It must be the peak of plum (prunus domestica and related species) season in California and other Northern temperate regions as the local markets are quite figuratively, swimming in imported plums of many shapes and sizes. The California Plum Growers Association is marketing big time in Manila. If I were in a word association game and someone screamed â€œPLUM,â€ I would immediately think of these utterly spectacular plum tarts that I used to get at Patisserie BontÃ© around the corner from my sisterâ€™s New York apartment. As a teen, Mrs. BontÃ© used to give me a free taste of any cookie she had in her display case and as I got older, I would drop by her store whenever I was within a 500 meter radius of it and purchase whatever looked great, which was practically everything on display. Mr. BontÃ© used to toil in the kitchens behind the store while his wife manned the counter and the register. They had these white boxes with their name imprinted in fancy script in a sharp red color and they tied each box or parcel with red twine. The plum tarts were my favoriteâ€¦ flaky crust or tart shell filled with the most luscious dark red tarts whose flavor had intensified as they were baked in a hot oven. I havenâ€™t had one in many years (since they retired and moved to the South of France probably) but I can still picture and taste them like it was yesterday.
The BontÃ©s were not only a neighborhood sensation, they were one of the top Patisseries in the city, and THAT is saying something. Letâ€™s just say they must have been very good if every afternoon or so an Air France van would pull up to pick up several boxes of pastries that were to be served on the daily Concorde flights to Paris. I miss those tarts and I have never ever even attempted to replicate them, fearing utter disappointment with my efforts. I suppose the first critical ingredient is superb, tree-ripened plums and those arenâ€™t the type we get here. At any rate, I am thrilled that the local markets and groceries are pulling out all of the stops and stocking up to 6 or 7 different types of plums at the moment. They arenâ€™t the finest examples of plums, having traveled so far and picked so early, but they are definitely better than not having a choice. In the photos here I have at least three types of plums, and I didnâ€™t purchased green gage, smaller plums more akin to damsons, yellowish plums, etc.
Plums are an ancient fruit that are considered native to both China (think of all those kiamoy variants!, plum sauce, etc.) and Central Europe. Today they are cultivated in many temperate regions around the globe and are a major fruit crop (the third or fourth most prolific tree fruit crop globally). They are great eaten fresh, in plum shakes, soups, baked goods, semi-dried, dried, powdered, etc. I was prompted to write about plums not only because they are so available currently, but because of a recent phone call from my sister in New York. She triumphantly announced that she has single-handedly cornered this Fallâ€™s harvest of damson plums at the Union Square Market by buying several hundred plums. Last year, an Englishwoman purchased everything that the one farmer who sells damson plums had to offer and my sister was somewhat annoyed and we all didnâ€™t have a fresh batch of damson plum jam last year. However, this year, she reports that several large jars of my most favorite type of jam on the entire planet is making its way to Manila by balikbayan boxâ€¦yahoo!