Tag Archives: Spiced

Spiced plum butter

I have been swimming in plums recently. My friend Sarah’s tree started dropping ripe plums right before she went on vacation, so Sam and I went over and helped her clear out the branches. We were allowed to keep whatever we picked; within a few minutes we’d collected a paper grocery bag full of tiny red-fleshed fruit. The past couple weeks have been all about putting them to use.

A fair number of the plums got eaten straight from the bag, standing over the sink to catch the juices. I set a few aside for a cooking experiment I’ll write about later; a few more went into a riff on my favorite nectarine tart (verdict: plums need way more sugar than nectarines). That left me with about two pounds of quickly softening plums, a small canning pot, and–thanks to the BART shutdown–a lazy work-from-home afternoon. So I ignored the heat outside, turned on the oven, and made plum butter.

Fruit butters are a slightly different animal than jam–pureed smooth, softer and less jelly-like than jam, made for spreading rather than dolloping. Think applesauce, but richer, darker, thicker, in every way more so. The recipe I found calls for roasting, rather than boiling, the fruit; after an overnight soak in sugar and spices, the plums went into a heavy pot and then into the oven, where they slumped and wrinkled and filled my little apartment with hot syrupy perfume. From there, it was just a matter of pureeing the fruit to baby-food smoothness, and ladling it into hot prepared jars for the water bath.

In the jars, the plum butter is inky purple-black, the color of the blended-in skins; when I scraped up the dregs from the pot onto a spoon, it glowed translucent red. The flavor is concentrated plum, sweet from the flesh and tart from the skins, brightened with orange zest and prickly with cinnamon and cloves. I will be spreading it on popovers the first chance I get; I could easily imagine filling a cake or topping a scone with it, and even possibly using it as a sweet plum sauce on poultry. Well done, little plums. Well done.

spiced plum butter

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Sweet-and-smoky spiced nuts

My friend Victoria lives in Texas. Audrey and I always get feverishly excited when she comes to visit us. Not just because she’s a delightful, uproariously hilarious person–which she is–but because whenever she comes, she brings each of us a pretty paper box full of candied pecans.

These are a serious indulgence, my friends–candy-sweet and nutty-rich, wrapped in a crisp, lacy skin of beaten egg white. Pop one in your mouth, and the candy coating shatters and crackles between your teeth, giving way to buttery pecan crunch. They’re almost ladylike, in a way, wrapped up in sugary white lace. Every time she visits, Audrey and I make a pact to share one box and put the other one away for safekeeping. And every time, we end up plowing through both boxes in a matter of days.

Victoria’s pecans popped into my mind the other day, as I was considering what to make as a birthday present for my boyfriend’s pecan-loving mother. It’s speeding towards Christmas, and something spicy and sweet seemed appropriate. I rifled through the spice cabinet, and unearthed a tin of smoked cinnamon that Sam’s mom had given me as a gift. I decided to make a batch of candied spiced pecans, using her gift as the basis for my gift. And what a great idea that was.

If the Texas-style pecans are ladylike and sweet, these are gutsy, dark, even a little sexy. Not candied, exactly–there’s much less sugar, for one thing, so the coating is equal parts sweet, salty, and smoky. If the candied pecans make me think of white lace, these spiced pecans make me think of bourbon. I made up a pretty paper box for Sam’s mom, and some little bundles for my coworkers. I had planned to toss the leftovers into a salad–maybe with some bits of pear and blue cheese–but then they disappeared too, within a matter of hours. I guess some things don’t change.

sweet-and-smoky spiced pecans

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