I grew up going to the farmers' market most Saturdays. Now this was not the farmers' market we know today, with its hip, young farmers, high dollar artisanal products, and serenading folk musicians (not that I have anything against with those things--in fact I'm quite fond of all of them), but this market was old-school. Housed in a red barn with individual stalls occupied by Indiana old-timers, Amish, and organic farmers alike, with the smell of homemade danishes in the air, and cuts of meat hanging from rafters, the South Bend Farmers' Market first opened at its current site in 1928. Though part of the building was destroyed by a fire in 1971, it was the market where my mother grew up going to with her mother and grandparents. Every time we'd walk the long aisles, our baskets full of produce, I'd be inundated with stories about the old farmers who were still around or used to be, and be retold which stall would give my mom a piece of Claey's candy while she waited for her mother to finish socializing.
Aside from the times when I was working on a farm or was in one place long enough to maintain a weekly CSA, I've maintained that ritual of a Saturday trip to the market for fresh veggies and fruits, and sometimes eggs, bread, and meat (and oh yeah, the occasional Farmers' Daughter sunshine bun) for the week.
A few weeks ago, Dalila from a new D.C. business From the Farmer, reached out to me and asked if I might be interested in trying out their farmbox delivery service. Never one to turn down fresh & local produce, especially when it's delivered to your doorstep, I thought I'd give it a whirl. Of course, I was immediately hooked.
One of the offerings that was included in my first box were Italian prune plums-- the small oblong variety that are darker and sweeter than the more common round plums. I remembered a recipe for an Italian Plum & Port Crostata in Martha Stewart's New Pies & Tarts, and had some leftover homemade puff pastry in the freezer, so this tart came together quite quickly (even without pre-made crust, it's pretty simple). I LOVE the dark complexity the port reduction adds to the sweet plums, and you can experiment by adding other spices like ginger, cloves, peppercorn, or black cardamom. I brought it to the DC Square Dance and even had a slice left to share with my friend Mike, who was stopping through town on Monday with his band Hiss Golden Messenger.
Italian Plum & Port Crostata
Adapted from Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts
Homemade Puff Pastry or Nothing in the House pie crust, halved (I used puff pastry, as I had some frozen)
1 1/2 cups ruby port
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 Thai chile, seeded and minced (optional, I couldn't find any so opted out)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 pounds Italian prune plums, halved and pitted
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon heavy cream or beaten egg, for brushing
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling
1. Prepare whichever crust you're using as per the directions (find links to them in the ingredients list above). Chill dough at least 1 hour before rolling out into a 12-inch round and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Do not flute edges. Place pie plate in fridge while you prepare the filling and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Simmer port and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a saucepan until reduced to about 1/2 cup, approximately 25 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add chile, if using. Cover and let cool, 10 minutes.
3. Stir together remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, plums, cornstarch, cinnamon, and port syrup. Pour into the chilled pie shell and fold over overhang to make a rough edge. Brush dough with cream or egg wash, and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar. Bake 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees F and bake 45-60 minutes more (Martha calls for 90 minutes more, but in my case this would have been too long), until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. Let pie cool completely and serve with honey ice cream, if desired.