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We have a plum tree in the back alley– technically, it’s not ours, but no one else pays it any mind, so I don’t feel one bit guilty about taking the fruit. In addition, one of R’s clients has a few trees they encourage him to take from as, otherwise, the fruit goes to waste. Last summer, I was inundated with ripe, flavorful, beautiful damson (I think) plums and scrambled to find ways to use them. We ate many plain, I made a veritable vat of plum butter, and I made a single recipe (3 pints) of pie plums using the recipe from Canning For a New Generation; I was not sure exactly what they would taste like or what I would do with them. Of course, now that I have tasted the glorious, glorious pie plums, I am wishing for 66 more jars– I have so many ideas for how to use them, my head is spinning. Though it’s not plum season now, here’s the recipe; I want everyone to be ready for this summer.

Plums for Pies & Cobblers (recipe from Canning for a New Generation)

  • 6 lbs. plums, pitted and cut into eighths (using damsons, I quartered them)
  • 3 T. fresh lemon juice
  • about 3 c. sugar, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 generous pinches of ground cloves

Put the plums in a bowl with the lemon juice and 2 c. of sugar; toss them gently to combine. Let stand at room temperature for about an hour, until the plum juices are almost deep enough to cover the fruit. Working in batches, if necessary, drain the plums in a colander set over a nonreactive pot. Return the plums to the bowl and toss with the remaining sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Begin heating water for your water bath processing; clean and sterilize jars and lids.

Bring the plum syrup to a full boil. Pack the plums into 3 sterilized pint jars, leaving 1 1/2″ of head space. Ladle the hot syrup into the jars, leaving a 1/2″ head space; use a chopstick or skewer to remove air bubbles from each jar. Wipe the rims clean, affix lids and screw rings and water bath process for 25 mins. Remove the jars from the boiling water and let rest on a folded towel for at least 12 hours. Ensure jars are sealed by pressing on the lids– there should be no “give” to the lids– and then store.

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So, now that you’re all excited about pie plums, let me tell you what I did with them. I recently read a cookbook called A Southerly Course, by Martha Hall Foose, which features a recipe for Plum Cheesecake Bars. Her recipe uses a Nilla wafer crust, cheesecake layer, plum jam layer and an almond-crumble topping; I don’t have any plum jam, but I thought immediately of my pie plums and wondered if I could make something similar. I did. The result is marvelous. My husband loves them, I love them and the creamy cheesecake is a great way to show off the sweet-tart syrupy goodness of the pie plums. Now, don’t despair: if you don’t have pie plums ready to go, you could use fresh fruit and add some cinnamon to the crust, or even make some quick fruit-in-syrup just for these bars. I will tell you the exact way I made them yesterday, then provide some variations. But you have to try them.

Pie Plum Cheesecake Bars (adapted from this recipe by Martha Foose)

  • 1 c. crushed graham crackers (from about 6 whole grahams)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 c. pie plums and their syrup (about half of a pint jar)*

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and 1/3 c. sugar. Reserve 1/2 c. of this mixture for the topping, then press the rest firmly into the bottom of an 8″ x 8″ pan. Set aside. With an electric mixer or immersion blender, combine the softened cream cheese, eggs, vanilla and 3 T. sugar until light and smooth. Carefully spoon/pour the cheesecake layer over the graham cracker crust; you can tap the pan or lift and drop it (gently) to even the layer without disturbing the crust. Place the fruit piece by piece over the cheesecake in an even layer, then spoon any remaining syrup over the top. Crumble the reserved graham cracker mixture over the fruit. Bake for 30 mins., until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean; cool before eating. We like these best cold from the refrigerator.

*If you don’t have pie plums, use a cup or so of sliced fresh plums, apricots or peaches or halved cherries; add 1/2 tsp. cinnamon to the graham cracker crust and perhaps another tablespoon of sugar to the cheesecake layer.

Or, to make quick fruit-in-syrup: in a non-reactive pan, combine 1 c. or so sliced fruit with 1 T. lemon juice and 1-2 T. sugar. Let sit until the juices are released, then remove the whole fruit from the pan and boil the syrup for 10-15 mins., until it thickens slightly. Return the fruit to the syrup and cook for 5 mins. or so, adding 1/2 tsp. cinnamon if you like and extra sugar, 1 T. at a time, to taste. Cool to room temperature before using in the bars.

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