There is a week in late August or early September when the predominance of peaches gives way to a magnificent parade of plums with their dusky skins and impossibly sweet yellow and red flesh.
Is it any wonder that the very word “plum” is synonymous with everything good and special? Their intense sweetness seems to have distilled all of summer’s bounty inside their smooth skins. Their appearance creates in me an irresistible itch to capture them all in a glittering row of 300-ml jars as jams, sauces, and condiments.
So as soon as the first damsons appeared in the market, I bought a bag and lugged them home. I wasn’t thinking so much of preserves as a plum cake and spatchcocked chicken with plums. Alas, neither project happened since the following day the plums had mysteriously disappeared overnight.
“Where did all the plums go?” I asked my Russian husband. He was the likely culprit: in June, he often substitutes a kilo of cherries for dinner, and in July, apricots are his primary food group.
“Plums…” he said as if trying to recall that he’d made a meal of them the previous evening. My husband is very tricky: he’ll never come out and admit he’s done something wrong, but he won’t deny an infraction either. It’s a very fine line, and he walks it adroitly.
“Oh dear,” I said, “It’s a little worrying because they were the kind with the poison stones.”
Poison, of course, has been much in the news of late, but he was too smart for me — he’s read his Tolstoy.
“That’s all right,” he rejoined promptly with a grin. “I threw the stone out the window!”
This plum reference comes from Russian writer Leo Tolstoy who was apparently between a couple of more significant projects when he penned a little fable about Vanya, the boy who steals a plum from a bowl in the kitchen. When his father asks where it might have gone, Vanya sneakily claims ignorance, knowing that he’s consumed the plum and destroyed the evidence. Both parents adopt concerned expressions, and the father says that he hopes whoever stole the plum did not eat the stone because it is deadly poisonous. Vanya promptly pipes up to reassure his parents that he’d thrown the stone out the window. All then is harmony in the family.
As it was in my family — after I went to the market for more plums. As I licked my fingers, sticky with the juices of two damson plums offered as an incentive by my golden-toothed Azeri salesman at the market, I knew I would have to act fast before my husband pulled another Tolstoyan Vanya on me.
My thoughts immediately went to Tkemali, Georgia’s favorite sour plum sauce. This delectable condiment is one of my favorite ways to spice up all manner of meat, but particularly game such as chicken, duck, and turkey. It’s streets ahead of ketchup, and as Georgian food becomes more and more popular, it’s lovely to see that it is becoming more and more available in bottled form. Nothing, however, beats fresh Tkemali made from plums just off the tree, so here is a simple recipe that comes together in less than half an hour.
That is, if you can keep the plums from disappearing…