This Is Just To Say

I talk a good game about loving my CSA and avoiding bananas because they’re shipped in from god knows where, but I’m a complete pushover when it comes to a sale on summer fruit. I would love to say I find all my berries at my local farmer’s market, but the truth is, when I swing by Star Market on the way home for milk, I always stop off in the produce section to see what’s on sale. Most women admit to a weakness for shoe sales; for me, it’s all about berries and stone fruit.

So it shouldn’t be such a surprise that last week I found myself on a lunch break at the Asian market Super 88, piling up on plums for a quarter and apricots that were three for a dollar. And I should know better. Given my Food Studies background, I know full well about the plight of the migrant worker making pennies an hour picking my fruit. In fact, I’m currently reading The American Way of Eating,Terrie McMillan’s journalistic exposé on how Americans eat.

I actually debated posting this recipe because the fruit was so inexpensive. I hemmed and hawed. I waited another day. I ate more cake. I conferenced with Sylvie this afternoon, asking her if she would be a disappointed Cheap Beets reader if I posted this recipe. As she succinctly put it: “I am never disappointed by cake recipes.” So onward we go!

When I discovered we had leftover buttermilk in the house from a cake that Rich baked for his office – a real humdinger of a birthday cake, the Dorie Greenspan one with lemon and layers of raspberry filling, all fluffed up with coconut – I decided to bake something. I found this recipe in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day cookbook. It used up my plums and the buttermilk, and it called for whole wheat flour, so of course it’s healthy, right?

Although the recipe calls for fine-grain natural cane sugar, I used the white stuff in my pantry. To make it fine-grain, I whirled it in my food processor for about 15 seconds. I used zests from two lemons, instead of three, only because I couldn’t find a third in my crisper.

I should also make it clear that while this is a tasty plum cake, this in no way measures up to Marion Barros’ plum torte, the platonic ideal of a plum cake recipe. Rich wanted me to make that clear. He also said that my cheap Asian market plums probably weren’t even picked in this country, and that they were probably loaded with heavy metals. But we’re just going to ignore that…

I was a little nervous about removing this one from the oven before it was fully baked. It looked a little loose in places, but Heidi notes, “You don’t want to overbake this cake in particular. It will end up on the dry side, more like a scone if you’re not careful.” She goes on to suggest serving it with a “floppy dollop of maple-sweetened whipped cream.” That sure does sound nice, but maple seems so fall to me.

In terms of prepping the plums: “Some plums can be difficult. With a sharp knife, slice off two lobes as close to the pit as you can get. Cut each lobe into 4 pieces, eight total. Now slice off the two lobes remaining on the pit.”

Buttermilk Plum Cake


2 ½ cups/11 oz/310 g whole wheat pastry flour

1 Tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder

½ cup/2.5 oz/70 g fine-grain natural cane sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 ½ cups/355 ml buttermilk

¼ cup/2 oz/60 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled a little

Grated zest of 3 lemons

8 to 10 plums (ripe, but not overly ripe), thinly sliced

3 Tablespoons large-grain raw sugar or turbinado sugar


Preheat the oven to 400F/205C with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter and flour an 11-inch (28cm) round tart/quiche pan, or line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Alternately, you can make this cake in a 9 by 13-inch (23 by 33cm) rectangular baking dish; just keep a close eye on it near the end of the baking time.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, fine-grain sugar, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk. Whisk in the melted (but not hot) butter and the lemon zest. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir briefly, until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it out toward the edges a bit. Scatter the plums across the stop, then sprinkle with the large-grain sugar.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake has set. A toothpick to the center should come out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.