It has been spring here in Tucson for several weeks now. It wasn't exactly recently that I noticed the leaves coming out on the trees--something that always strikes me as one of the most beautiful moments in nature. The palo verde trees are now in full bloom, with their yellow flowers that obscure the leaves, and their bark is a delicate mossy green, which accounts for their name: green branch, palo verde.
Fruit has come tumbling into the supermarkets, and one thing I always see are the stone fruits: cherries, apricots, peaches and plums. The prune plums are especially nice, with their loose seeds and the sweetness that makes it easy to eat them fresh. But if you want to do something offbeat, why not make a pie out of them? Prune plums are also called Italian plums, and they are easy to recognize by their dark color and small size.
You could make a pie out of any plum, but you do have to adjust the sugar for the various types. Red plums tend to be tart, so you would want more sugar than the Italian prune plums, although as we know the drying process always creates sweet prunes when we buy them in that form.
You will need a double crust for this pie, and the top can be made into a lattice or other decorative form once you have the filling inside the bottom crust. I often make a stenciled pie, because I got some stamps that you can press over a pie crust, leaving an impression that can be cut out to form a decorative crust that way. It is pretty and can be either simple or complex, and you can get them for individual smaller-sized pies as well. I got mine from the King Arthur Flour Company online, where I get many things in my collection of baking equipment. This type of equipment is also available in Tucson in places like Super Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond, where I'd always like to have an excuse to stop by.
Recipe courtesy of T.G.I. Pie Day and Kate McDermott, creator, founder and pie guru
5 cups of prune plums, pitted and quartered
1/2 cup sugar
Small pinch of ground nutmeg
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 Tablespoon butter for dotting
1 recipe double-crust pastry
1 egg white mixed with 1 Tablespoon of water
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Put the first six ingredients in a big bowl and mix until the fruit is well coated. Place the fruit mixture in an unbaked pie shell and dot with little pieces of butter.
Make a lattice crust top or cover with top crust, crimp edges and cut vent holes or decorative perforations. Paint egg white wash on top of pie (you won’t need too much) and sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon of sugar.
Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees and without opening the oven door, reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for 35 minutes more.
If the filling is not making slow regular bubbles when you check it, you can turn the heat back up to 425 degrees for 5 minutes to help it finish.
Pies cut more cleanly when you allow them to cool before serving, and cold ice cream is a classic accompaniment to a piece of fruit pie, and it cannot be improved upon.