I always want to love plums. Their colors are perfectly fall and all my favorites–royal purples, deep-sea blues, ruby reds, sunshine yellows–but their flavor is a gamble. One bite, sweet and juicy enough to rival a peak season peach, the next tart enough to pucker your lips and twist your face. I’m not one to take bets lightly, so I gave up on hitting the jackpot with plums.
But there are two things I’ve learned in the past few years when it comes to cooking. First, the fruits and vegetables at the grocery store are so not representative of the variety that is actually available, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a great market or farmstand nearby. Second, if I don’t like something prepared one way, another method could just be the answer.
Both of these lessons prove true when it comes to plums. The first in the discovery of Italian/Stanley/prune plums–beautiful hazy deep blue fruit, which also happens to be freestone (yes, plums, like peaches, have clingstone and freestone varieties) so they’re easy to eat out of hand or chop and use in cooking. The second learned last fall as watched my (regrettably small) batches of plum jam and plum chutney cook down to an unbelievable color, texture, and flavor.
It was love at first velvety bite, and that chutney is still one of my top 3 favorite preserves.
With these two lessons in mind–the type of plum matters, and cooking it makes it better–and a new love of plum chutney, it was no surprise that this pie had me positively tapping my foot with impatience for plums to make their appearance at the market.
This pie surprised me. Yes, anything baking smells good, but this made my apartment smell out-of-this-world amazing. The juicy plum filling bubbling up through the crumbles looks beautifully homey, like that sweater you love but only wear around the house on a blustery day. And it tasted like everything that makes me happy–spiced and tart and just a little sweet.
The biggest surprise? That I am so smitten with a crumble-topped pie, as the top crust is usually my favorite part. The reason it works is two-fold: first, the crumble allows enough steam to escape that the plum filling gets even jammier than it would with a solid top crust; second, the top of double-crust pie is really only perfect the first day when it’s crisp and crackly, but the crumble-top pie is delicious for at least a second day (if you have pie for more than two days, you are doing something wrong and clearly need to invite me over sooner).
Finally, I can’t believe I’m even mentioning this, but if you’re looking for a pie for the holidays, this is it. As it’s baking, it just smells like the holidays exploded. It’s not overly sweet, and the tartness reminds me in some ways of my favorite sour cherry pie. It’s really, really spectacular.
(Look, I know how intimidating pie can be, but you know what? If you really don’t want to deal with making a crust, this works well as a cobbler baked in a 9×9 baking dish for 45 minutes to an hour, or you can be super adorable and make cobblers in jars. Because I just need more things to put in jars.)
Spiced Plum Crumb Pie
The original recipe was called plum chutney crumb pie, but one of my favorite parts of chutney is the dried fruit, which I added to my version, along with walnuts in the crumble. Oh, and everything’s better with a little brandy this time of year. I have so many capital-T-Thoughts on pie lately, inspired in part by my recent purchase of the Hoosier Mama Book of Pie and their soon-to-be-open shop 5 minutes from my office. While this recipe doesn’t come from their book, I used some of their pie crust tips in making this, and if their recipes are even half as good, I anticipate a whole lot of pie-making in my future.
1 single pie crust, your preferred recipe or you can try mine, prepared for a 9-inch pie pan
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 star anise pod
1 cinnamon stick
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 pounds ripe plums, pitted and sliced, about 6 cups
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or more to taste (half of the sugar can be replaced with honey)
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
2 tablespoons instant tapioca
1/3 cup dried fruit (I like a mix of cranberries, golden raisins, and currants)
Juice of half an orange
1/4 cup brandy
3/4 cup flour
1/2 dark brown sugar
1/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
9-inch pie plate
Pie weights or beans
Prepare enough pie dough for a single-crust 9-inch pie, refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring vinegar, 2 tablespoons water, brown sugar, star anise, cinnamon stick, rosemary sprig, ginger, pepper, cardamom, and salt to a simmer, stirring to help dissolve sugar. Add 1/3 of plums and simmer until thickened and jammy, stirring frequently, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool, then discard star anise, cinnamon stick and rosemary. Toss remaining 2/3 plums, granulated sugar, orange zest and tapioca in a bowl and set aside. (If your plums are tart, add more sugar to taste.)
Meanwhile heat brandy and orange juice in a small pan until just simmering and pour over dried fruit. Let cool, stirring occasionally.
Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin. Roll out dough to fit a 9-inch pie pan, dusting with flour if dough is sticking. Grease and flour your pie tin as you would a cake pan. Transfer dough to pie pan. Carefully press crust into pan and crimp edges. Return pie to refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. While crust chills, heat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare the crumb topping by combining flour, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Using your hands, work in butter until the dry ingredients are completely incorporated into butter and large, marble-size clumps form when pinched. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Gently press parchment paper into pie crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Transfer to oven and bake for 18 minutes. Remove the paper and pie weights and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until crust is a light golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly.
Mix cooled chutney, dried fruit, and any remaining brandy/orange juice into uncooked plums. Pour filling into crust and cover with crumb topping. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and place pie on a baking sheet on middle rack in oven. Bake pie for 60 to 90 minutes or until fruit is bubbling and top is golden brown. If edges of crust start to brown too quickly, loosely cover them with foil.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Pie is best the day it’s made, but will keep well in a cool part of your kitchen for at least one additional day.