You might not call this a “better living” site, at least not in the sense that I tell people how to clean their houses or how long to keep food in the refrigerator. Yet sometimes life floods in, uninvited, and we must deal with it. That’s how things go at Plum Cottage where I live and work.
Last year, one of us did a major pruning job at the wrong time of the year (not saying who!). Our beautiful plum trees, which never had a problem before, developed a massive leaf roller infestation and we lost 95% of our crop. It’s not like we ever intended to be fruit farmers, though. We simply found the trees growing on the property. They have always been overgrown and double as shade trees. It’s probably too late to shape them into proper fruit trees.
Because they are so tall, I really didn’t want to get into climbing on ladders and spraying with soaps and stuff. I waited, hoping the evil creatures would simply go away — that it had all been a cruel dream the previous year. The trees budded and the fruit began to form, stoking my hopes. But then one day I noticed tiny green fruit the size of small pecans littering the ground. I hoped the premature dropping would subside, but it didn’t.
I feared we had lost the entire crop, but over the course of summer the fruit still clinging to the trees got bigger and began turning bluish-purple. Hopes rose and fell again as some of them also dropped off too early. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, what plums remained began ripening beautifully. The day came when I harvested a batch of the ripest ones and prepared my fool-proof recipe. I cut two of the plums open — perfect. I cut two more. . . Oh no! Worms!!! I threw the rest of them out. What to do about the batter still sitting in the bowl?
But don’t worry. It gets better. I waited a couple weeks more and picked some halfway ripe plums straight off the trees. Still a little tart, I left them to finish ripening in a plastic bag. When I took them out, they were perfect. I cut them open — no worms!!!! These were the best of the best. But that brings us back around to the whole idea of the “sea pearl.” There might be lots of good things in the world, but these are the ones that stand out above their fellows. There might even be nothing good left in the world, but these are the best of what is still preserved in the cracks and crevices of life.
So . . . Not being especially renowned for my cooking abilities, I will share with you how I found this amazing recipe a few years ago and reworked it to become anything I feel like making it into. If you like cooking from scratch but don’t have a lot of time to fool around, this could be the ticket.
How to Make Far Breton (or Breton Cake)
There are apparently lots of ways to make Far Breton and not all of them are sweet. Many contain vegetables. However, this one is simpler, made with plums and can be used as dessert or breakfast, served warm, room temperature, or cold (though cold is not my favorite). It is soft and creamy, somewhat like a flan. Every time I make it, it comes out different, depending on what I put into it. So I’ll let you in on some of the variations I’ve tried. Here is where I found my basic recipe.
Prep time is about 15 minutes. Batter sits for 30 minutes before baking. (Meaning you can make it up ahead of time.) Active baking time is about 30-45 minutes. Allow 30 minutes for dish to cool in turned-off oven.
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar (I modified it to ½ cup brown sugar and ¼ cup sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons sweet cream butter (not the kind with salt in it!)
Italian plums (The original recipe calls for 10 ounces plums, rolled in flour. Sometimes I roll them in flour and sometimes I don’t. I never measure them anymore. Sometimes I cut them in half and just drop as many of them into the batter as it will hold. It changes cooking time if you cram them in.)
In a mixing bowl, blend together the flour and eggs until smooth. (I have used a spoon, a whisk, a hand mixer. The original recipe mentions a food processor, but do you really need to go electric?) Mix in the sugar and vanilla and blend well. Add the milk slowly, mixing well to make a smooth batter. Let the batter sit for 30 minutes to an hour. (Come to think of it, I forgot to let it sit last time, but it came out great anyway.)
Melt the butter in the bottom of a two quart (approx.) baking dish. Then you want to coat the sides and bottom of the dish so it doesn’t stick. Sometimes I tilt the dish to coat and sometimes I just spread the butter with a brush. Pour the batter into the dish and add the plums. (Supposedly, if you flour the plums, it helps keep the fruit from sinking to the bottom — but I find it doesn’t really matter that much.)
If the pan is very full, be sure to put it on a flat baking sheet to catch any bubble-over. Bake for 30 minutes at 400° F. (I modified this to 45 minutes in oven — if you use extra plums or a baking sheet under it, it may take longer.) Turn the oven off and leave the cake in the oven for 30 more minutes. (If the dish remains runny in the center in spite of all this, you’ll want to heat it a few more minutes. I had to do that after the fact last time and it didn’t hurt it a bit.)
- Let the cake sit out a bit to cool. You probably won’t want to eat it absolutely hot. Try it warm or room temperature.
- Some people like to mix raisins into it. Others say it’s not worth it.
- Some people soak the fruit in brandy a couple of hours. (I’m thinking of trying rum.)
- Use another kind of fruit — it doesn’t have to be specifically plums. I tried apples once, but I recommend steaming them first and then baking. Plums are still my favorites, though.
- Cook the far without any fruit. When I threw out my wormy plums, I doctored the recipe with a bit of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and extra vanilla — and I might have even used a touch of wine. I can’t recall exactly. It still turned out fine. Just check the amount of wet ingredients against dry.