Wednesday, 14 November 2012

First frost

In one of the fallow fields, never farmed because it is too wet, the bedrock only inches below the soil, the first frost of the autumn burned off in the morning sun The air smelled like winter, no odours of earth or plants, just cold, clean, frosty air. The burdock and mullein have died back, leaving only the teasels standing tall.
The goats supervised as I cleared out the trailer, my writing room in the summer months.

 We bought it for a song a few years ago, and tore everything out of it. Then, using the top of a old oak desk for the counter-top and building in benches and a folding table it became my writing studio. Over time D. added a gas cook top for making tea and snacks, a little sink that takes water from a reservoir, a cable to tap into the electricity in the barn, a little fridge and even a little sofa that folds down into a bed. In the summer I usually leave this made up as a bed with lots and lots of pillows and cushions. When I'm blocked, I lie there and daydream and nap.

In the winter I adapt and write in any corner of the house that has a comfy chair and a bit of sunshine but I miss my cosy retreat.
 With all my books and papers back in the house I knew I ought to be working on my website. There are pages and pages to be rewritten or reformatted. But when I went to the fridge for a glass of juice my eye fell on six black plums sitting on a lower shelf and I suddenly remembered my mother's plum cake, a treat from my childhood. 

I put on St Germain's Tourist CD and began to gather the ingredients.

Streusel first

Fresh nutmeg from a friend in Barbados

Cake ingredients

Stiff cake batter

Plums on top of the cake batter
Streusel on top - ready for the oven
I thawed a batch of corn chowder for lunch, served with pate, homemade pickles, cheese and bread. When Dad saw the plum cake his eyes lit up and he said, "I haven't had plum cake in years."  Certainly not since Mum died in 2006 I suppose.

With the dishes done there were no excuses left, so I opened the laptop to start work and found this note inside.
Out here in the country a lot of folks are poor. They're hanging onto their farms and homes by the skin of their teeth. Trucks and tractors are held together with duct tape and baling wire, clothes are bought at the discount store and nobody looks at you funny if the only boots you own are the rubber boots you muck out the barn in.  But when things are going well, the harvest is in and there's a great meal on the table, and friends and family to share it with, and maybe something like plum cake or fresh pie for dessert, well, there's a sense of well being and pleasure that just bubbles up.  Often someone at the table will look up and say, "I wonder what the poor folks are up to just now."

Christine's Plum Streusel Coffee Cake

For streusel:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For cake batter
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound plums (5 to 6 medium), sliced
confectioners' sugar for sifting over cake

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter and flour a 9-inch round or square baking pan at least 2 inches deep.
Streusel:    In a food processor pulse together streusel ingredients until combined well and crumbly.

Cake batter:  In a bowl with an electric mixer beat butter with sugar until light and fluffy and add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and vanilla. Sift in flour with baking powder and salt and beat until just combined.

Spread cake batter in pan, smoothing top, and arrange plum slices over it in slightly overlapping rows. Sprinkle streusel over plum slices and bake cake in middle of oven 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool cake slightly on a rack and sift confectioners' sugar over it. Serve coffeecake warm or at room temperature.

Note: I have never used the icing sugar on top, but this is Mum's recipe and I am sure it was served with icing sugar carefully sifted through a stencil in a lovely pattern for optimum presentation.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Katrina,
    What a lovely blog this is. In a minute I’ll try to Subscribe then I can follow how life goes for you.
    We live on a small farm in central Portugal, 20km from the Spanish border. Our weather is warmer and drier than yours, so our first frost has not yet arrived.
    You have set up your trailer nicely and it looks inviting, set in those lovely trees. I bet you look forward to the Spring and the first day back in the trailer again, making that first cup of steaming tea in the chilly spring air with the trees coming green again, that fresh smell . . .

    We wanted a smallholding and emigrated from suburban Surrey England to find sunshine, tranquillity and space to move. We now have our farm and are making our dream become reality, and every morning I am thankful of what we have now. It is lovely. For you too, it’s lovely.
    I had to learn a new language (started aged 52, now fluent) and if you come to Portugal you’ll need the lingo if you want a rural life. At least you speak the local language where you live – without it you would soon feel isolated. The folk here are simple and definitely not modern. No support for the iPhone, iTunes store or Kindle (no copyright agreements made). Shops are over 40mins away, no discount stores, jumble sales, record shop, thrift shop etc. Thank goodness we have brought electricity and telephone into our quinta, so we have the internet and Amazon. In Fundão we have a weekly market where you can buy homegrown veg, chicks, trees, farming stuff and clothing. The region is poor, no industry only subsistence farming with chickens, sheep and goats. Like you, we have little cash but good seasonal food and a healthy lifestyle.
    We will try making your mum’s plum and coffee cake this week, it looks good!
    Isn’t life good when you can put aside the work and bake a cake?
    Any chance of a few more pics of your farm? I like to imagine visiting new places, and although it will never really happen I can dream . . .

    Best wishes from sunny Portugal