The Sandpoint Reader: Plum crazy

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Columnist

Hello autumn, I’ve been waiting for you. More than any other season, fall brings all the big feelings to me. It’s a mix of melancholy and joy; and, even though the long days of rounding up cows, weaning calves and endless hours of canning are far behind me, I can’t let go of the need to prepare food and stock the larder for the long winter that lies ahead.

The spirit of my previous lives, cooking for a hungry ranch crew and running commercial kitchens, still lives deep within me. I can barely pare back to cooking for a single family, let alone a single person. Let’s face it — I’ve bought in bulk most of my life, and still can’t seem to pare back. Especially now, with rising food costs, if I find a bargain, I’m likely to stock up for everyone (whether they want me to or not).

Last Saturday, I meandered through our Farmers’ Market. The summer crowds are waning, so it was a perfect way to spend a long, unhurried morning, sipping coffee and often pausing to peruse the labors of hard-working vendors. I made time to say hello to strangers, catch up with friends and give a farewell nod to a lovely summer.

I may no longer hunt or gather, but I can shop, and bought way more magnificent produce than I had intended. A dozen ears of corn, lots of shiny poblano peppers, a few too many baskets of new potatoes, bunches of colorful carrots, heaps of fragrant shallot bulbs and so much garlic!

My large purchases sent me into a cooking mode, and it was a marathon weekend in my kitchen, resulting in not one but two freezers stocked to the top. As a result, hearty soups and chowders, twice-baked potatoes, savory meatloaves, spicy burritos and other assorted MMRE’s (Marcia-meals-ready-to-eat) are now carefully packaged and labeled for the hungry masses.

With this month’s culinary endeavors, I had some particular friends and family in need of a few meals; so, with that in mind, I added a few vegetarian options to the mix. After raising a vegetarian for more than 20 years (Casey), I’ve added plenty of meatless options to my repertoire of recipes, and even the carnivore in me has learned to relish them.

I also prepared a great batch of split pea soup to haul cross-country on an upcoming 14-hour drive to my son’s house in eastern Montana. I love this annual October trek, and look forward to it all summer long. I especially love the adulation from my four always-hungry grandkids, who gather around their long table, sipping (or slurping) their favorite soup, warming us up before we bundle up and head out, into the chilly evening, to cheer on my eldest grandson at his football game.  

I’ve been hesitating about taking my canning equipment to Montana, but we never seem to have enough time for all my gastronomic projects. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that one or two of my grandchildren might be interested in learning the lost art of long, hot canning days in the kitchen. So far, no takers, but it doesn’t stop me from adding to my Mason jar lid and ring inventory, just in case.

I have managed to avoid overbuying fruit this year. Used to be, I couldn’t pass the fruit stand at Thorpe, Wash., without bringing home caseloads of peaches and plums. I am crazy for plums and must have eyed at least six varieties at our market last week. Golden plums are my favorite for making jam, and I love red ones for cooking up kettles of spicy chutney. One of my fondest food memories involves plums. It was on my first trip to Italy, and I came upon racks of them, covered with bleached gauze, drying in the warm Italian sun, soon-to-be-sweet prunes. 

Lucky for me, I had a couple of local friends who had an abundance of plums this year and, though I wanted to take more (with visions of chutney dancing in my head), practical me settled for just enough to bake up a couple of sweet plum tortes. If you’re more ambitious than that, you’ve still got time to head down to our Farmers Market this Saturday — and next!

Plum Tart recipe • Makes 2 tarts, using 9-inch springform pans. Try using peaches, too! 8 servings each.


• 2 cups sugar 

• 1 cup butter, softened

• 2 tsp vanilla

• 4 eggs 

• 2 ½ cups flour 

• 1 tsp baking powder 

• ½ tsp salt 

• 12 ripe purple plums, halved, pitted and sliced

• 1 tbs sugar

• 1 tsp cinnamon

• ¼ cup sliced almonds

• 1 lemon zested and juiced


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line bottom of the springform pans with parchment paper and lightly butter bottom and sides of pan.

Zest lemon and set zest aside. Juice lemon and add 2 tbs to sliced plums, stir and set aside. 

Cream sugar and butter until pale in color, beat in eggs until light and fluffy. Whisk flour with baking powder and salt. Add to wet mixture until just mixed well (don’t overmix). 

Spoon mixture into 9-inch springform pan. Cover top of batter with plum halves, skin side up. Mix lemon zest, sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over top, along with almond slices, before baking.

Bake for 45 minutes. Cool in pan, remove ring. 

Dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar before serving. Eat one and freeze one! Wrapped well, you can freeze for up to a month.

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