.


You lucky duck with an Italian plum tree! I'm afraid I don't need any more at the moment, but I would be happy to visit you anyway.


Doh! I forgot the Homer Simpson reference. I'm so glad you fleshed that one out for us.


Isn't that crumble divine? My god, I just love it. Eating in season is one of my deepest passions now. I wish everyone would do it.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Angela said...

The next time you are in Spokane....


At 5:11 PM, Blogger kitchenmage said...

A friend called the other day and offered plums, saying, "the ladder's propped on the tree..." and now I'm feeling like I MUST go pick. Unfortunately for the plummy goodness, my last conversation with a literary agent yielded a contract that is sitting in my inbox (not for the food book, sadly, but a contract nonetheless) and thus my 'free time' evaporated. (Speaking of which, I hear you've got landed the deal...? If true, congrats! If not, hang in, it'll happen soon.) But the plums still call...the book may have to wait a few hours.

You and the Chef are such fun to watch, even from a distance. :-)

At 8:19 PM, Blogger Food Allergy Queen said...

Hi Shauna, thanks for the crumble recipe, it looks like the perfect tribute to fall, my favorite season. That electrical crispness in the evening air and on my skin makes me feel so alive.

A quick question on the crumble, I'm guessing that the 1/2c melted butter is more for flavor than to bind the crumb coating? I'm allergic to dairy as well as gluten, so I switch between several butter substitutes depending on the function. Thanks.

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Paula said...

I absolutely love fall. The tastes, scents and crispness in the air... Pork chops and plum sauce are on the menu tonight! Thanks for the inspiration and the delightful post once again. (my kids think I'm crazy when I sing the "phenomenon" song!! Too funny!

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Chopper Dave said...

Hey Shauna! Just dropping by after our big move. I'm sure you'll like this fall, all the great stuff to eat from Pike's and all ;-)

At 3:16 PM, Blogger J said...

hi shauna, i've always thought pork has a wonderful affinity with plums so this delicious recipe is definitely a must-try for me ;)thanks so much for sharing

At 3:17 PM, Blogger J said...

just reading the recipe and looking at that luscious picture makes me say aahhhh...

At 5:42 PM, Anonymous Maya Nakano said...

SHAUNA!! i was just talking to my mom yesterday about Italian Plums! we have some in our backyeard on Whidbey, and she said there is a bumper crop this year. italian plums are one of my favorite fruits of all time, and it is true, they are more special because their season is so short. it's strange because i find myself craving them, almost as if my body knows it's the time of year for italian plums. i will have to find an organic market in NYC and buy a huge box full. i'm glad to read that you are still in your wonderful flow of love and life. always, maya

At 6:52 PM, Anonymous AmyJaye said...

Ok, so I went to the farmer's market on Sunday morning, not sure what I would find. After wandering up and down through the stalls, from the corner of my eye I saw a small bin with a tiny sign "French Plums". Would they, could they possibly? I am happy to say YES they ARE! They made the most wonderful sauce. I made a few modifications to the recipe (I thought there was an onion in the house, nope, it went in the soup on Saturday) but it still was yummy! I must say it was tough to keep my fingers from popping plums in my mouth while I quartered them, but it was worth it.

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


The next time I am in Spokane, I will certainly contact you!


My goodness, you have a contract from a literary agent, and you mention it so casually! Celebrate, my dear! Eat more plums! (As far as my own, I am keeping mum on that here, for just a bit. There might be news soon....)
Ah, and I am glad to hear that the Chef and I are fun to watch from there. I have to say, I am certain it is even more fun here.

Food Allergy Queen,

You are right. The butter is great for flavor and binding the crumble. However, if you have a butter substitute that could be melted and drizzled over it all, I am certain it would work well here too.


I sure hope the sauce worked out for you. And your kids just don't understand. That phenomenon song is insidious!

Chopper Dave,

I cannot believe that you two have moved to Portland instead of Seattle. Harrumph. Oh well, please just come up for a visit soon instead, okay?


You are right. The marriage of plums and pork is a beautiful one. Do tell me how it turns out for you.

Maya Nakano!

Oh, how I miss you. Please buy plums in NY and eat them for me. The Chef and I have been slowly sipping that sumptuous sake you brought back from Japan that summer. Thank you again, my dear, for such a generous birthday gift. Come home soon and have coffee with me.


I am so happy that the plums made you so happy. Aren't they dazzling? There is nothing like the find at a farmers' market. Good eating to you!

At 7:52 PM, Blogger kitchenmage said...

Um, well, it's application...been there, done that, have the tshirt...

now if it was the food book, i'd yell!

otoh, the friend delivered plums...and asian pears and regular pears and something else i'd have to get up and look to remember...

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Gluten Free Guru said...

You are a real inspiration to so many people. You remind us that healthy eating tastes better than processed food any day, and life is what you make it. You inspired me to write a gluten free cook book-this is an accomplishment (that somebody actually managed to inspire and motivate me to take action) as I have not held a job, or done "anything" since the age of 23 (I am 33), due to suffering from a "bipolar type" disorder along with the celiac disease. Your positive attitude, desire to help others, and openess inspired me to want to do the same. I am shy sometimes and will really be forcing myself out of my shell to promote this book (scary!). But I am motivated and inspired too. It doesn't seem to be linked yet, but you can check out my cook book by typing in
Thanks again, and congrats for being in love- one of life's absolute greatest gifts! Melanie Martin

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Freckled Face Mama said...

I made the pork chops and plum sauce tonight with plums I got from the farmers' market and had to stop myself from eating a second helping and making myself sick. Hubby and celiac 1 1/2 year old daughter loved it too. I can't wait till lunch and I can have leftovers! Thanks Shanua for the sauce and the "chef" for suggesting pork. YUMMY!

At 6:41 AM, Blogger Genevieve said...

I made this today - not able to get high quality plums but just grocery store ones and it still was spectacular. I assume the italian plums are small? The plums I bought were about the size of a raquetball and if I had used 12 I would have had a TON of sauce. My husband thought it was divine - thanks for the fun dinner!!!

At 7:13 AM, Blogger dc365 said...

I made this last night, pork loin with plum sauce, served on a bed of buttery, thyme infused polenta. I made a couple variations (really just used your recipe as a jumping off point), since I had a quart of 'sugar plums', and I used some organic garlic in addition to the red onion, and brown sugar and clove. So very delicious! Thank you for the idea!

At 5:16 PM, Blogger Freckled Face Mama said...

One year later and I am making this again. I wanted to tell you that I love this recipe. We eat this year with my 2 1/2 year old daughter and my 7 month old son. My son gets it by means of me but everyone, including the hubby, still call this one a "keeper". Thanks Shauna!

At 11:27 PM, Blogger Freckled Face Mama said...

Another year to making this. We have added yet another child this year. We will be eating this with my celiac four and a half year old, my two and a half year old, and our five month old. The plums were bought at the local farmers' market and I have been waiting ever so patiently for them to arrive. The recipe is still great as ever, though I am dairy free this year and substituted the butter with oil but it was delicious still. Cheers to another year!


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