I Have Eaten the Plums

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I understood nothing in my “20th-Century Lit” class which I took in 1963 at Colorado College.  NOTHING.  We read pages and pages of poetry, and each poem left me more confused – and wondering why in god’s name I thought I could be an English major.  (I should note: Andy had similar fears about being a college professor.)

I wasn’t the only one confused.  After a good friend wrote a lengthy (and hysterically naive and incorrect) response to a test question in her lit class, someone had to tactfully and delicately explain to her the “significance” of the corn cob in Faulkner’s Sanctuary.

But as far as poetry, William Carlos Williams is a case in point.  He lived from 1883 until 1963.  The Williams’ poem which we studied – and which sticks in my memory – is The Red Wheelbarrow:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

In retrospect, reading the poem again and contemplating why Williams was considered so great reminds me of a favorite painting Andy and I have – which we bought at the wonderful The Arts Guild of Sonoma a number of years ago.  Upon seeing this painting for the first time, a family member remarked that her kindergarten students could easily have painted something just as good!

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Our Frank Kreuger art

Though it wasn’t included in Modern American & Modern British Poetry (my well-worn edition of the book, edited by Louis Untermeyer, was published in 1955), another Williams poem is quite famous:

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

And so this brings me to Ruth Reichl.  🙂

Reichl, well known amongst foodies, was the restaurant critic for the LATimes and the NYTimes – and then the Editor of Gourmet Magazine – until it folded in 2009.  Her 2019 tell-all book – about her days at Gourmet – is entitled Save Me the Plums – because of her fondness for that Williams’ poem.

I’m still dense.  I couldn’t figure out why Save Me the Plums – a riff on the poem’s beginning line, “I have eaten the plums” made sense as Reichl’s title.  But – thanks to Google – I found the following Reichl interview with the LA Times.  I don’t want to ignore the deeper meanings, but my take on that interview is simply that being Gourmet’s editor was a “plum” job.

Including recipes seems to be trendy in food memoirs and Reichl is no exception.  I figured she’d be pretty sure to pick delicious recipes from Gourmet, given that she included only a few in this recent book.  I tried three – Spicy Chinese Noodles, Thanksgiving Turkey Chili, and Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone.  And all three were hits with Andy and me.  MountainWestBob, our friend in Albuquerque, gave the chili a try, after reporting that he loves chili but that he’d never made it without tomatoes.  And, yes, he and his wife, Gayle, liked it! Whew.

Though there were “plum” recipes in Reichl’s book, there was no plum recipe per se, so I’ve included a favorite of ours (and of many, many others).

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Spicy Chinese Noodles

Spicy Chinese Noodles

This is adapted from Ruth Reichl’s recipe in Save Me the Plums.

  • 3/4 lb of Chinese noodles, dried egg noodles, or spaghetti
  • 3 T peanut oil, divided
  • 1/4 c minced ginger (a 3″ long hefty piece should do it)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 5 tablespoons of Chinese Black Bean Garlic Sauce (or Korean Kochujang sauce)
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced, green part included
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Cook a pound of Chinese noodles, dried egg noodles or spaghetti until al dente, drain, toss with a tablespoon of peanut oil and set aside.

Heat a wok until a drop of water skitters across the surface.  Add two tablespoons of peanut oil, toss in the ginger and stir fry for about half a minute.

Add a pound of ground pork and stir fry until all traces of pink have disappeared.  Add the bean sauce mixture and cook and stir for about 2 minutes.

Stir in the scallions and noodles, and quickly toss.  Add a drop of sesame oil and turn out onto a platter.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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Turkey Chili

Turkey Chili

Adapted from Ruth Reichl’s recipe “Thanksgiving Turkey Chili” in Save Me the Plums.

  • 1 12 oz bottle dark beer
  • about 5 medium tomatillos (husked, rinsed, and quartered) – approximately 10 oz
  • 1 canned whole chipotle chili in adobo sauce (note: that’s just ONE of the chiles from the can – definitely NOT one can)
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 T seeded, minced jalapeños (or more, to taste)
  • 1 lb ground turkey (dark meat is preferred)
  • 1 c chicken broth
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 15 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 of a 4 oz can mild diced green chile peppers (such as Hatch)  (optional)
  • Sour cream, yogurt, or Mexican crema (the perfect addition)

Pour the beer into a medium-sized pot, add the tomatillos, bring to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for about five minutes, until the tomatillos are soft. Strain the tomatillos (reserv­ing liquid), and then puree them along with the whole chipotle chile in adobe – in a blender or food processor. Pour back into the pot with the beer.

In a large heavy kettle cook the onions in the oil over moderate heat, stirring, until the onions are softened, add the cilantro, cumin, oregano, jalapenos, and garlic and cook the mixture, stirring, for another minute or so.

Break the turkey into the mixture and stir until it’s just cooked.  Add the pureed tomatillos and beer,  the chicken broth, the bay leaf and salt – to taste (about 1-2 tsp, to taste).  Simmer the mixture, covered but with the lid ajar, for about 30 minutes.  Add the beans and green chiles and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Serve with sour cream, yogurt or crema.  That’s absolutely an essential!  I season mine with a little lime juice and salt.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone

Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone

Adapted from Ruth Reich’s recipe “Jeweled Chocolate Cake” in Save Me the Plums.  Note: I’ve omitted the praline “jewels” because – for me – it’s too time-consuming to make pralines as a topping for the mascarpone.

  • 1/3 c cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 3 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate
  • 6 T butter
  • 1/3 c vegetable oil
  • 2/3 c water
  • 1 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 c buttermilk
  • sliced – toasted, if you wish – almonds to scatter on top of the mascarpone (optional)

For frosting: 2 T sugar and 1 c mascarpone.  Bring the mascarpone to room temperature and then mix in the sugar, blending well.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Butter and flour a deep 9-inch round cake pan.

Melt the chocolate with the cocoa, butter, oil, and water over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar.

Cool completely, then whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk into the chocolate mixture. Shake the buttermilk well, measure, and stir that in.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out, and allow to cool completely.

When ready to serve, spread the mascarpone frosting over the top – or put a nice rounded spoonful along side the cake.  Scatter with the almonds, if you’re using them.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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Original Plum Torte

Original Plum Torte

I’ve made a few minor adjustments to the 2020 NYTimes version of this recipe.  This recipe is so simple and so delicious!

  • 3/4 to 1 c sugar
  • 1/2 c butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  •  about 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 4 c pitted plums, quartered (or whatever juicy fresh fruit of your choice),  
  •  Sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, for topping
Heat oven to 350 degrees.Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl with an electric mixer or in a food processor. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well again. In a small bowl mix the flour, baking powder, salt together with a whisk, then add it to the sugar/butter mix and blend just until all of the flour mix is incorporated (don’t beat or blend it too much).

Spread the batter into a springform pan of 8 or 9 inches. Place the plum (or other fruit) pieces on top of the batter. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and a little lemon juice, if the fruit is super sweet. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional).

Bake 50-60 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack.  When lukewarm, serve plain or with whipped cream. And the torte will freeze well! (To serve a torte that was frozen, defrost and reheat it briefly at 300 degrees.)

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

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