Thursday, July 23, 2015

Boy Howdy, Plum Pandowdy!

It's been so hot around here that one of our fans finally conked out from exhaustion and was replaced with three new ones. The Pacific Northwest spent June and July smashing high-temperature records (13 days with temperatures of 80 degrees or warmer in June...8 days of 85+ in June...plenty of 90+ record high recorded in Walla Walla on June 28 of 113 degrees...that sort of thing).

Thanks to this scorching, it's looking a lot like September around here, with parched brown lawns and trees shedding yellow leaves and mountain ashes already flaunting bunches of orange berries. And it surely must have something to do with our ornamental plum tree producing a bumper crop of plums, probably for the first time in its life.

Ornamental plum trees are not bred to produce luscious fruit. They're just supposed to look pretty decked out in their frilly pink spring finery. Perhaps some quirk of timing in when the tree bloomed this year due to the heat caused more of its flowers to be pollinated, because it's pumping out plums by the bucketful.

The plums are perfectly edible, which is not the same thing as perfectly luscious. We haven't felt terribly inspired to pick them.

For one thing, our tree's branches are up very high, and we don't have the right sort of ladder to boost us safely up into the branches. For another, the fruit, while copious, is scattered throughout the crown, not easily situated for picking.

And gathering up the fallen fruit is a tedious and unproductive activity. The only way to do it without constantly stooping and looking like one of those drinky-bird toys teetering around the yard is to crawl on hands and knees, inspecting each grape-sized fruit for worms. Any that aren't infested with worms are bound to have burst open, because they hit the ground like water balloons. You can hear them crash from across the garden.

All that effort garners a few cups of puny plums, which, though resembling red grapes, lack that fruit's snap, pop, and zing.  They're mealy and mushy, with a seed that takes up about a third of the interior. Fine for jam, but pretty blah out of hand.

But I did have a nice bowl full of yellow plums from a friend. It was way too hot to bother making jam, but it's never too hot to make a fruit dessert to serve with vanilla ice cream. I flipped through the recipe books and settled on a plum pandowdy.

"Pandowdy" is one of those words that's fun to say but has murky origins. The recipe book claimed that the name came from the way the pastry was laid across the cooked fruit and then chopped into squares and pushed down into it--an action called "dowdying." I haven't been able to verify that anywhere. Though perhaps if you smash something that's literally an upper crust to bits, it becomes dowdy...?

I never got to the "dowdy" part, though, because I was impatient and made the classic mistake of not reading the recipe through before assembling it, so I ended up dumping some dry ingredients into the pastry that weren't supposed to go in because they were for the filling. Oops. There was no way it would ever roll out under a pin, so I just crumbled it into blobs and dropped it on the filling. Even dowdier than the original plan.

The end result was an extremely tart caramel-colored plummy dessert with mediocre chunks of pastry in it. Filling definitely needed more sugar, which could've been supplied by putting on a crumb topping instead of pastry--but a nice dollop of vanilla ice cream offset the tartness, so the pandowdy was history in a respectable amount of time.

It didn't inspire me to crawl around the garden scrutinizing fallen plums and collecting them for another recipe, however. I'm leaving them to the birds (robins particularly love fruit, and it's fun to watch them stab the orbs and shake them around before swallowing them), and to Luna, who's been joyfully hoovering them up for weeks. She is transported with joy that we have a snack-dispensing tree in the yard.

But for the resident humans, walking across the yard is like tramping around on a giant sheet of bubble wrap, and it'll be that way for a few weeks yet, judging by how many plums are still dangling from the branches. I must say, this ornamental tree looks extremely proud of itself.

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