That’s what I’ve been called on occasion by my oldest friend in the world, Evelyn. We’ve known each other for 42 years and she still likes me 🙂 Connie, my bestie from my days living in California, says I’m a ‘clever monkey’. I smile at both descriptions.
How do I come by such nicknames? They say I can perform magic in the kitchen. I walk in, wave my hands around a bit and TADAAAAAAA! Delicious things appear. Its a gift, and one I gladly put to good use. They say music tames the savage beast, but I guarantee you that good food is the key to anyone’s heart.
It’s a talent that confuses some especially when it comes to baking. I can’t recall how many times I have been told that I cannot possibly just assemble cakes, cookies and various other pastry delights without use of a measuring device. “Baking is chemistry,” my brother in law told me, shaking his head in disbelief, “You can’t bake without exact measurements” Au contraire, mon frere. I have intuitive skills that apply directly to the kitchen that allow me to conjure up just about any dish. I love trying something during a night out and replicating it at home. My fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach is certainly unorthodox but I do much better on instinct alone than many others do with precise instruments and the latest gadgets.
Yesterday, perusing my pantry, I came across come canned plums. I love plums and most other stone fruits and have used them for a variety of sweet and savory recipes. And it occurred to me that I have never made a plum pudding.
I’m not talking about a custard- real English plum pudding, hailed in holiday song for generations. I mean really- have you ever seen a plum pudding much less eaten one? I realized the answer was No. Challenge accepted!
Having a basic understanding that plum pudding, much like its’ famous friend figgy pudding, is a steamed cake set my mind into motion. I brought down my canning pot, a large black enamel behemoth which conveniently already sported a jar rack. This pot sees a lot of use when I harvest my garden . I flipped the jar rack to create a stable steaming surface and filled to topmost part of the rack with water and set it to boil. I then pitted the fruit and put it into my Ninja blender for a quick pulse, with juice, just to break up the pieces a bit. I wasn’t going for smoothies, just a little smaller, and could have accomplished this with a rough chop and pressing the pieces with the flat of my chef’s knife. Some sugar went in next, a splash of canola oil, squirt of lemon juice, dash of salt, a little baking soda and baking powder, a few handfuls of flour and some milk. I whisked all until it was just together and about the consistency of a thick pancake or waffle batter. It had a light lavender color. Interesting. Photos always depict it much darker. I poured it into a greased corningware round french white casserole and went looking for some cheececloth to wrap it. Uh oh- I think my daughter swiped it for an art project. Hmmm, what to do? Ah ha! A glass lid from my stainless pans set should do the trick. I turned down the heat on the pot to keep the water just below a boil, and carefully set the dish onto the rack, covered the pot and waited three hours- peeking occasionally.
I removed the dish from the pot and set it aside to cool. I took off the lid immediately. A bit of cake came away on the glass and it got a quick taste test- and passed! Fifteen minutes later I ran a knife around the edges, which pulled away easily, and flipped onto a plate. The color was the darker caramel tones I was looking for, surprising considering the cake had been steamed and not baked. These are traditionally served with hard sauce or clotted cream. I had left over buttercream from another dessert still in the fridge so I warmed the container slightly in the microwave and added a generous splash of rum, stirring to incorporate the liquor and making instant hard sauce (its really just creamed butter, powdered sugar and alcohol- how easy is that to mix?).
The moment of truth had arrived. My husband Richard has a sweet tooth rivaled only by a former boss who couldn’t live without dessert. At nine in the morning. I still cant figure out how he stayed that skinny… I cut a thick slice, poured the sauce over the warm cake, watched it perform its’ own melty magic, and handed it to the man of the house.
Once he got done removing every last crumb from the plate, he held it aloft with a request for a real slice. I was happy to oblige 🙂 Half an hour after that disappeared, he turned up with a third, explaining to me most solemnly that there had been an accident in the kitchen, and this piece fell onto his plate. “Snackcidants” have a way of happening around here.
Don’t be afraid to experiment a little. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll fail. It isn’t the end of the world. Even I once burned a simple grilled cheese sandwich- Brianna will never let me live it down but aren’t those the moments we treasure with our families? And if you succeed? The rewards are delicious 🙂